Marketing just can’t catch a break. Budget cuts, data privacy changes, new hot channels like TikTok (which might disappear overnight) and now generative AI. Marketing is never dull. You never know what is around the corner, but it will likely be exciting.
This article is about marketing’s future, which AI may or may not play a role in. Marketing leaders must think about how to future-proof their teams and keep up with whatever comes their way. In other words, they need to innovate.
There are three decisions all marketing teams need to make to design a future-friendly version of themselves. They must breathe, be ruthless about value, and identify timeless skills.
‘Keep calm and carry on’
You might have seen this phrase painted on mugs or t-shirts. It originated in World War II when the British government used it as a motivational message to help citizens survive horrific situations.
Today, it serves to remind us to slow down. Seriously, marketing teams need to take a breath. I started the article by talking about serious challenges, but before we jump into solving problems, teams need to be in the right state of mind.
While things change rapidly in marketing, that doesn’t mean you need to run around anxiously. It is far better to think about issues systematically and slowly. Decisions made out of fear or panic are never optimal. They put too much weight on the worst-case scenarios and completely disregard the upside and possibilities.
Look at how the travel industry reacted to pandemic lockdowns. Most airlines started to lay off people left and right. When travel demand rebounded, many were short-staffed and couldn’t deal with the demand. The outlier here was Ryanair which avoided doing major layoffs, rotated their staff through the small number of available flights, and was able to rebound to full capacity rapidly.
Ryanair didn’t make decisions based on fear or panic. They correctly assumed that travel restrictions wouldn’t last forever and were better off being optimistic. There are always options even in the worst situations, but you will only see them if you’re relaxed.
Before you start hiring prompt engineers, buying the latest AI technology or firing people, take a breath. Get some sleep and come back to the problems with a fresh mind.
Dig deeper: AI in marketing: 7 areas where it shines and struggles
What is marketing actually producing?
Somewhere along the way, marketing has forgotten what they are actually generating for the business. It’s not just writing funny social media posts, designing beautiful landing pages or developing clever taglines.
If that’s all you think marketing is, then I understand why technology like AI can be scary. If your entire job is to write social media posts and then schedule them, you’re bound to be replaced.
Marketing is about helping the customer buy. That means educating the customer, helping them make a decision and then reinforcing the positive elements of their purchase.
Marketing will never go away because we love to buy things. I love to visit Nordstrom — even though they are leaving Canada — but I wouldn’t say I like shopping at their stores.
Nordstrom stores have 20-30 employees, so you’re constantly being interrupted by someone offering to help. I can’t go more than two minutes before a sales rep approaches me. We love to buy, but we don’t like being sold to.
Marketing leaders need to fight for the appropriate perception internally. If other units view marketing as fluffy or a cost center, you have lost. Marketing is a partner in driving revenue and is essential for keeping a company growing at a healthy pace.
Everything else is optional. It doesn’t matter if people or AI write your social media posts or your content or create your images. The big picture doesn’t change. Let the robots take over. It gives humans more time to think deeply about tackling the big picture.
Dig deeper: How to make revenue generation a company-wide effort
What are timeless skills?
The world is obsessed with change. We breathlessly talk about how X will change the world, how X will remove 25% of jobs and how we will soon find ourselves living in a Black Mirror episode.
The reality is that we overestimate the rate and depth of change. Despite the advancements in smartphones, some people still use cheques. I was actually paying my rent by cheque until a couple of years ago.
We may forget that smartphones are phones, but plenty of people still make phone calls. It may seem like everyone is moving to electric cars, but I bet we will see gasoline cars for the next 100 years — maybe even longer.
Some things are timeless, even in a world of robots. People generally prefer to interact with humans, people need help making choices and people want to be entertained.
As you build the marketing team of the future, think of the skills that will always be in demand. Here are a few for you to consider:
- Customer experience: How do consumers like to buy and how can you optimize the buying experience? This skill is part psychology, part empathy and part creativity.
- Listening: In a world where everyone is talking, who’s actually listening? What do customers actually want but aren’t saying?
- Branding: Forget about hacks like mispronounced words and look for people who are obsessed with building 100-year-old brands.
- Value mindset: Tools are ephemeral, but providing value is not. Look for people who can make the distinction and aren’t caught up in seeing themselves as tool operators.
The death of marketing may be premature. Despite the buffeting winds of change, marketing will be around for a long time. It does need reinventing, though. For too long, marketing has been obsessed with technology. It is losing touch with the human element of marketing and how that can help drive value for the business.
Low-difficulty marketing tasks are going away, and that’s a good thing. It will force good marketers to adapt and think hard about their roles. At the end of the day, we are all in the people business. The challenge is seeing that through the pixels.
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