Will Artificial Intelligence (AI) Trigger the Extinction of the Modern Marketer?

I’m reading an interesting book right now called “Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era” by James Barrat. The central theme is that we will develop artificial intelligence (AI) to the point where computers will not only be as intelligent as humans, but will evolve past us. Unfortunately, our invention will eventually lead to our extinction. The most frightening aspect of all this is that it’s not that far in the future. Some of the top AI experts suggest we could create something that reaches super intelligence by as early as 2050.

The reason I bring up this book is not to depress you, but because it got my (non-super intelligent AI) brain thinking about our roles as marketers and what AI means for our future. There are currently two marketing trends happening right now that are undeniable.

1) Modern marketers depend on technology to be successful

2) The technology we rely on continues to get smarter and require less human interaction and planning

If you accept that these two trends are true, what does this mean for the future of our jobs as these tools continue to make more and more decisions for us? Will we get to the point where software becomes better at marketing than the human marketers who purchased it? I’d argue that we are already heading there. You don’t have to look any further than email/marketing automation software to see our eventual fate.

In the “old” days before email automation software, marketers had to make a choice. Run email campaigns that are scalable, or run email campaigns that were highly targeted. It was hard to do both, especially if you had limited human resources. With the invention of marketing automation software (thanks, Unica) in the late 90’s and its significant adoption in the mid-to-late 2000’s, our world as technology marketers changed forever. This software allows us to efficiently target groups of individuals, trigger emails off of actions and track behavior at an account and user level. It’s opened our eyes to how our customers buy from us and changed the marketing department from a spend center to a revenue generator. It was a game changer.

But with every technology leap, there are always casualties, and the email automation revolution is no different. The rise (and significant investment) in these solutions meant that tracking and reporting were more critical than ever before. If you can’t track it, it doesn’t exist. This spelled disaster for some more traditional demand generation tools like direct mail and fax. When was the last time you ran a fax campaign? This used to be an arrow in a marketer’s quiver, but fax is hard to report on and almost impossible to track. RIP fax.

How about direct mail? How many members do you have on your marketing team dedicated specifically to direct mail efforts? This used to be a highly sought after role. Someone who could design, write and deploy compelling mail pieces. They were artists, copywriters, and highly creative individuals. Good ones were hard to find; great ones could write their own salary. I don’t know many modern marketing teams who have these folks on their staff anymore, and if you search the job boards today, organizations are not knocking down doors to find someone with these skills. Technology has put direct mail in the rear-view mirror and unfortunately also those who were experts at it.

Automation and tracking solutions killed some traditional marketing tactics, and I would argue that with the rise of artificial intelligence, AI will kill some of the methods (and skills) we use today.  If I was a MarTech “futurist,” here are a few things I’d predict will happen over the next ten years.

Arnold Schwarzenegger starring in “The Copywriter”
When you write a great email, what makes it great? In the old days, it was based on excellent wordsmithing, doing more with less, and using compelling language to sell your product and stick a message in your prospect’s head. Today we are more scientific about it. Opens, Clicks and Goal. The Goal is defined by whatever action we want the user to take. While solid copywriting is still an art that few master, it’s not considered great copy anymore if it doesn’t hit the goal.

Imagine a future where AI can run theoretical A, B, C, & D tests on different versions of copy without having to send an email. And when it does finally hit send, it achieves the goal, every time. That’s where we are heading. Keep your eye on the email platform vendors, as these are the companies who will have the best data and capabilities to construct email 4.0, or as I like to call it, Intelligent Email.

Intelligent Email would be a system that not only knows what subject line would get the most opens, but also would improve conversion to goal. Intelligent Email would know how many sentences your customers will read before they give up. Intelligent Email would know when your prospect is most likely to read the email and send it at that exact time. Intelligent Email would know Joe.

Joe doesn’t like email; he only opens it on Tuesdays, and he only reads two sentences before he closes it. He’s currently only reading emails from ten regular contacts and five vendors. Joe is one in 7.4 billion people, and the AI behind Intelligent Email understands this and also knows what Joe wants.

Intelligent Email will construct an email specifically for Joe, based on his reading behavior. What is offered to him will also be recommended by someone he’s most inclined to trust, one of the ten people on his open list. Intelligent Email will write the message, construct a unique offer for Joe, send the email at the appropriate time, track the email and set up the ten follow-up actions based on Joe’s predicted future steps. The marketer will do nothing.

That’s Intelligent Email. Cool stuff huh? Maybe not if you’re an email copywriter or content marketing manager. Now if that doesn’t freak you out, let’s turn it up a notch to where AI knows what we are going to do, before we do.

The next level of one-to-one marketing
There is a reason Microsoft bought LinkedIn, and it’s not because of their updated mobile app. It’s the data. The big business in MarTech today is having the best data and the technology to do the most with it. Every day we are seeing new companies offering purchase intent, ABM targeting and ad serving, all based on predicting who is most likely to buy. We are getting further and further away from the days of throwing darts against a wall and seeing what sticks.

Now imagine layering highly advanced AI into this. Just as you saw in my “Joe” example above, highly sophisticated and automated individualized marketing is the future. Every day we are leaving little digital DNA traces of our consumption habits like fingerprints on a door handle. Google and Facebook are significantly investing in technology to know who we are, where we go, what we want, and how to connect us with the most relevant advertising. The companies like them who learn how to compile, manage and automate based on these truly dynamic buyer profiles are the companies who will win the marketing platform war.

Imagine if BMW knew I was in the market for a car because of the sites I visited, knew exactly what type of car I was looking at based on my search and research habits, knew when I passed certain billboards on commute into work, knew the only show I watch with full commercials is The Walking Dead, knew when I typically logged on and off email for work, knew what sites are on my favorites list, knew how many emails I actually read every day (and the subjects and people I was most likely to respond to) and knew about how much money I make and what my average expenses are. Now imagine advanced AI using all that data to construct individualized BMW ad buys, campaigns and copy in minutes. A solution like this would make ad agencies, market research, marketing consultants and even marketers obsolete.

We are not there yet, but is this future of marketing? One-to-one at the speed of light? Programmatic trading desks are a sign that we are a lot closer than you may think. Unfortunately for us human marketers it may mean we will be just too slow to keep up. So while my latest read has me worried about 35 years in the future and the existence of the human race, my immediate worry is rudimentary AI making my job disappear like the bank teller.

At this point, all we can do is try to adapt to the rapidly changing market and continue to update our skills until the great rise of the machines. At some point, there just may be nothing more we can do. It reminds me an of an old joke…

What did the horse say to the first car?

“At least we had a good trot while it lasted.”

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