Recently, retired marketing CEO and industry thought leader Rob Norman gave marketers the advice, “Fear not. The move toward automation will only create more need for the work marketers do to build relevant, assistive brands.” However, to avoid becoming obsolete, Norman claims marketers will need to evolve from intelligence workers to imagination workers to stay relevant.

He describes the role of the marketer as imagination worker:

“The most successful brands will be the ones associated with an emotion, belief, or value that resonates with audiences on a personal level, like Patagonia is doing with adventure, and Airbnb is doing with acceptance, belonging, and safety. The most successful brands will be those adept at both creating new demand with attention-worthy storytelling, and creatively capturing latent demand with relentless relevance to the person, the context, and the moment.”

These assurances may help calm some uncertainty but let’s look at a few specific instances where humans can’t be replaced.

Automation shines when it can fill in the blanks and use iterative testing to achieve measurable results. These systems need well-defined guidelines and rules as well as initial copy from which to work. Skilled humans can imagine more divergent solutions, understand context better, and empathize more deeply. These abilities enable marketers to navigate the more creative yet difficult tasks Norman calls “attention-worthy storytelling” and “relentless relevance.”

Divergent Solutions: As automated writing continues to improve, the copy it generates will become more proficient. This advancing baseline may have the unintended consequence of causing copy within industries to converge. Companies relying heavily on automation may find their copy more and more like that of their competitors. To stand out from the crowd, marketers will need to try more creative approaches, which may be riskier than the demonstrated value from blander but more thoroughly tested copy.

Understanding Context: Word meanings and connotations can shift rapidly due to events outside the scope of an advertising campaign. A word or phrase which might have been innocuous one week may become politically or socially charged from an unpredictable change in sentiment. Intentionally using or avoiding such terms may benefit campaigns. While automated sentiment analysis may eventually reflect such changes, rapid and temporary shifts are currently more quickly understood by humans.

Deep Empathy: Empathizing with an audience allows the marketer and organization to address needs and desires more thoughtfully. Genuinely addressing emotions and values builds more robust relationships. Here marketers are instrumental in creating and curating guidelines that reflect corporate values and resonates. These may be followed by human writers or automated systems to create copy that speaks with a unified brand voice across all channels.


Sources: AI and machine learning have many wondering about marketers’ future role. GroupM’s Rob Norman says ‘fear not’