The Borg, SkyNet, HAL 9000...or Just Another Algorithm?

Last Updated April 27, 2021

Understanding How Algorithms Affect Marketing

Admit it, marketer or not we have all talked about algorithms being (scarily) artificially intelligent, real-life Skynet, and a sinister machine that monitors all our actions and knows us better than we know ourselves. 

HAL 9000 gif

But do we even know what algorithms are?

We assume there is this one algorithm in a top-secret file at Google Headquarters that’s prized for listening in on our conversations and reading our minds. 

But there isn’t just one algorithm, there are many algorithms—each one personalized to produce a result we care about. 

For example, putting a pan of water on the stove at a certain temperature for a certain time is a way to reach the result of boiling hot water. This is one equation, or rule, or sequence. Adding eggs to the boiling water and letting them stay in for a certain period of time leads to hard-boiled eggs. This is another sequence that leads to a result.

Continuing with that metaphor, when you type a query into the Google search bar, it doesn’t just fire one sequence to get your result, it fires up an entire kitchen of line cooks. 🍳

Algorithms Can be a Marketer’s Biggest Asset

Algorithms are excellent tools for optimizing your marketing campaign because they provide what we love best: data. They can help you pick apart your audiences’ complex decisions. Here are a few examples of how you can use algorithms as a marketer. 

Content Strategy

Algorithms help monitor the behavior of your demographic and suggest the likely hours during the day when your leads are browsing online. 

Having a pool of valuable behavioral data can help you remarket to the right people at the right time. If you share that information with your broader marketing team you can even use it to design a unique campaign that incorporates highly targeted information about your audience.


Algorithms can help you personalize the way you show an ad to your consumer or a lead. Remember that song that played on Spotify shuffle? Wasn’t it exactly the kind of tune you were looking for? Now how did that happen? Or that ad about artisanal potato chips made from handpicked Idaho did they know that’s just what you were craving?

Google uses algorithms to show you information that you are likely going to be interested in, such as targeted news articles and tutorials. That means you’re not just being delivered the answer to your query, but information about your query targeted for you based on your search habits.

Targeting is what allows the internet to predict what you may feel like eating the next day. It has consumed so much of your behavioral pattern that you start panicking Google is reading your mind. It’s not… 

Or is it? 

Get out of my head gif

No seriously, that's just how proactive algorithms are. They make use of something that we hear a lot: Machine learning, aka another way of saying artificial intelligence. 

What Stage of Shopping is Your Customer In?

Machine learning helps figure out what your customer is thinking. Are they browsing? Are they going to spend soon? Are they looking to spend now? Basically, it helps you determine the stage of your buyer’s journey so you can address it. 

🛠️ Find out how you can build a better funnel with retargeting. →

Sounds great right? By now you feel ready to drive your entire digital marketing campaign based on algorithms. We’ve said a lot of great things about them so far, but are algorithms really the bee’s knees? 

Will Algorithms Pave the Yellow Brick Road to Improved Marketing?

The answer to that is yes and no. Google algorithm and machine learning is great at monitoring behavior and 7 times out of 10 it does strike true, but the times it does not is because algorithms cannot grasp context. AI can predict a customer’s response to likely be a certain way, but what if the routine context is changed (as it is in life), rendering the data ineffective? 


That being said, algorithms remain the foremost tools to learn about humans and their actions. They have brought us far in the way marketers engage with audiences and it has proven effective. For that reason, we have to raise our glass to algorithms that make our lives as marketers just a little easier and more data-driven.

🤔 We love data and analytics, but does it love us back? We dive into why you should always question your marketing analytics. →

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