It’s probable that many of today’s digital marketing roles and practices will fundamentally transform, and potentially disappear, in the next 3–5 years. But re-organizing your marketing team early can provide your business with a genuine competitive advantage.

The marketing profession is currently undergoing its most significant evolution since the rise of digital began in the early 2000s, but this time, the changes will happen much faster, and the effects will be felt much, much deeper.

It’s all due to the game-changing combination of marketing automation and machine learning technology.

But why has marketing become one of the first professions to feel the seismic impact of the AI revolution?

LOST IN THE TREES?

Over the past 20 years, digital marketing has enabled businesses to reach customers as their eyes and ears transitioned to web and mobile platforms. This move has largely been successful and has seen assumption and instinct become increasingly replaced by data-lead decision making.

However, the downside of the digital marketing boom is the ever-growing and unmanageable proliferation of tools and platforms that have forced many marketers to become almost entirely focused on operational tasks, rather than developing customer-centric strategies, relationships, and programs.

“Instead of each new online application increasing an employee’s productivity, they now steal minutes away each day. While each of these tools may have created a productivity boom when there was just a handful of them, the typical corporate employee now has more than 20 such applications that need to be used on a weekly basis. Add up all of the wasted time on these apps and you get a very disgruntled employee since they feel that they do not have enough time during their work day to actually do what they are being paid to do.” –Roy Pereira, Founder of Zoom.Ai

While the above was in reference to office tools in general, the situation is even more pronounced in the world of marketing and “martech” apps.

Such frustrations among marketing professionals were discussed in a recent blog post by leading consultants Gia Laudi and Claire Suellentrop. This post received a lot of attention within the SAAS marketing community and the comments also make for some very telling reading.

“By 2017, CMOs will spend more on technology than CIOs.” — Gartner, 2017

That statistic speaks volumes about how marketing technology has spiralled in recent years. But costs aside, one of the biggest problems that has arisen in the digital marketing era is that many marketers have simply become lost in the trees.

THE ERA OF AI MARKETING

Already, many startups are forgoing agencies and consultants in favour of using simple-to-use AI marketing tools (e.g. NeedlsStackAdapt, and Albert) that apply machine learning to automatically optimize their performance channels such as AdWords, Facebook/Instagram Ads, native advertising , and video ads.

But it’s not just the startups.

Enterprises are also testing intelligent agents/chatbots (e.g. Zoom.ai) that provide natural language interfaces that allow them to automate aspects of core marketing operations including CRM, customer services, and sales.

As the major marketing platforms (including SalesforceHubSpot and Google) race to add their own machine learning/AI interfaces, what we’re going to see in the near future is enterprise teams using chatbots to speak to the intelligent agents of these major platforms.

Translation: we’ll soon be seeing “bots talking to bots” making for a vastly more automated marketing environment than we have today.

GOOD NEWS FOR TEAMS

“Computers today are far better at managing other computers and, in general, inanimate objects or digital information than they are at managing human interactions.”-Satya Ramaswamy writing in Harvard Business Review

We’re now in a transitional period which will require forward-thinking marketers, executives, and co-founders to re-think how their human marketing resources can work most productively alongside the new automated/AI counterparts.

And this does not equate to simply replacing people with machines. As author and thought-leader Tim O’Reilly recently observed (in his Linkedin post “Do More! What Amazon Teaches Us About Robots and the “Jobless Future”):

“Whenever one thing becomes commoditized, something else becomes valuable. As long as we use the productivity gains from technology to create value for society, and ensure that value is widely shared so that customers are able to afford the cornucopia of goods on offer, we will find new ways to put people to work.”

With that in mind, the goal of AI marketing re-organizations should be to free up time for their marketing professionals to “move up the food chain” and focus increasingly on strategy, customers, communities, and partnerships.

In other words, if done right, this activity will allow marketers to use more of their time to seek training, build business relationships, and craft amazing customer experiences.

Meanwhile, the AI marketing re-org should begin the process of evaluating and testing market-proven automated/machine learning tools for managing and optimizing repetitive and time-consuming tasks such as performance advertising (e.g. AdWords, Facebook Ads), predictive analytics, email, and live chat.

In other words, machines being used (on a 24/7 basis) to optimize other machines.

In the near future, it’s a certainty that AI marketing tools will begin to automate and optimize more complex tasks, such as content creation, landing pages, and UX A/B testing, which will free even more time for marketing teams to focus on strategy, customers, communities, and partners.

COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE

As Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution stated, it’s not the strongest who will survive, but the most adaptable.

“Even if your top competitors have yet to embrace AI, you shouldn’t assume it’s okay to follow in their footsteps. This is your opportunity to take the lead in your space, thus beating your competition to the punch.” –AJ Agrawal writing in Forbes

As we move forward, it will not be the size of marketing teams, the complexity of their stack, or even their budgets that will be primary differentiators.

Rather, it will be the speed at which businesses successfully transition to a hybrid human/AI marketing environment will count most towards their future growth and marketing success.

FURTHER READING

2017 is the year of artificial intelligence. Here’s why (World Economic Forum)

How Companies Are Already Using AI (Harvard Business Review)

Why Marketers Need To Double Down On Artificial Intelligence (Forbes)

Do More! What Amazon Teaches Us About Robots and the “Jobless Future (Tim O’Reilly in LinkedIn)

There’s a problem with SaaS startups and marketing (Claire Suellentrop and Georgiana Laudi in Medium)