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?

B2B Content Marketing Wisdom; Four Cues from a Sushi Master

sushi imageThe other night my seventeen year-old son suggested our family watch a movie he found. Of course we all wanted to know the name expecting it to be some block buster, action-flick where likely a lot of stuff “blows up real good”. To our surprise he said, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”. I had to ask him to repeat it. Really? Even my wife and older son had to know what was so special about this movie. We already knew my young son loves sushi so it made sense but who is this Jiro and why does he dream of sushi?

As their website explains, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the story of 85-year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble appearances, it is the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious three-star Michelin Guide rating, and sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimage, calling months in advance and shelling out top dollar for a coveted seat at Jiro’s sushi bar.”

So we watched it. It was remarkable. It was surprising. This man’s story had life lessons drawn from an incredible, decades old pursuit of one thing; preparing the best sushi. It got me thinking about my life and work as a B2B marketer and what perhaps many of us in this business may need to be reminded who are trying to develop a successful content-driven inbound B2B marketing program where a premium is placed on being remarkable and channeling a passion into authentic, valuable content. That’s a tall order. So to help with that here are four pieces of sage advice from our sushi master and his key partners about their pursuit of serving up the very best “content” every day:

1) Jiro Ono: “Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

Jiro is revered by his sons, staff and others who have trained under him. He leads by example with a fierce determination to be the best. I seriously doubt that Jiro read Stephen Covey’s book “Principle Centered Leadership” about the Power Process but he sure is a great example of it; “the more a leader is honored, respected, and genuinely regarded by others, the more legitimate power he will have with others.” Bingo! Jiro sure proved that judging from the dedication of his staff who he acknowledges make it possible for him to do what he does every day. In turn Jiro has a following from around the world beating a path to his little restaurant in a subway station to experience his craft. Even though we might be much younger, we can all benefit by applying some of Jiro’s simple wisdom and learn to consistently generate compelling content, either tangible or digital, that turns prospects into customers, even evangelists.

2) Yoshikazu Ono: “Always look ahead and above yourself. Always try to improve on yourself. Always strive to elevate your craft. That’s what he taught me.”

One of Jiro’s sons offers how he took inspiration from his father amidst the challenge of living in his shadow. Eventually we even learn it is Yoshikazu who actually prepares and serves the sushi for the Michelin Guide reviewers the night they came in. Years of practice and experience driven by a desire to be the best, to keep learning and to keep improving, do pay off. We know the pace of change in our business demands we stay up on the latest in B2B marketing technology and best practices. It’s the “never stop learning” mantra. So where are the “Jiros” of content and inbound marketing to show us the way? Among my favorites are Mark SchaeferMichael GassJay BaerPaul Roetzer, as well as the teams at CopyBlogger, and the Content Marketing Institute to name a few.  Building a first-class online presence means that everyone who has a stake from entry level to the C-suite, should have a list of thought leaders and blogs they follow regularly to continuously draw inspiration and insight.

3) The Shrimp Dealer: “These days the first thing people want is an easy job. Then, they want lots of free time. And then, they want lots of money. But they aren’t thinking of building their skills. When you work at a place like Jiro’s, you are committing to a trade for life.”

Here was one of Jiro’s suppliers telling it like it is. There are no short cuts to legitimate success. Commit, get the skills, and develop a passion. Inbound marketing is no different for it to be successful. Recently Mark Schaefer blogged “If I give away my content, don’t I give away my business?” This is a lot like “build it and they will come.” For many who are managing and running for-profit businesses it’s difficult to believe success lies in placing such a high value on the interests of others to the extent you are willing to give away your best thinking. This takes guts, vision and commitment. It’s also a huge reason why company leaders must be true believers willing to invest seriously in an inbound program if they expect top ROI from it. When they don’t, I call this condition “the irreconcilable paradox”, meaning they don’t really believe in it, they aren’t digital citizens, and they think because it’s online then it must be nearly free and yet they expect great ROI. Nothing could be further from the truth. There must be real commitment to the operating philosophy of inbound marketing for it to achieve its full potential.

4) Jiro Ono: “I’ve never once hated this job. I fell in love with my work and gave my life to it. Even though I’m eighty five years old, I don’t feel like retiring. That’s how I feel.”

Wow. Imagine if every employee in every company felt that way. The results would be beyond amazing. But the reality is people struggle to get anywhere near this level of satisfaction from their work. In his book Good To Great, Jim Collins talks about “getting the right people on the bus” when he’s referring to the process of building a team to take your company to greatness. Done well it would mean your company has a busload of people like Jiro and his staff who are not only technically skilled at their job, but who also enjoy it!

If you’ve achieved this, then congratulations for that is no small feat. If your entire B2B marketing team has, then you are at or approaching the level of a Jiro Ono and I think we’d all love to hear your story. Who knows, maybe you’ll even have a movie made about you!

So do you have a secret to a successful B2B inbound marketing program? Please share it here.