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?

 

The Smartest Marketers Don’t Want Straight “A’s”

If tech marketers as a group were to be identified as a persona, one of our attributes would be “over-achiever”.  While in school, we strove mightily to get A’s, win awards, be the champions.  Our drive to be the best is our great strength.  But its over-application can also be a great weakness.

Under today’s conditions getting straight A’s is impossible.
 Tech marketing has never been the kind of job you can leave at the office at 5:00 (and who leaves at 5:00 anyway?). On the positive side, you get to work on the exhilarating cutting edge, with fascinating problems to solve, with smart, interesting, people all over the world. But the C-Suite and sales people are never satisfied. Results from our work are often ambiguous. You learn to just accept that your work will never be done. 

However in recent years, that persistent mania has kicked up a notch. To the day-to-day, add the time it takes transforming marketing to the self-educated buyer and the digital world.  Add the pressure of doing more with less budget (IDC’s Tech Marketing Benchmark shows that marketing budgets have never really recovered from the 2008 bust).

Let’s face it, as human beings we have limits.  With so many demands, you physically do not have time, energy, or attention to get “A’s in everything. This is not school. Attempting straight “A’s” in real life gets you mediocrity and failure.

I’m here to tell you that it is okay to get a “C” sometimes. It’s not only okay – it’s better
The secret is to deliberately choose when to get a “C”.  Here’s a little tool to help you decide where getting a “C” is okay.  I adapted this decision tool by flagrantly stealing from Stephen R. Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Habit 3: Put First Things First) and Geoffrey Moore’s model on core and context from Dealing with Darwin.  A decision grid like this lets you compare tasks by considering their relative risks and rewards.

Quadrant 1: High Risk, High Reward – Focus your “A” efforts here. Now.
You decide what really makes a difference (to your customers? To your revenue? To your career? To your family? To your happiness?)

Quadrant 2: High Risk, Low Reward – Settle for a “C”.
 You can’t avoid these tasks without penalty but there is no upside for being exceptional – so why put in the extra effort?  I put admins-trivia in this category and I’m sure you will find other things (wink).

Quadrant 3: Low Risk, High Reward – Focus your “A” effort, but you can take more time.
I call this category of things “the gifts to your future self”.  Life will keep getting better if you put at least a little time into these things.

Quadrant 4: Low Risk, Low Reward – Why put any effort into these things?
We all have some dumb tasks on our plate. Here’s the litmus test.  Pick a task you find tiresome. Stop doing it for a couple months and see if anyone screams.

We are all human. We must make choices about how best to spend our limited time, energy, and attention. If you don’t make those choices strategically, then you risk failing at the important things.  You’ll get best results if you give up the school-kid attitude of feeling like you have to be great at everything. Get a few “C’s” and you will be more successful.