Are Machines the Future of Marketing?

Watson on JeopardyThe idea that someday the CEO or Head of Sales will click a few buttons to set objectives, budget and timing and a machine will create and execute a marketing plan seems pretty far-fetched.

When IBM’s Watson can tackle healthcare issues, marketing advice from machines doesn’t seem so unlikely anymore.

As marketers, we will soon be the managers of the machines that are managing our marketing. Are you ready?

Here are a few of the marketing areas where we are already managing the machines and one area where the machines have already managed us!

The Marketing Machines

1. Search Marketing Platforms
Search marketers have been using bid management systems for the last decade to manage the search campaigns. Today, new solutions like DataPop are even automating ad copywriting!

2. Algorithmic Media Buying
A significant portion of the online media landscape is quickly moving towards algorithmic media buying. Providers like Turn, MediaMath or RocketFuel are able to take your creative, budget and goal and run online advertising programs that are managed and optimized by algorithms, making billions (literally) of ad buying decisions for their clients every single day.

3. Dynamic Creative Optimization
What if you could create a template for an ad, dynamically create hundreds of versions for different audiences, products or messages, and then have an algorithm optimize your creative, determining the best performing version for each audience? Companies like MediaMind make this possible today.

Combine it with something like DataPop, mentioned above, and you could have a system that continuously creates, tests, learns and optimizes brand new creative.

4. Marketing Automation
What if everyone could always get the right communication, based on all of the information you have about them? Marketing automation platforms like Marketo and Eloqua allow marketers to create complex business rules that are automatically executed, similar to the early bid management platforms.

Over the next couple years, expect to see marketing automation continue to incorporate algorithms for more complex learning and optimization.

5. Identifying Content to Create
Demand Media showed the potential, prior to Google’s Panda and Penguin updates, to automate the identification of content opportunities. In this case, the machine was feeding work to the people instead of the people feeding work to the machine. Yikes!

Although Google’s changes have but a dent in the current value of this approach, the idea that a machine can use data to determine what content needs to be created will continue to have applications for marketers. Today, BuzzFeed uses data as a key input and may already be using more algorithmic approaches than many of us realize. (I’m 99% certain they have a cat algorithm already…)

Where Does This Lead?

Marketers cannot just let the machines run hands-off today. However, as technology continues to improve, enterprising direct response focused marketers will be the first to experiment with more machine-based marketing solutions.

Companies that are willing to risk potential machine-driven goofs will see if machines can learn fast enough and if human resource costs can be lowered far enough for the marketing machines to beat the human marketers.

It already happened on Jeopardy and in chess (and the competition was the world’s best, not the average marketer). How long before it happens in marketing?

Your Turn

How far do you believe machines and automation will go in marketing? Share your opinion in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

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  • Okay, all we have to do is assume away any human creativity in marketing. Until artificial intelligence has reached the point of being truly creative, this is not an issue that will keep me up at nights. On the other hand, if all you do is pedestrian, derivative marketing, then maybe you should worry.

    • Emily, what if we keep the creativity but relegate much of the day to day management to the machines? What if we allow the machine algorithms to become another source of potential opportunities?

      Also, how do we learn to feed the machines. so we can get the most benefit from them?

      I’m not worried, but I do believe they will play an increasingly significant role in marketing.

      Thanks for your comment, I always appreciate it!

  • Skynet will take over. It’s just a matter of time before we have T1000 running our marketing departments ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Jeff, the way some marketers mindlessly repeat the same marketing activity over and over again, I wonder if it wouldn’t be an improvement. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • So very true. It’s funny how the ones that offer something different and creative tend to really break through the clutter with seemingly little effort, while the rest slave away for little, if any, results!

  • Two good books worth reading on this topic:

    Automate This by Christopher Steiner

    Race Against the Machine by Brynjolfsson & McAfee

  • Although some of these tech platforms scare me a little, they also motivate me to try to keep my skills relevant. No small task.

    Even though you list some supercool technologies, we have to remember that technology is a tool. Remember how the printing press revolutionized things? Or advertising on TV? A pessimist might worry that these technologies will replace them, but an optimist realizes that change brings opportunity.

    So, we have new tools. This just means that marketers have to adapt. They also need to be able to apply their creativity, insight, experience, and intelligence so they know how to use the right tool for the desired outcome. Don’t use a tool for the sake of using the latest gadget; instead, ask why you’re doing a campaign or using a specific technology, and make sure the answer leads you to adding value to the business. Otherwise, you’re just playing.

    • Well said Jeanne. Thanks for taking the time to comment!