This Year Is Going to Suck for Old School Marketers

If you are a marketing traditionalist. You respect the value of great storytelling and intuitively tap into consumer motivations. And you work constantly to learn new channels as they pop up. This year has the potential to make you irrelevant. Unless you prepare yourself now.

We are at a tipping point where human intelligence will be sidelined for the sheer speed and scalability of artificial intelligence.

It’s a scary time to be a marketer during the rise of the machines. But there is plenty of good news. In the first part of this series, I will lay out some of the foundation-shaking technologies that are coming online. In Part 2, I will share how to work with these technologies to keep yourself relevant. And in Part 3, I will give you a plan to take back your rightful place in the marketing world.

So let’s get you up to speed with what’s going on. Check out this article for an introduction to 15 examples of artificial intelligence in marketing. Now quickly forget everything that article said because it was written 9 months ago. Instead, think about how each of those areas is evolving at a scary fast pace into something hardly recognizable as marketing anymore, and replacing many of our long-held practices.


Web Sites Are Disappearing

I wrote about this in 2010 in the following article.

Little did I know how accurate some of those predictions were. But you need only look as far as your kitchen counter or the home page of Amazon.com to see how the web is being conquered.

I can now ask Alexa to find me an Italian restaurant, book me a reservation, and call me an Uber. Alexa becomes my new home page for news, my message reader, my calendar, and my DJ. Plus, she’s the referee when my dinner guests and I disagree on who sings the song she’s playing. You get the idea.

This has introduced a whole new field of web content optimization with speakable code markup to make sure that my information shows up (currently housed on a website) when Alexa is doing the searching. So for now, your web site houses what Alexa needs. And its original purpose is both shifting and becoming less important.

As this trend continues — as every searcher begins using voice control on their phone, their watch, their home device, and their TV remote to access information — traffic to websites will plummet. Meaning marketers need to rethink how transactions work online, how new customers will be acquired, and how customer loyalty will be fostered differently in digital channels.


You Will Be Priced Out of Search Ads

Pay-per-click search advertising, like on Google AdWords and Bing, have experienced massive success because they are easy for old school marketers to understand. I write an ad, I pay for premium placement, and I see people coming to my site.

I can even exercise my creativity a bit by changing up words and headlines, or experiment with ad copy. If I want to test an image, I can try them out in the display network and see what works best. It feels like you’re in control. But the machines are here too.

The bigger problem isn’t the machines — it’s our complacency. In the tiny increments of machine-adjusted bids of $1.50 here and $6.50 there to attract a click, we lose track of the real underlying cost of these ads. The time to create them, manage them, analyze them, optimize them. This all counts against your profits.

So how much are you willing to give up to Google? 1%? 5%? 10%? What if I told you that Google, in their own Economic Impact Report, claims to cost 12.5% of your profit on average — specifically 1 of every 8 dollars? Can you afford that today? You can? Great. Now add in that management effort we discussed above. How much more can you afford to give up as pay-per-click ad costs steadily rise?


Influencers Will Be Replaced by Bots

In a recent article I wrote, I talked about the massive influence that tightly integrated communities can have to take care of their own and benefit the world at large.

Gamers have produced hundreds of millions of dollars for charity, and opened up new markets and revenue streams among socially-connected consumers for their sponsors. Communities like these have given rise to influencer marketplaces: platforms where people with big social followings go to get paid to promote a brand.

But influencers are not just middlemen to be used like tools. As the reason they were followed in the first place gets replaced by a profit motive, their reputations will fade and their follower engagement will dwindle.

Some influencers have already seen this coming and are creating their own brands and their own products as extensions of their personalities to retain their audiences and still make money. For those who remain in the old model, artificial intelligence will establish which influencer matches which promotion, and how much that influencer should be paid, as in this article from Ad Week. But before long, the humans in the equation will be unnecessary.

The door has been opened for bots. Machines that parrot influential messaging coming from what look like real people.

They know exactly the time, place and device on which to relay a message using the words the target (you) respond to because of your past history. Your history that is learned by reading everything you read and making predictions about how you will react. Then watching you react to their message and adding that to their learnings to create the next one.


Consumers Will (Unknowingly) Set Their Own Prices

I was helping a startup in the Silicon Valley. A brilliant mathematician who came from the gaming industry, and who was building a unique technology to attach to mobile games based on the concept of “discriminatory pricing.”

The idea was that his monetization platform would scour my phone for information about what I spent and how often, both on games I played and from other apps I installed. It would then make a decision about what I could afford to pay to buy 100 gems in my game (gems are currency I can use to buy cool things in my game like a nice hat or a muscle car). But if my friend played fewer games, or made fewer purchases, or didn’t spend as much money through his other apps, he would get a different offer.

So I might get a pop-up offer on my phone to buy 100 gems for $25, but my friend would get an offer for 10 gems for $1. As long as we didn’t talk to each other, we were both happy with our offers, and the fact that I was paying 2.5x more was never discovered.

When was the last time you bought something online and compared prices with someone who bought the same thing?

I remember the mathematician telling me that he went to a gaming trade show and shared his idea. 80% of the people hated it. But the following year, people saw the dollar signs. And in only a year, 80% loved it and wanted to know more. I bet that guy is a multi-millionaire now. And I am positive his technology has made it into way more digital revenue streams than gaming alone.


How Will You Interface?

If you open your eyes at your own job, you’ll see the signs everywhere. And if you don’t see what’s coming, start doing a few Google searches on machine learning, artificial intelligence and marketing. Go to a trade show and seek out the tiny out-of-the-way booths in the back. Look past the ill-constructed marketing slogans and overused buzzwords and dig into what the engine behind any marketing technology is. Read up on IBM Watson.

Feel sufficiently underprepared? No? Okay, check out this article from Gartner, in which they say:

“Organizations will continue to be faced with rapidly accelerating technology innovation that will profoundly impact the way they deal with their workforces, customers and partners,” says Mike J. Walker, research director. “Our 2017 Hype Cycle reveals three distinct technology trends that profoundly create new experiences with unrivaled intelligence, and offer platforms that propel organizations to connect with new business ecosystems in order to become competitive over the next five to 10 years.”

And I didn’t even mention “human augmentation” or “brain-computer interfaces.”


In Part 2 of this series, “Getting Along With Our New Masters,” I will discuss how we can use machine intelligence as a foundation to build new marketing practices and improve old ones.