Our generation has sort of grown up with the idea that machines are something to be feared. From Terminator to Minority Report to the imposing scariness of Star Wars’ IG-88, the idea of robots taking over the world is one that has always kinda terrified us but also one that is starting to get more and more realistic. And maybe it’s not something to be so scared of after all – everything from cars to car vending machines to houses to food service to rap music to social media networking is becoming automated. Human tasks are, slowly but surely, being replaced by more efficient, automated ways of doing things. The roles of a startup CEO and other execs now include thinking about how to incorporate machines into the marketing mix. Is it right of us to be afraid of this change or will we benefit by giving into new technologies and relying more and more on machine learning and automation?
The answer isn’t clear – unless you’re talking about marketing, that is. It’s a fact that artificially intelligent machines are going to be making a lot of smart marketing decisions in the future, so maybe it’s high time we relinquished some of our control and let the machines take over?
What Decisions Are Machines Making?
Okay, before this post scares off too many readers, let’s be clear on one thing: Machines are not going to replace humans. Rather, they are going to be a crucial part of automating certain processes and decisions in order to make our lives and jobs easier and more effective. Norbert Wirth, global head of data and science at marketing research firm GfK, has this take on it:
“When it comes to developing the mechanics, developing the rules, yeah, it’s humans that are important,” he said. “But when it comes to applying those and taking these decisions which happen in a split second, they’re not taken by humans, that’d be ridiculous; it would be absolutely not feasible. That’s for machines.”
Think about banner ads that you see on webpages you are browsing. There aren’t humans sitting around picking out those ads for 2-for-1 wool socks that you see as you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed. Those ads are selected by machines and are automated according to real-time data analysis of your browsing, spending and searching behaviors.
The ability to automate these tasks is actually pretty amazing. Human brains can’t run at the speed that machines can – it would be weird if they could. And the fact is that the tasks that machines are better at and taking over – mainly those related to data analysis – tasks that are annoying and time-consuming is good for us in the long run.
Using cognitive computing to identify, evaluate and consider treatment options for oncology, narrowing down and identifying potential clinical trial matches for patients across covered diseases, breaking down big data to help scale information, and create enterprise level solutions, discovering brand new insights about customers – the list of what machines are capable of doing right now goes on and on. And, in many ways, the more of it that we can take off our plate and pass over to machines, the better. Right?
The Mechanization of Marketing
So, fine, machines are taking over. But what does that mean for the future of marketing?
In an interview with OZ, Dr. James Canton, futurist, author, entrepreneur, CEO & Chariman of the Institute for Global Futures, claimed that “Marketing. Is. Dead. Period.” He means that the way we’re used to thinking about marketing has changed so much that it’s almost unrecognizable. Gone are the Mad Men days of coming up with brilliant billboards and generic ad campaigns.
Canton insists that the future of marketing is a new, smarter strategy that relies heavily on machines. “The management of things that power the content – wearables, new media channels, the intersection of new media and the web ‘ that is the most powerful way to manage marketing for the future.” In his book “Future Smart” he talks about how brands need to get behind asking the big whiteboard question: How can we enliven, empower and enable customers that we already have or don’t yet have. The messages and channels we’ll be using with these new technologies are very different than they were a few years ago.
Marketing is all about trying to get the right message into the right hands at the right times. That’s why beacon technology is all the rage right now – it utilizes the channels Dr. Canton discusses. We’re all getting fed relevant, customized ad content on our phones, computers and everywhere else. Machines are a big part of why that is happening so seamlessly right now. Automated personalization can self-regulate based on changing trends. Now brands can customize the audience included in their algorithm in order to create a truly customized experience for each customer.
Working WITH, Not AGAINST Machines
Human intuition is not going to be replaced anytime soon. But will creativity? Canton argues that
“When AI rules, I think it’s a pretty accepted norm that the human will still be more creative than the machine. But what if we’re wrong about that? You have to accept the possibility that machines could be more creative than humans – if not right now then possibly in a few years. We already have Watson’s ability to analyze massive amounts of information and analyze patterns for healthcare. We use black boxes for making huge decisions like trading stocks and financial processes, that don’t involve human thought. We already have robots that can design best-selling songs.”
Canton warns that it’s dangerous to get stuck in a thought pattern, wondering if humans are more creative than machines. What it’s important is that we consider the way that machine creativity is different than human creativity. Then we can start to use it more effectively.” (You can follow him on Twitter @futureguru for more cool insights.)
Machines will still depend on us to feed them the information and algorithms they need to run efficiently and carry out marketing objectives. It makes sense that we should turn many of our marketing decisions over to algorithms to get better results. But while we believe that human judgment still lies at the center of successful data analysis we shouldn’t underestimate how much power and capability machines will have. While humans understand the algorithms and their biases and flaws and can adjust those in order to make them more efficient, we can’t run them without machines.
Machines are definitely going to be playing a larger role in helping organizations meet their business goals going forward. So it’s important for humans to learn how to play nice with them.
Canton summarizes general attitudes towards the future by breaking individuals up into three categories. There are “the traditionalists, who want things to slow down and are resistant to change. Then there are the adapters who aren’t happy about it but know they need to adapt and learn in order to survive. And then there are the Path Setters – folks that are coming up with companies like Uber and Waze. Creating something that doesn’t exist.” Many marketers, entrepreneurs, and innovators admire this group. This is the group that creates disruptions, that finds novel ways of augmenting and articulating the human journey.This is the group that’s going to put machines to use to help us find delightful new ways of working and living. This is the group that makes the possibility in the future limitless.