It seems there’s hardly a job a machine can’t do. You go to the grocery store, and your cashier has been replaced by a computer. Your travel agent was replaced by Expedia years ago. The car in your driveway was mostly built, not by an assembly line of workers, but by advanced robots. Artificial intelligence (AI) can drive your car and clean your floor. Honestly, what doesn’t your smartphone do for you? And if you happen to work in a marketing department, you may be wondering if you’re going to come in one morning to find some form of AI sitting at your desk.
Yes, AI and machine learning (ML) technologies are becoming an increasingly important part of every marketing department’s toolbox. But if you ask the experts, humans are an important part of the marketing equation. A QuanticMind survey found that 97% of respondents believe “the future of marketing will actually be smart marketers working hand-in-hand with machine learning-based automation solutions.” Of course, similar to most things, the future of marketing is complicated.
“I believe there has to be some sort of nexus between automated decision making and machine learning,” says Chaitanya Chandrasekar, co-founder and CEO of QuanticMind. He likens the tools driving marketing today to those a contractor might use to build a house. If you learn to use a bulldozer, the job goes much faster.
“In my experience, … for every component of the marketing value chain that gets automated, there’s a roughly equal and opposite reaction in labor requirements necessary to manage the function successfully,” says Tim Bourgeois, partner at East Coast Catalyst and founder of ChiefDigitalOfficer.net. “For example, ‘programmatic’ advertising—the buying and selling of advertising via technology-based platforms—allows brands to more quickly and specifically purchase ad space by effectively eliminating the middle man, which historically manifested in the form of an ad sales representative. At the same time, though, it’s made it much, much easier for brands to buy irrelevant or fraudulent ad space if they are misinformed or execute the buy sloppily.”
So if you’re a marketer, what do you need to make sure you don’t lose your job to a machine?
Media Buyers Are Still Important
According to Bourgeois, media buyers will become increasingly important team members in marketing departments. “Currently, the marketplace in general believes that AI/ML-based advertising tactics is a cost-savings strategy, and the marketplace isn’t incorrect,” he says. “But as SMBs [small and medium businesses] and laggards adopt programmatic strategies—following the lead of best-in-class brands—cost-savings opportunities will be harder to find, and we’ll return to an environment where the best and brightest flourish.”
If you’re a media buyer who is really good at your job, you may find that you’re a hot commodity on the digital marketing job market. “So while absolute human talent-to-technology ratios will continue to shrink, the cost of acquiring media buying talent will rise, and the net effect will be marginal in terms of long-term cost-savings opportunities,” Bourgeois says.
Creativity Is Still a Uniquely Human Trait
While machines have been successful in creating some types of content (i.e., short-form news that’s heavy on statistics, such as sports outcomes), there are some types of content—and some jobs in general—that even the smartest machine just can’t do. According to Bourgeois, those things are as follows:
- Media planning
“Machines can help optimize the latter three variables, but cannot drive the development and growth of those variables,” Bourgeois adds. “I’ve yet to encounter a plausible scenario where machines can drive storytelling—my understanding is that Hollywood has been trying to make this happen for years (no more finicky screenwriters!) but to no avail.”
How to Stay Relevant
Professional development is important no matter what industry you’re in. When you work in a field that changes as rapidly as digital marketing, staying on top of the latest advances is essential. “It sounds almost trite to say this in 2017, but successful marketers today are skilled in consumer behavior, data analysis, and digital platforms,” says Bourgeois. “Even the most talented creative directors find themselves at a huge disadvantage if they genuinely do not get the new platforms. I am a huge proponent of multichannel marketing approaches (only a few industry categories allow for digital-only strategies), but understanding how consumer behavior differs across TV, print, digital, etc.—as well as across devices—is a requisite skill for any serious marketer.”
If there’s only one thing you do to bolster your resume, Bourgeois recommends getting Google-certified. Specifically, he says to get certified “in Google Analytics and AdWords. The process and tests are free. Ditto for Facebook.” He adds, “The certifications themselves do not warrant significant salary increases or title bumps—like they do in the accounting or finance fields, for example—but they do signal to the marketplace that you are serious about your craft.”
It might also be time to brush up on your arithmetic. “In today’s day and age, … it’s no longer about Mad Men when it comes to marketing. It’s a lot of nerd men and math men,” says Chandrasekar. You don’t need a degree in statistics, but you need to be able to make sense of the data the machines turn up.
Bourgeois has more advice that may, at first, seem counterintuitive. He says, “Keeping up with digital marketing trends is, to some extent, a fool’s errand. The marketplace is evolving far too quickly. The best way to stay current and relevant is to attach your wagon to a company that fits your personality and will likely be around for a while—and in the world of digital marketing, that means Google, Facebook, or both.” In other words, as with most career paths, it pays to become an expert in your niche. Make yourself indispensable by being an expert that your department can’t live without.