Brands must retain their empathy as automation accelerates

Johnathan Bacon
,
Marketing Week
Brands must retain their empathy as automation accelerates

Ever feel as though the joy has been sucked from your job? The once fun, creative aspects of your marketing role – the things you signed up for in the first place – are now handed off to data specialists, algorithms and machines. Technology is on its inevitable march and you are starting to feel as obsolete as the old fax machine in the corner of the office…

This scenario may seem overly pessimistic, but it is one that more and more marketers are confronting as automation seeps into every facet of their jobs. In the space of a few years programmatic marketing has gone from a niche, hi-tech concept to a commonly understood practice that companies are scrambling to deploy to achieve better, more efficient targeting. Machine learning is advancing all the time and artificial intelligence (AI) is reshaping the way marketers do everything from data capture to campaign messaging.

So does this age of digital automation signal the end of human generated creativity? A sweep of opinions across the marketing community shows divergent views on the future of creativity, but broad acceptance that the way ideas are taken to market is changing post-haste.

Former HSBC head of marketing Philip Mehl was unequivocal when he argued that marketing “is a data challenge now” and that the pursuit of true creativity in marketing is all but dead. On the other hand, YouTube’s Richard Waterworth pointed to the grey area between the twin pillars of creativity and automation and the need for marketers to continue viewing certain aspects of their role as “more of an art than a science”. Human imagination remains vital to retaining “brand magic”, he argued.

Finding a balance

In a sense both marketers are right. Given the plethora of consumer-facing technologies and media channels that exist, it is clear that brands are now competing first and foremost on how quickly and efficiently they can reach the right customers. In that context it is easy to see how creativity could become a secondary issue.

Yet brands also need to hit their targets with the right messaging, and it is here that human empathy remains vitally important, even if AI technology one day achieves human-like emotional sophistication. Marketing is a holistic business function, not a zero-sum game of data, targets and messages, and it will always require people to think creatively about a brand’s larger place in the world and the strategy required to connect with human beings.

Of course, marketing departments and the skill sets within them need to adapt to the age of automation. But business leaders also need to ensure that as their companies automate processes, they allow their employees the space to think for themselves and express themselves creatively. The brands that succeed in getting the balance right will be those that thrive in the future.