Are You An AI-Proof Marketer?

We who embraced technology may end up being eaten by it.


I often wonder what it must be like living through the past few years for marketers who can remember operating in a pre-internet era. The fact that we can put live thousands of creative variants, let a machine decide the best performer and upweight it accordingly. That we can optimize a media mix using real conversion data within days, if not hours. In fact using programmatic, we don't even need to optimize it ourselves. The fact that we can reach more people on earth than God with a smartphone and a Facebook Ads Manager log in. (credit to Scott Galloway for that last one).

No doubt, technology has made both the art and the science of marketing exponentially more efficient. But it has also made it more complex. A proliferation of media options, managed via complex interfaces such as Adwords (although the UI has simplified recently). An ocean of data to analyze and pore over in the pursuit of optimization. All this has created jobs and skill sets that simply didn’t exist prior to the late 90s. PPC manager, Email marketer, Display marketer, SEO Manager, App Install Marketer – the list is large. In fact, the breadth of skills required to be an effective integrated Marketing Manager these days is incredible. 

Because of the continual increase in complexity and fragmentation, I’ve always felt fairly confident that Marketing was a profession which was quite safe from being replaced by AI in the short term. There's plenty of simpler jobs to automate before you get to us, right?! But it seems that was naïve.

Google Lead The Charge

Recent news of Google doing away with all Adwords app install formats in favour of Universal App Campaigns signals a concerning trend. No more will a human have to analyze keywords, select behavioral targets, test copy variants, organize campaigns, ad groups and bids. Simply plug in creative (or let it auto-create your creative), select your geo targeting and bid preference – and put it live. Google will do the work of optimizing between search, display and video ads for you. All at the expense of transparency and control, mind you.

This shows us that much of a PPC manager's role in general may soon go the way of the dodo if such automation spreads throughout the Adwords suite.

Just this week I was introduced to a company who specialize in retention marketing. Their system allows a marketer to design creative, set cohort logic, and press send. The system will optimize subject lines, day of week, days lapsed, time of day and more according to a success metric. Much of the role of Email Marketer evaporated before me.  

Even customer service and social media managers are under threat from Facebook Messenger bots. So it seems even the most highly skilled technical marketing roles are far from AI-proof.

How To Become an AI-Proof Marketer

I think it helps here to think about the skills a robot would find hard to replicate or usurp. More crucially, which combination of skills would AI find difficult to combine?

Think about this for long enough and you may wind up back in the smoke filled Mad Men-esque offices of yesteryear and the skills which were coveted back then. Segmentation. Brand positioning. Tone of Voice. Understanding your audience. You know – the 'boring' stuff. The strategic stuff. The hard stuff. Skills and experiences which have been derided, undervalued and replaced by ‘spreadsheet jockeys’ (as Mark Ritson would call them) in recent years. More generally, leadership and people skills are going to become more important and sought after than ever as well. 

I believe the human marketer of the future is T shaped. The horizontal bar of the T represents an understanding of technology adept enough to choose the right tools for each task, and construct a solid ecosystem of automation. The vertical of the T represents a deep experience and understanding of those core strategic decisions and behaviors a machine cannot replicate (at least not for a few decades).

The abstract thinking that tends to be required to solve creative and strategic problems is something marketers should be cultivating to become robot-proof. So my advice to young marketers would be to step away from the spreadsheet every now and then – and start learning the basics of Strategic Marketing and Leadership. 

Think about your role, your skillset. Are you an AI-proof Marketer? Can you become one?