Robotic process automation (RPA) uses software to complete tasks with minimal or no human input. In today’s data-driven marketing environment, RPA can turn big data into smart marketing decisions that would take weeks or months of data analysis for human teams to perform.
In this article, we look at how companies use robotic process automation to achieve bigger marketing goals. First, though, let’s quickly explain exactly what RPA is, what it can do and what it can’t do for marketers.
What is robotic process automation?
According to Deloitte, “Robotic Process Automation (RPA) uses software, commonly known as a ‘robot’, to capture and interpret existing IT applications to enable transaction processing, data manipulation and communication across multiple IT systems.”
In other words, RPA performs tasks by pulling in data from your chosen sources and then outputting this through actions, visualisations or integration with other software systems. For example, our own Apollo Insights software platform pulls data in from hundreds of sources, interprets these findings and then outputs marketing recommendations – all without human input.
The aim of robotic process automation is to reduce the manual workload of simple, repetitive tasks. This improves the efficiency of business processes by handling time-consuming tasks. RPA can generally complete these tasks much faster than humans, too, while also maintaining consistency – something that the human mind and body struggle with.
What processes can RPA automate?
Robotic process automation relies on data inputs, rules and output functions to perform tasks. Today’s most advanced RPA systems use artificial intelligence to interpret data, apply advanced rules and output intelligent decisions/actions, but the core process is the same.
So RPA software is best suited to handling tasks that are repetitive, data-driven and rules-based. This could be something relatively simple, such as grabbing data from a spreadsheet and automatically creating a graph, or something more complex, like analysing customer data to calculate customer lifetime value and automatically trigger retention campaigns.
We can’t list all of the potential tasks RPA can automate but here are some key characteristics of the functions it can handle:
High in volume: This is the first sign that you should look into the possibility of RPA, which can handle much higher volumes than humans.
Time-consuming: Tasks that take up a lot of time should always be assessed to see if part or all of the process can be automated.
Repetitive: Tasks that are performed in exactly the same way every time are more suitable for automation.
Error-prone: Often, it’s the simplest but most repetitive tasks that result in the highest rates of mistakes and errors from humans.
Rule-based: Simple tasks that can be defined by programmable rules.
Low-variance: Tasks with few/low variation scenarios that can be handled within the confines of algorithm rules.
Readable inputs: Processes that rely entirely on data inputs can be either fully or partially automated.
This will make more sense as we look at some of the ways companies are using robotic process automation for specific marketing tasks. Before we get into those, let’s take a quick moment to explain what kind of tasks RPA can’t handle for you.
What RPA cannot automate
Based on the criteria we looked at in the previous section, robotic process automation relies on data input to perform relatively simple, rules-based tasks. This explains why artificial intelligence struggles to match human thinking when it comes to highly creative or subjective tasks – such as translating human speech or composing a song.
For marketers, RPA is perfectly capable of analysing thousands of performance metrics and bringing sub-par campaigns to your attention. However, it’s not going to make the creative decisions you need to write compelling ad headlines, design landing pages that convert or write CTAs that inspire people to take action.
There are formulas that RPA can use to create these things (templates, design conventions, headline formats, etc.) but the software can’t innovate or make creative calls.
Can RPA replace humans?
For certain tasks, yes. However, it can’t match human decision-making for creative or complex (cognitively speaking) tasks. The human mind is the most powerful computer on the planet and we simply don’t yet have the technology to match its processing capabilities.
Not only that, but replicating human thinking through a rules-based system would require an algorithm far beyond current capabilities.
The more important questions are, what can RPA do in place of humans and what can we do with the time and resources it frees up for us. The more repetitive, formulaic actions software can do on our behalf, the more of our energy we can spend on the creative, human aspects of marketing.
Examples of RPA in marketing
Robotic process automation can be used across entire businesses to create more efficient optimisation but let’s take a moment to look at some specific marketing activities that RPA is already handling for companies.
#1: Automating technical SEO
Technical SEO is one of the most time-consuming aspects of search marketing, due to the ongoing audits and reporting required. This is perfect for RPA, which can automate reports, completing them faster and running them more often than human teams would be able to – which means issues can be flagged up and fixed before they cause ranking problems.
Speaking in one of our recent podcasts on the top search marketing trends for the rest of 2020, Vertical Leap Managing Director, Chris Pitt, explained some of the technical SEO tasks RPA excels at:
“An example in search might be link analysis or data collection; or it might be looking for technical fixes on your website – lots of things that we do on a daily basis that don’t necessarily need any creativity or freeform thinking.”
Instead of spending hours on these tasks every week, SEO teams can automate these processes with robots that run audits, compile reports and notify team members when any issues are detected.
#2: Find opportunities first
As search becomes more competitive, finding new opportunities is an increasingly time-consuming task. Organic space on Google’s SERPs is only getting smaller but, as we’ve mentioned before, 15% of all queries on the platform are completely new, never having been searched before – so the opportunities are there.
Finding them is the challenge and you have to analyse vast amounts of data to find new opportunities as they emerge. Not only that, but you need to analyse this data quickly if you’re going to seize new opportunities before your rivals do.
#3: Competitor analysis
Robotic process automation can help you understand your business on a deeper level but it can also provide a better understanding of your competitors. For example, you might build a robot to monitor the pricing of all your rivals to ensure that you remain competitive. You may even set rules to adapt your own pricing in real-time – within certain tolerances – if your competitors regularly change their pricing plans or run promotions.
Something else you can do is use web scraping to automate competitor content analysis to understand the messages your rivals are promoting and the USPs they are putting forward. Aside from keeping you in the loop with how they promote their products/services, this will also help you differentiate your own offering more effectively.
RPA is automating the repetitive data analysis and you’re using these insights to make more effective creative decisions.
Automating marketing success
With robotic process automation, software takes care of the repetitive, time-consuming tasks while you concentrate on the more creative aspects of marketing. By automating the majority of data collection, marketing teams can focus their efforts on interpreting insights and turning them into impactful campaigns.