The Digital Helix

If you even casually read about digital technology and transformation, you will see it promises everything. From insights to cost savings to efficiency to labor reductions, digital is the future and transforming to it is a mandate for almost every organization. But, these promises of an automated digital future bring up a few questions around the human element in all of this. As many have seen, technology, unfortunately, can mean humans are not as needed for the roles they once occupied. But wait, doesn’t this bring up a number of interesting and possibly painful questions for marketers as well?

• If AI and digital technology can do almost everything we do now and more every day, why do we need marketing and human marketers?

• Could marketing be the next industry that is hit by automation like so many others?

• Do marketers start to abandon their jobs, re-skill and start thinking about a future of servicing the machines like something from the movie The Matrix?

Before we answer those hairy questions, it is important to remember and think about what the role of marketing is as well as reflect on what is truly a marketer’s job.

Those That Do Not Study The History Of Marketing Are Doomed In Its Digital Future

David Ogilvy a god in the days of Mad Men due to a singular focus: advertising creative that delighted and excited the deep-rooted desires of consumers. In this era, creative dominated marketing ideology and great advertising drove it. From the Hathaway white shirts ads to McCann’s I’d Like To Teach The World To SingCoca-Cola ad in 1971, the ads and the consumers were inspired by this creativity. No one would argue that a robot or a computer could ever develop this level of impassioned marketing. Not with a Sperry or Burroughs computer back then or even with IBM’s Watson today. This great advertising, changed minds and drove a sense of immense emotional connection that lasted for years. In the 1980’s, Theodore Levitt’s book the Marketing Imagination put together a framework for working with customers in delightful ways around price, promotion, positioning and placement. This gave any marketer a set of formulas for success. While he and others tried to develop algorithms for behavior management, both Ogilvy and Levitt understood that delighting customer was the root of all success. Yes, there were systems behind it that sat inside of these marketing masters’ heads and was applied by an industry across the globe.

Robots Automate, Algorithms Reveal, But Marketers Need To Delight

While early marketing masters like Ogilvy and Levitt, were born from limitations of their forefathers, both also were tripped up by the evolving worlds around them. With Ogilvy, it was the exponential expansion of channels, the cost to reach people and the idea to push hard to find the creative breakthrough concept just got tougher and tougher. With Levitt, it was the progressively better knowledge and platforms available to customers so that they could play with all the variables at one time and game some of the models he had designed for brands.

Now, flash forward forty years and we have the next era and its inherent weaknesses are about to be exposed. We all talk about building our own marketing eco-systems connecting everything together because we no longer have control over the overall landscape we need to orchestrate a more controlled environment. Anyone can now leverage this power to combine complex elements of content and technologies that enable triggers for further direct communications, optimize mediums with omni-channel marketing in full digital beauty, all optimized based on customer feedback and insights. In many ways, marketers have become better at moving items around than focusing on delighting customers. With whole support industries to help us move the pieces, some would say we have become slaves to a process, rather than the master of the art like Ogilvy and Levitt envisioned. Ask yourself does running this sort of system or approach that provides 10%, 30%  or even 200% better efficiency make your marketing stand out?