In a world of automation, do marketers fear experimentation?
In recent interview with MarTech I mentioned that I felt creativity was being marginalized in a world so utterly besotted with data and automation. The result, I feared, was that the skills of marketing graduates coming into the sector were becoming unbalanced, with too little emphasis placed on the creative elements that make marketing such a special career choice. It’s a topic that I thought worth expanding on.
Is creativity becoming marginalized?
Let me utterly clear. The two (creativity and automation) are not mutually exclusive. Automation is powering an immense improvement in the way we work. It not only delivers immense scale, but it should be allowing marketers to spend more time focusing on the creative aspects of their jobs!
But looking around the B2B marketing world, I see signs that we’re building a creative vacuum where marketers are starting to fear experimentation – relying not on their empathy, or experience, but on data.
“Combine creativity, data literacy, and channel skills, and you have a winning combination.”
In principle that’s no bad thing. Marketing is awash with deep-rooted, and often wrong, assumptions that should be challenged. But for all the rhetoric around data (which is ultimately the fuel that powers AI and automation), the reality is that many marketers are relying solely on lagging indicators.
Sure, the future is robustly set in a world where machine-learning capabilities start to divulge leading indicators that invoke a new sense of exploration and experimentation, but let’s be honest – when most marketers talk about their data-driven programs they’re talking about basing decisions on static, historical data sets. It’s at this stage that at best, decision making starts to become marginalized in favor of continual, systematic tweaks to a process, and at worst simply amplifies and repeats the same mistakes.
Worryingly, much of the issue is perpetuated by our industry’s own navel-gazing and hyperbole; the hype-machine is in over-drive right now. As marketers we can’t help but hype ourselves up into a frenzy. It’s dangerous, it devalues creativity and independent thought, and potentially puts truly creative people off from entering the industry.
Hire for success
Of course, anyone coming into the industry would be foolish not to understand the place of AI and automation in the modern marketing team. But they also need to understand how it fits into a wider skill set. Knowledge of current automation and marketing technology tools was a prerequisite question whenever I interviewed candidates. But, what I was really looking for was that creative spark behind the eyes that shows that the candidate understood the importance of independent thought (outside of the data), and that marketing is first and foremost about empathy, and understanding the customer journey at every stage. Technology should be amplifying that skillset – not driving it. Combine creativity, data literacy, channel skills and you have a winning marketing professional.
“Decision making risks becoming marginalized in favor of continual, systematic tweaks.”
There has always been a dichotomy between the rational and the creative. Marketing’s “dark ages” in the 80’s-90’s saw the industry being lamented as a business cost, not as a revenue generator. If you were in marketing, you were a “creative”, not a “business person”.
Fortunately, we are now more enlightened. Marketing has got better at using data to prove its value. At the same time, the buyer journey has changed so significantly that buyers now spend 70% of the journey making decisions based on direct and indirect marketing channels, rather than directly with the sales function.
Marginalizing the creative elements of marketing risks resurrecting and perpetuating this dichotomy. Marketing people are business people, and they are creative. After all, marketing is a holistic function that spans many parts of an organization, and not a zero-sum game of data. We will always require people to think creatively about a brand’s role in the world and how we should be connecting with buyers. In short, even in an increasingly automated industry, it’s still about empathy and human imagination.