Using AI to deliver Black Friday growth with military frameworks

Using AI to deliver Black Friday growth with military frameworks

Paul Kearney
Non-Exec Director
November 24, 2023

Last September I wrote an article How we planned for Black Friday...with Military Precision which explored the remarkable similarities between military campaign planning and the planning that goes into delivering Black Friday campaigns.

What I did not know at the time was that AI was about to change everything.  In barely 12 months every step has been upgraded through AI but humans still play a key role.  Today any good digital marketer works hand in hand with AI technology to develop profoundly researched campaigns at a bewildering rate.

The remarkable aspect of this transition for me is that AI has driven Push planning even closer to the principles of military Campaign Planning.  For today’s AI Augmented Marketers increased speed and lots more data present both the opportunity and the challenge.  Command in a combat environment is always one bad decision, or disruptive event, away from a crisis and increases in speed and data simply accentuate that risk. 

I have been fortunate enough to command first class troops (Royal Marines Commandos) in combat but even with the ‘A-Team’ it's best to avoid getting into a crisis in the first place; and that relies on good planning (and some luck)

Reconnaissance Phase: Ground Truth

One of the first things you learn in the military is to analyse the ground and environment as well as the enemy's disposition, as the real world situation (aka Ground Truth) affects everything we do. The first and most fundamental lesson I've learnt about Artificial Intelligence is not really very intelligent at all.  Anyone who hopes to rely on it to do their thinking for them will be sorely disappointed. 

The technology we are currently lauding (as AI) is what developers call Machine Learning (ML). ML can process bewildering amounts of data almost instantly and can spot patterns and give us deceptively human answers based on probability.  What it can't do is think outside of the box, make leaps in logic or simply act on what soldiers call Common Dog (Sense).  For example, it's Common Dog to know that the name AI is here to stay, regardless of the technical facts!

The team at Push recognised the nature of ‘AI’ early and built a process to work within its limitations whilst exploiting its game-changing strengths in a surprisingly ‘military’ and hierarchical manner.

Strategic Level: Bigger Picture 

The Account Directors role is to work with the client to understand their business goals, marketing objectives and operating constraints through a process that any good military commander would recognise as Mission Analysis. 

The next stage is wider research (Combat Estimate) as the AD builds a full Intelligence picture of the client brand, 1st party data, their typical customers profiles, their products & services, the competition, industry strengths and weaknesses and other factors and USPs.  The difference 12 months on is that most of this research has been done using AI Large Language Model (LLM) tools such as Bard and ChatGPT. 

Push have engineered highly detailed and prescriptive ‘prompts’ to focus the AI tools as they interrogate client websites, social media chat rooms and the general internet.  The role of the 'AI Prompt' is to turn the usual generic ‘ChatGPT’ response into real ‘Actionable Intelligence’. 

A simple example would be to analyse recent social media chat to identify the most common complaints and most popular aspects of any given product so that 'anecdotal' comments suddenly become evidence based insights.

The next step is to take all of this General and Actionable Intelligence and feed it into a single client specific AI database called the Brand Avatar.  The Brand Avatar essentially fulfils the same role as the Intelligence Officer in the military, but without the prevarication when you ask it an unexpected question!

Operational Level - AI Automation with a Human Touch

With billions spent by Microsoft, Google, Meta etc it's not surprising that Marketing leads the military here, but the pattern for all is clear.  AI Automation will do the routine heavy routine lifting at scale but humans still have the edge on spotting & exploiting unique opportunities with precision operations.  

If its been done before then it's probably quicker and cheaper to do it using AI, but if you want to stand out from the crowd, you need to do something different

With the strategic objectives known and the ‘Brand Avatar’ built, the Campaign Planning is then passed onto one the Account Managers to build the Campaign plan.  One of the Push Account Managers was kind enough to talk me through a recent Social Media Campaign for an eCommerce client that wanted to increase their ROAS (Return On Advertising Spend) by 300%, all very neat for the military mind!  

Automation rightly dominates online advertising and the superficial benefits are clear as its quick and easy.  However, the hidden consequence of Automation is that if EVERYONE (including the competition) is optimised then NOBODY stands out.  The (convenient) consequence being that increasing advertising spend is the only obvious lever for increased success. 

In our case study the objective was ROAS and so the only way to achieve that was to augment the Automation rather than just increase the spend.  The Account Manager (AM) decided to split the budget in 3 ways;

  • Advantage Plus (Automation) Meta Campaigns to benefit from economies of scale
  • Retargeting Campaigns to pursue non converting visitors to entice them back 
  • Manual Campaigns that could and should be renamed ‘Precision Targeting’

The Automation and Retargeting campaigns did the basics and delivered approximately 65% of the sales but the only way to hit the 300% ROAS objective was by adding Manual  (Precision) Campaigns. 

The plan, from a military perspective was to “Reinforce Success” and so the AM asked the Brand Avatar to identify the 6 most successful products and then the AI researched the optimum audience for each product.  The process was human time intensive but the results speak for themselves.  

A second important strand of Operational Level delivery at Push is Training as once the Brand Avatar is built and Campaign Design is complete, many clients choose to manage the campaigns themselves.  

Our Digital Advertising Training has comfortably quadrupled over the last 12 months, once the Campaign is designed and optimised we sometimes find it cheaper and quicker for our clients to self-serve.  It keeps everyone honest and there is always some new channel or complex process that our team need to get to grips with and master!
Steve Hyde  CEO 

Tactical Delivery - Deus Ex Machina

AI tools have transformed the speed, scale and in many cases the quality of Ad creation but this is only true if the fundamental Strategic and Operational planning, as described above, is in place.  Those marketers who are disappointed by the output from AI tools, have simply not done the groundwork. 

Up until twelve months ago every good digital marketer knew the potential of online advertising but they were frustrated by the time and money it took to generate enough high quality Ads with innovative variations.  Generative AI has now solved that problem.  Once the Brand Avatar is built there are numerous AI tools that the team can use to rapidly produce an infinite number of channel optimised Ad designs and variations.  


In the case study outlined above AI tools were used to develop optimised copy and creatives for the Automated and Re-targeted campaigns to maximise results but it was the Manual (Precision) campaigns where the Brand Avatar offers the most sophisticated support. 

The Brand Avatar helped the Account Executive build an Ad Set (with multiple variations to counter Ad fatigue) for each individual product and each was matched it to its bespoke Persona for optimum results.  Once the Ad is launched the combination of human and AI then works as a virtual cycle constantly tracking success and making modifications against any performance drops to deliver the clients objective.

Looking Forward

Marketing has never been as  fast and complex as it is today but as the digital channels and AI tools proliferate it’s likely that it will never be this simple again.  For the modern AI Augmented Marketer the challenge is to avoid being overwhelmed by the constant change and actually keep up with the useful AI tools available. 

At Push this job is done by the Digital Innovation and Automation Lab (DIAL) who review and assess the tools on behalf of the team and, importantly, they also have an AI Integration Director to ensure the right tools get used.   Push also run AI Marketing seminars every couple of months.

Read the recent article from the AI Integration Director to give you a taster.

Find out if Push can help grow your business

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
We will get back to you
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.