Artificial intelligence. Machine learning. Cognitive computing.
The robots are coming, and they are going to have a profound impact on our industry. But don’t despair. Don’t give up. Don’t rage against the machine. Prepare yourself for their arrival, because the age of automation needs the strategist more than ever.
What was last year’s big data is this year’s machine learning. I can’t sit through a seminar or a presentation without being told that a product or technology uses artificial intelligence. Let’s put this one to bed right away; it doesn’t. It’s just salesmanship. We don’t yet have machines that emulate and accelerate human thought.
But the fact that this is very much part of the zeitgeist is indicative that we are not far from that point. And make no mistake, it’s coming. And we don’t have to wait for it to arrive to start seeing the impact of increasing automation on our industry. So what are the likeliest areas that automation will impact?
The first and most obvious is that it will make redundant the most repetitive of tasks. Those that have focused their careers on manipulating a single platform or channel will be the first to see their roles automated. We are already seeing this, with bid management platforms suddenly leading to less need for human optimization in digital media.
The second area is in the data analysis area. The mathematical nature of the work of the analyst makes this an area ripe for machine automation. After all, a machine can process data much faster than a human, and the binary nature of the inputs make it easy for computers to process.
The third area is in creative optimization. Platforms that are designed to take an incremental iterative approach to the optimization of creative assets through A/B and multivariate testing and the use of dynamic creative are very much the norm today. We forget that it was up to very recently that every creative asset had to be completely hand built, with all the time and cost that is associated with that.
These three areas illustrate that if it can be automated, it will be. This is why we have always maintained that a mechanism to stay vital in this industry over the long term is to continuously look to make yourself redundant in order to focus your energies on new tasks and functions.
So what areas should we focus on as strategists to win in an increasingly automated environment? I believe the most difficult area to automate, and the place most aligned with the work of the strategist, is that of integration of initiatives. Being responsible for the integration of messaging and initiatives is at the heart of the role of the strategist. It is also incredibly difficult to automate due to three powerful forces.
The first force is the reluctance of marketers to hand all their work to a single technology provider. As much as Adobe or IBM or Oracle or Google would like us to entrust the entirety of our marketing to them, there is a visceral distrust in doing so. There will always be alternatives that pull us in other directions, that offer cheaper, or faster, or better solutions. This will automatically get in the way of integration and will require human direction to connect platforms and experiences.
The second force is the human element. Our customers are people, as are our audiences. And people like to deal with people. This will not change with increases in automation.
The third force is the original idea. Machines can iterate and optimize. But you can’t automate the original idea, the purpose or mission of the business. This continues to require human ingenuity, and will be dependent on that well into the future. This is what we mean when we talk about true creativity; the spark that inspires a movement.
For strategists to thrive in the age of automation, it means moving beyond the mundane. It means pushing ourselves into new and uncomfortable roles and functions, because through these experiences we become more valuable in roles as integrators, as the people that leverage automation platforms for ever greater growth. It means becoming truly creative. The age of automation forces us to forgo the mediocre and deliver on the exceptional. The age of automation is the age of the strategist.
Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.