The Marketing Automation Train Rolls On- So Who’s Minding the Switches?


Some big trains are barreling down the tracks in the world of marketing. Noted marketer Paul Roetzer wrote an article about one of them recently, marketing automation and in it he states,

“The art and science of marketing are on a collision course. Many tasks commonly performed by marketers, such as copywriting, data analysis and strategy, are at risk of being computerized in the near future. While this likely means job loss in some areas, it opens up a world of opportunity for marketers and brands to drive innovation and accelerate success.”

The evolution of marketing automation is pulling in some respectable investment money ($400m+) and this change is powered by the proof of algorithms and the promise of artificial intelligence being able to replace human interactions.  In short, if we think marketing has changed a lot in the past decade, we are about to see more that will be even more profound.

So as I read the lines about “while this likely means job loss in some areas” it reminded me of a recent experience that mirrored a similar scenario. Or as the famous baseball player-turned coach Yogi Berra once said, “it was like déjà-vu all over again.” (gotta love Yogi)

Parallel Tracks

Not long ago I was doing some work for a software company that specializes in desktop automation and activity intelligence products primarily used in contact centers and back office operations, that incorporate robotic process automation (based upon algorithms) The industries they serve are harnessing this for enterprise transformation initiatives with the goal of reducing heuristic (people) activity and pushing it to the algorithmic (computer) function. In general this either involves streamlining multiple desktop apps into a single dashboard (automation) or distilling from millions of digital transactions valuable insights to better manage businesses (intelligence).  I clearly remember one day thinking out loud, “are these products part of a big data solution?” and the answer from across the table was a resounding “yes!”

Where these products are put to use, the benefits of operational optimization are huge resulting in companies routinely saving millions of dollars a year through greater efficiency and productivity gains. At the same time both user and customer satisfaction also increase which makes this case of adoption a slamdunk, though in some cases it also means reduced headcount in the business operation. Sounding familiar?

One day as I was working in the company’s Pardot system it struck me that the very smart developers at the other end of the building could likely automate alot of what I was doing. It was both a revelation and a little unnerving.

So What’s Around the Bend? “I’ll Be Baack…”

The question then is, are marketers and their audiences ready for MAPs that not only automate but evolve to be predictive? Corporations are definitely anxious to reap the returns so I think we need to be prepared for the human consequences such as the net loss of marketing jobs from automation, even with the new need for skilled people to run these systems.  Then there are the ever present moral and ethical questions regarding complex processing of our personal data by programmed systems but with less and less human oversight.

That’s because more and more of the work done now by people, will gradually be removed through robotic process automation. “Great!” some would say and to an extent I agree. Out with the mind-numbing work. But, does this mean our ever-so helpful marketing automation platform may one day morph into the Terminator? Well not the one Arnold played but we see it is terminating some jobs already and the net result all depends on a number of factors both internal and external to the companies using these platforms.

So, is robotic process automation the same as artificial intelligence? Well they’re at far ends of an evolutionary scale but there is a growing conversation concerning the pros but also the cons of AI (artificial intelligence). Sound far fetched? Social media expert Mark Schaefer posted on Instagram about some rumblings from SXSW, and there are much sterner warnings of the end game from the likes of Stephen Hawking who has recently been joined in this cautionary prediction by technologists and visionaries Elon Musk and Bill Gates.

For now though the early marketing-machine age is here and now, in fact you could say it likely got started around 2007 as we saw companies like HubSpot, Pardot, Eloqua and Marketo begin arriving on the scene. They have proven their worth beyond a doubt. But when big trains go barreling down the track and they get bigger and faster, the question of who’s minding all the switches takes on greater importance especially when the tracks lead right to us.

Where do you think marketing automation will be in a year? five? What changes do you see, good and bad?

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