The Marketer’s Job in an AI Future

Whether you’re talking about cognitive computing, machine learning, artificial intelligence or its more common acronym, AI, the real topic is machines doing jobs humans used to. What does that mean for marketers in an AI-dominated future? How will the human role change? Are robots going to steal marketing jobs, or elevate them?

AI and the Future of Marketing

Now this is Quartz’s overall editorial point of view as well. Just like Miller built her NYT column of doomsaying the future of AI, Quartz has built its “Future of Work” section on more rosy prognostication. For example, another article says that automation has “totally eliminated” just one job in the past 50 years. But Quartz isn’t alone in seeing a future where robots don’t cause the sky to fall on us..

What really inspired this post was a June opinion piece in the Harvard Business Review by Ed Hess that looked more closely at the kinds of things that will be valued from workers in an AI-dominaed world. And the title says it all: “In the AI future, ‘Being Smart Will Mean Something Completely Different.”

“Many experts believe that human beings will still be needed to do the jobs that require higher-order critical, creative, and innovative thinking and the jobs that require high emotional engagement to meet the needs of other human beings. The challenge for many of us is that we do not excel at those skills because of our natural cognitive and emotional proclivities: We are confirmation-seeking thinkers and ego-affirmation-seeking defensive reasoners. We will need to overcome those proclivities in order to take our thinking, listening, relating, and collaborating skills to a much higher level.”
— Ed Hess

The New “Smart”

Hess’s conclusion is to redefine what it means to be smart.

He argues that the kind of intelligence marked by grades and test scores — the kinds of measures that mark smart people as “smarter” than other people — is going to be obsolete. On those terms, no human ever will be smarter than computers can be.

Instead, he says we have to begin measuring smart based on higher levels of human thinking and emotional understanding.

“The new smart will be determined not by what or how you know, but by the quality of your thinking, listening, relating, collaborating and learning,” says Hess. “Quantity is replaced by quality. And that shift will enable us to focus on the hard work of taking our cognitive and emotional skills to a much higher level.”

To repeat: Quantity will be replaced by quality: The quality of your thinking, listening, relating, collaborating and learning.

This would certainly be welcome news to the marketers who’ve been saying we need to be more human and less technology-oriented.

What does it mean to the tasks associated with the marketing role, though?

One day, if not today, machines will be able to understand your results and see the trends better than you can. But what they won’t be able to see is how those elements actually connect with humans.

A cognitive copywriting program may be able to design an email with copy that drives better response, but it won’t be able to understand why, or build the marketing strategy that leads to true business growth.

Machines will be able to do their own jobs, but they won’t be able to design the marketing assembly line those jobs fit into.

And while one day AI and machines may be able to develop and create new products, they won’t be able build the businesses that sell them or use them.

Back to the Mortensen article on Quartz: “Automation will take away the parts of our jobs we don’t like and leave room for more meaningful work.

I think that’s going to be true.

So look around at the really meaningful things you do, the elements of marketing that are not just trafficking, managing, deploying, or assembly-line creative. That’s what marketing is going to be in the AI future.

The strategy sessions, brainstorming lunches, inspiration boards, big ideas and the big picture … They may be machine-assisted, but these aspects of marketing aren’t going anywhere. And the kinds of thinking and collaboration these tasks need are the skills and intelligence you should invest in for the AI future.

Author: Thorin McGee

Thorin McGee is editor-in-chief and content director of Target Marketing and oversees editorial direction and product development for the magazine, website and other channels.

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