You know how you go into a convenience store or supermarket and instead of, say, eight check-out people there are now four self-checkout machines and maybe one person?
And how one of the seven people they fired now has a temporary job training customers how to use the robo-checkouts instead of bothering the paid meat?
I always feel bad about that. Sometimes I say to the temporary concierge-person: “You do realise these things are taking your jobs away, don’t you?” and they shrug.
Well, this morning over coffee (okay, on the loo) it occurred to me that most people in most marketing departments are that morose guy — we just don’t know it yet.
As marketing automation kicks in, marketing departments everywhere will be able to do a LOT more with a LOT fewer people.
My brothers and I toured the distilleries of Islay a few years ago. One of them Bruichladdich (wonderful, unpeated, honey notes) employed about 35 people to make their whisky. Another, Laphraoiag (super smoky, dense, peaty) was run by two people and a lot of automated machines. Two people to produce one of the world’s most popular brands of single malt.
Couldn’t happen to us.
Technology has always taken jobs away from people. The few examples I cited above are just a few of the robot-replacements that happened during my lifetime. (In fact, there are many, many more. When I was a kid, New York City still had some ‘elevator men‘.)
The thing is, past advances in technology tended to also create more jobs than they destroyed. And the new jobs were better ones.
Computer/Internet advances may not work that way — in fact, it looks like they may replace way more jobs than they create.
A recent issue of Wired reported on a 2013 study by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne of the University of Oxford. They looked at 702 types of jobs in the United States and rated the likelihood that technology would displace workers in those jobs over the next 10 to 20 years.
They concluded that a whopping 47 percent employees have a high risk of being displaced by technology, and 19 percent have a medium risk. Gulp.
I never used to think ‘people like me’ — you know, Knowledge Workers (as opposed to the hordes of knowledge-free workers) – were vulnerable.
But I’m starting to think that’s wrong. And that the automatons will also replace a hell of a lot of thinking jobs.
Look at the largest marketing departments and you’ll see a hell of a lot of what can only be called digital plumbing. Marketing automation, lead nurturing, CRM, interaction engines, personalization tools, testing & optimization platforms…
All of this stuff is there to respond to our prospects’ behavioural triggers. Or offer them the most relevant products and content. Or nudge them back to their abandoned shopping carts. Or follow up with helpful suggestions.
And an awful lot of this stuff can be done with zero human intervention (once they’re set up). In fact, they’re done far better with zero human intervention.
If the modern marketing team (at least in B2B) is essentially building and operating a revenue distillery, then the future is the Laphraoiag model, not the Bruichladdich one. A couple people ought to be enough to watch over the machines that process intention into income for some of the world’s biggest brands.
I’m starting to think that we’ll all look back at the 2010-2030 era as the time when human marketers built the infrastructures that would make human marketers unnecessary.
Yeah, but can the bastards write puns?
Of course this can’t possibly apply to ‘creatives’ (another title, like knowledge workers, that denies a basic human function to all but the in-crowd).
Really? Why not?
If BuzzFeed robots can test a hundred headlines and run with the winner, surely another robot can generate those headlines. They may not be Bill Bernbach but they’ll be a lot better than a lot of the emails I get (today, a bit of hotel spam invited me to ‘imbibe’ in their renovated bar. Even RoboWriter 1.0 in beta will out-perform shit like this).
Designers aren’t safe either. Dynamic Creative modules are already generating banner ads on the fly from pre-digested digital objects. The best WordPress templates look a hell of a lot better than most human-crafted websites. Yes, these templates were originally created by a human, but the templates will live far longer than the designers who made them.
What can we do about this?
Um. Not much, really.
Most of the impact will probably hit after you and I retire. Our kids might be out of luck though. Or their kids.
All we can do is continue to build the next generation of marketing infrastructure and try to forget that the little toenail you’re slotting into place will one day be attached to a big, fucking foot.
Geez, this turned out way more depressing than I intended.
Sorry about that.
I just watched ‘Humans Need Not Apply’, the video that Ryan Skinner recommended in the comment below. Now, I’m REALLY scared. I actually started this post as a half-joke (ha-ha, robots will never replace snowflakes like ME!); but the more I read about it, the scarier the picture became. This video kills it.
(Oh, and Harry’s WD-40 robot metaphor — also below — is kinda freaky too. But funny.)
Finally (probably not finally at all), Stella Bayles pointed me to Quill Engage, a tool that reads your Google Analytics and generates a very human-like report every week. Feel the breathing down your neck? Hear the hoof-beats?
Automated Copywriting Startup Persado Raises $21million [OMG, they’re here. They’re here. Thanks Agustin for this.]
How Robots Will Change the Future of Marketing – from Forbes.
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