Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Will a Robot Make Your Marketing Job Obsolete?

Cars with no drivers.  Airport ticket counters with only touch-screens. Surgery with no doctors. Automation has taken over human jobs since the industrial revolution. But this trend may be accelerating with the "Great Restructuring". Which marketing jobs will automation make obsolete?

Time magazine recently published an article titled The Robot Economy which highlights the types of jobs that will flourish (and which won't) as automation expands. Time says,
"If your job involves learning a set of logical rules or a statistical model that you apply task after task – whether you are grilling a hamburger or issuing a boarding pass or completing a tax return – you are ripe for replacement by a robot."
Marketing automation is one of the fastest growing sectors of the technology industry, growing at 11.8% in 2012 according to the IDC 2012 Worldwide Marketing Automation Vendor Share Report. Most marketers would agree that marketing automation drives gains for their companies - improved customer engagement, greater marketing accountability, better pipeline management, etc. But is it good for marketing people? The jury is out on whether automation is reducing marketing headcount.  On the precipice of the 2008 downturn, the IDC Tech Marketing Benchmark showed a decline in marketing headcount as a percentage of total employees to approximately 1.5% and the number has sat roughly at that level for the last few years.

Winners and Losers in Marketing Jobs? Nate Silver's book, The Signal and the Noise, is about making better decisions using analytics. In a chapter about chess, Silver summarizes a 1950 paper by MIT's Claude Shannon on the benefits of a computer in making decisions versus the benefits of a human.  Claude Shannon said that computers are better at decision-making because:
  • They are very fast at making calculations
  • They won't make errors, unless the errors are encoded in the program
  • They won't get lazy and fail to fully analyze a position or all possible moves
  • They won't play emotionally and become overconfident in an apparent winning position that might be squandered or grow despondent in a difficult one that might be salvage
 Claude Shannon said that humans are better at decision-making because:
  • Our minds are flexible, able to shift gears to solve a problem rather than follow a set of code
  • We have the capacity for imagination
  • We have the ability to reason
  • We have the ability to learn
 Silver concludes that the reason why a computer like IBM's Deep Blue could beat a chessmaster is that chess is a deterministic game, that is, there is no luck involved. In deterministic situations, where there is perfect information and perfect knowledge of the rules, computers do a better job.  However, wherever there is uncertainty, a better decision will be made if humans help out.

Future proof your career. To ensure you head your career in a confident direction, gain competency in the following types of marketing skills:
  • Solve problems that have never been solved before:  Work that is genuinely non-routine, creative, or paradoxical – such as people or customer management, strategy development, and design.  However, be warned that being creative does not let you off the hook for learning to use data to inform the creative process.
  • Analyze for insight:  While analytic tools will do most of the heavy lifting for us, humans will give meaning to the data patterns as well as to create models, frameworks, and stories for using the analysis.
  • Make unstructured decisions: Unstructured decisions are those where no explicit process for deciding can be put in place – such as an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician). Almost every category of marketing has jobs like this. Put yourself in the line of fire, where there are tough trade-offs, and information is ambiguous. 
  • Persuade: Automation can take over lead nurturing by listening to online data, analyzing it for behavior patterns, and responding with the most relevant selection from a content catalog.  However, blending a human with automation may get you better results.  A leading tech company found that although they can go straight through to purchase using automation, that adding an inside sales person to the conversation increased deal size by 3x.
What ideas have you seen marketers implement to help future proof their departments?
 

2 comments:

  1. I'd add to addmore focus on the psychological and emotional components of buying decisions. It will be a long time before robots and AIs can begin to grasp that side of why people buy. Like supply chain management, automation will take over a lot of the heavy lifting of marketing, especially in the analytics space, but the best marketers will harness that automation and add their "secret sauce" to take it to the next level.

    Watching Watson in action and recent moves into the health care arena, I think AI is going to be a big disrupter sooner than we care to think so I think your post is quite topical.

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    1. Marc, I agree that it will be a long time before robots and AI can really take over for people in the conversation aspect of marketing. At the same time that marketers are ramping up in analytics capability, there is a balancing ramp in story-telling and other more "human" aspects of engagement. The advance guard of behavioral analytics is showing us that human behavior is more predictable than we assumed. And the advance guard of marketing automation is showing us that some aspects of the marketing function are more routine than we knew.

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