From Marketers to Button Pushers and Back Again
Is technology actually helping, or are we just blind to the prison we've built around ourselves?
One minute, you're a smart, capable professional about to close a deal, and the next, your phone has connected to a bluetooth speaker in your locked car and your would-be client can't hear you.
Clearly, a lot of technologies are still maturing: We've figured out how to empower marketers to launch highly customized email marketing campaigns to thousands of contacts, for example, but we still require human help with the actual launch.
Specifically, we need someone to populate our Excel files, convert them into .csv files, upload and label them, push a bunch of buttons on the settings page, test the email four times and then schedule its release -- only to find out that we've miscalculated the time difference, meaning all our customers will be sound asleep when that email arrives at 3 .m.
Marketing wasn't always this way. Marketers used to spend their time designing ads, writing copy, studying demographic segments and planning events. Those were things they went to school to learn. But, with the advent of technology and all of its cool tricks, marketers have gone from being experts in the art of influence to stressed-out button pushers.
There is even an entirely new lingua franca that we all need to know. What happened?!
Samuel Scott, writing for TechCrunch, put it this way: "Imagine that it is the year 1996," he suggested. "What did traditional marketing departments think about? The four Ps. The promotion mix. Communications strategies. SWOT analyses. The five forces. Building brands. Then, by 2006, what did digital marketing teams think about? High Google rankings and more website traffic. Getting Facebook 'likes' and Twitter followers. Keyword density. Building links."
In other words, by 2006, we'd lost track of the "why" and started focusing on the "how."
Moving from driver-assisted mode to self-driving mode.
Thankfully, there might be light at the end of the button-pushing tunnel. According to numerous industry experts, the advent of artificial intelligence technologies and the increasing sophistication of behavioral analytics are trends that are taking marketing technology from driver-assisted mode to self-driving mode. This transition effectively liberates marketers from the menial aspects of launching and monitoring campaigns.
As Vijay Chittoor, a marketing thought leader and the founder and CEO of Blueshift wrote: "'Marketing Automation 1.0' was all about reacting to simple 'events' in a user's journey with a brand, with simple rules set up by marketers.
"However, with the advent of AI," Chittoor added, "we are now starting to experience 'Marketing Automation 2.0,' which enables brands to connect with customers like never before, based on increasingly complex profile analyses and triggers."
In short, we've moved beyond rule-based campaigns to campaigns that leverage technology to focus on user behavior, intent and specific moments. And that progress not only removes marketers from button-pushing, it does so out of necessity. In order to achieve the highest potential from AI, we need to give it the freedom to operate independently -- launching campaigns targeted at single users, identifying the right moment to create a touchpoint based on volumes of data analysis, etc.
Increased marketing automation will pay dividends for consumers, too, who are more likely to see relevant ads and feel as though brands care about their interests. Along with this automation will come the possibility of returning button-pushing marketers back to the role creatives again. Chittoor said he sees the future this way: "AI will transform marketing in three ways," he said. "It will make the experience more personal, and less robotic. It will enable marketers to operate with automated insights instead of manual rules. And it will empower brands to spend more time on strategy and less on operations."
The lesson for executives, then, is clear: If your team is still manually designing campaigns and trying to create robotic-trigger points, it is time to give them the gift of automation. Your creative team needs to be invested in the strategy behind the message, not the means by which the message gets out.
In the marketing realm, this switch is happening rapidly: It's the early adopters who are earning -- and will continue to earn -- back dividends.