Hello, Watson

In 2014, IBM is estimated to have spent $53m on digital display ads.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that the company had been experimenting with Watson, its cognitive computing platform, to see if it could help Big Blue better manage its online ad buys.

After nearly a year of testing, it had an answer: yes, it can, and pretty darn well.

‘Cognitive bid optimization’, as IBM calls it, reduced the company’s average cost per click by 35%, and by as much as 71%. 

Even fractions of dollars and cents “really matters to us,” IBM’s VP of marketing analytics, Ari Sheinkin, explained, “because of the volume and the dollars involved.”

Given the potential for savings, IBM decided to hand over all of its programmatic campaigns to Watson by the end of this year.

Einstein gets into the act

Watson is named after IBM’s first CEO, Thomas J. Watson, and CRM platform provider Salesforce named its recently announced AI platform after a pretty smart guy too, Albert Einstein.

Einstein, which Salesforce bills as “AI for Everyone,” aims to make “Salesforce the world’s smartest CRM” by “enabling any company to deliver smarter, personalized and more predictive customer experiences.”

The technology is being applied to all of Salesforce’s Clouds, including Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, and Marketing and Analytics Cloud.

Marketing Cloud Einstein, for instance, will offer predictive scoring, predictive audiences and automated send-time optimization.

  • Predictive scoring “gauge[s] how likely it is that customers will engage with an email, unsubscribe from an email list, or make a web purchase.
  • Predictive audiences builds segments of audiences who share common predicted behaviors.
  • Automated send-time optimization delivers a message when recipients are deemed most likely to engage.

Wither the marketer?

While Salesforce is pitching Einstein as a way to make its staff, including marketers, more effective, some are starting to ask if the days are numbered for many marketers.

It’s a somewhat complicated and sensitive discussion for obvious reasons.

A strong argument can be made that marketers aren’t going anywhere. After all, as Marketing Land’s Barry Levine suggests, “the marketer is the liaison with reality.”

There are still a lot of areas in the marketing process in which human involvement is required and/or desirable.

For example, banner ads and emails don’t design and write themselves, and there are always “black swan” events that humans will need to respond to, at least for the foreseeable future.

There is also the ever-important strategic layer of marketing that can’t be distilled into a science. 

But that doesn’t mean that the role of marketers won’t change, or that marketing jobs won’t disappear.

Thanks, programmatic

With more and more digital ad dollars being spend through programmatic channels, the online ad market today is looking more and more like a stock exchange.

Years ago, the trading floors of stock exchanges were filled with traders.

Today, many are practically empty. Part of that is the result of the 2008 financial crisis, but part of it is the fact that the world needs fewer traders thanks to technology. 

As programmatic continues to take over, there will be greater opportunity for businesses to hand over the reigns to computers like Watson and that will obviously have an impact on many marketers’ jobs.

In some cases, it could even eliminate them.

Don’t blame programmatic

But if technology and the automation it can provide ultimately results in a need for fewer marketers, technology shouldn’t shoulder all of the blame.

No, marketers themselves will have to take some responsibility for the situation.

In a scathing opinion piece, Marketing Week’s Mark Ritson argues that Facebook Overstategate shows that marketers are in many cases clueless:

…this little debacle once again confirms that nobody actually knows what the fuck is going on with digital media. Not media agencies, not big-spending clients and not armchair digital strategists.

From the shadowy box of turds and spiders that is programmatic to the increasingly complex and deluded world of digital views, the idea that digital marketing is more analytical and attributable than other media is clearly horseshit.

Sure, it has more numbers and many more metrics but that does not make it more accountable, it makes it less so.

While marketers could be forgiven for the fact that Facebook is effectively a black box, it is somewhat amazing that apparently nobody noticed Facebook’s major faux pas, which overestimated average viewing time for video ads by 60% to 80% for two years.

But marketers can’t blame the black boxes either. Examples of problematic behavior in digital ad land are everywhere, and it often occurs when dollars meet hype, inexperience and bad judgment. 

And let’s be honest: marketers, in many cases, don’t have any incentive not to misbehave, get lazy or recognize their own limitations.

In fact, they actually have more of an incentive to ensure that their budgets stay the same or grow.

Fortunately for them, digital provides no shortage of metrics to justify those budgets.

Ultimately, however, digital was sold as being far more accountable, and it should be. Technology will eventually be called upon to help restore that promise.

The marketers who plan to remain marketers should embrace that.

The marketers who don’t are far more likely to become former marketers in the years ahead.