Everywhere I’ve turned in the last few months, marketing tools seem to be there. From client conversations to sales pitches to public relations and Web content, they seem to be everywhere. And they’re multiplying at a dizzying pace. I’ve just returned from the Digital Summit Dallas conference where marketing automation tool companies dominated the exhibition space and sponsored what seemed like every session. Marketing tools are the bright shiny objects of the industry and have captured the attention of marketers everywhere.

The reason for the proliferation seems obvious to me – these tools work. When used thoughtfully, they save man hours, automate routine operations, create efficiencies and deliver powerful information and analytics. At M/C/C, we are constantly evaluating tools that we can leverage for our clients’ benefit. We use technology and tools to help us identify potential issues and new opportunities for Search Engine Optimization programs; automate, compare and improve email programs; programmatically buy targeted advertising in more efficient ways; optimize Pay-Per-Click campaigns; and a slew of other external programs. We are big believers in the value they provide.

There’s no doubt that these technologies and tools have their place in a marketer’s toolbox and we use many of them, but at the end of the day, they are tools. They have limitations – they can’t think; they can’t be creative or use emotions; and they can’t replicate the expertise and decision-making of humans. Without the right craftsman to operate the tool in the best manner, they fall flat.

The influx of automation tools and the attention that they’ve gained in the marketing space can be dangerous for companies looking for a silver bullet to deliver successful programs. There is no silver bullet. Companies will fail if they’re looking to a tool to “set it and forget it,” having it bear the responsibility of connecting with customers. Creating content, scheduling its distribution and iterations won’t magically lead to prospects connecting with your message and falling into lead buckets based on brilliant lead-scoring methods.

The truth of the matter is that people are the heart and soul of successful marketing programs, and they use automation to help create that success, not the other way around. The best marketing automation and tools/technology in the market are meaningless without a human that has the expertise to leverage them. I believe that in the next few years, we’ll see a return to the fundamentals of marketing – connecting with buyers in ways that are meaningful and relevant. We’ll talk (and hear) less about automation and tools and more about strategy, stories, experiences and connections. Because, at its core, marketing is about connecting with buyers. Without a connection, you might get a transaction but you won’t reach marketing’s full potential. In addition to automation, you need people to evaluate and review the results to find out what is working, what is not working and what needs to be updated. This allows for higher performing programs that are based on key learnings from previous programs and based on actions and interests of customers in order to build stronger connections.

I recently read an article on Quartz discussing the three things that humans will always do better than robots, and it holds true for automation tools as well. The author pointed to three areas:

Humans are good at thinking outside of the box and seeing connections when they are not there. In other words, humans are good at seeing the big picture. Pushing the envelope into the unknown is still something that only humans do.

Humans are social animals. Humans need to work together. Tools do not. Humans are good at understanding the give and take of a relationship, whereas a robot might be a know-it-all and lose its friends pretty quickly. There are some strange humans out there, but human-to-human relationships won’t be replaced anytime soon.

There is an element to sales that plays on human emotions. Sales people have a good intuition of what someone really means when they say what they want and can “socially engineer” the desired result. Like relationships, robots still haven’t figured out how to empathize with us to figure out why we would want to buy something as opposed to rattling off features and benefits. Most machines are rational, and if we take a few minutes to think about it, most humans do and buy things irrationally. And even though humans are irrational, they know when they are being so. Humans also have common sense and intuition, which is difficult, if not impossible to replicate.

So, keep using automation tools and continue evaluating new ones, but don’t expect them to be a substitute for the most amazing tools – the human mind, creativity and passion.

Previously posted on The M/C/C Blog.