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You Are Not a Bot. Stop Marketing Like One.

There’s an old riddle that asks: 

“Would you rather I give you a million dollars this month, or a penny today and double your money daily for a month?”

The smart money is on the penny. You’d have $10,737,418.24 after 31 days.

That’s the power of compounding—or exponential—growth.

It’s not just a financial concept: It has critical implications for marketers, too, thanks to a guy named Moore.

Gordon Moore was Intel’s founder. He showed us that the number of transistors you could fit on a circuit doubled every two years. Put in practical terms, this means that computing power advances exponentially—like the doubling pennies in the riddle. 

It’s called Moore’s Law. It’s responsible for the technological groundswell building under our feet right now. And most marketers aren’t even remotely prepared for it.

Your Computer is Already Obsolete

Moore made the prediction in 1965. The same year, Digital Equipment Corp. released the PDP-8, a “commercially successful” computer. It was a 12-bit machine controller “about the size of a small household refrigerator.”

It’s “commercially successful” price tag? $18,000.

Forty-seven years later, in 2012, the Raspberry Pi hit the market. It’s a powerful computer that measures a few inches to a side. Compared to the PDP-8, it might as well be magic with 512 megabytes of memory—and it costs $35.

This example is even more startling: In 2012, computers averaged about 4 gigabytes of memory. In 1995 (the year Toy Story and Apollo 13 came out), computers had just 4 megabytes—a performance gain of more than 100,000% in just 17 years.

Keep in mind, this isn’t linear growth. The next 100,000% performance gain won’t take 17 years. The next big leap will arrive even faster. Algorithmic growth is intense: The more of something you have, the faster it grows.

As marketers, we talk a lot about things like the click rate of ads or multi-screen advertising. We need to be asking different questions. Things are literally moving so fast that we don’t even know what device we’ll be using next.

Put another way: Take the example of the $10 million in pennies you made in a month thanks to exponential growth. Now, imagine they’ve been compounding for 47 years.

Rise of the Bots

Based on the capabilities of our current machines—and thanks to Moore’s Law—bots, software and other machines already do a significant number of jobs traditionally reserved for people.

That trend is only accelerating, in every field from automated stock market trading to bots that write poetry. (Seriously. Check out the excellent Automate This for a laundry list of ways machines are replacing us.)

And the machines are in marketing’s backyard now, too, thanks to marketing automation, data mining and marketing intelligence engines.

We are wholly unprepared for this. The technology is already running parts of our campaigns. It’ll only run more in the future. But the technology isn’t just a tool anymore. It’s also a competitor. 

Where do you personally add value right this moment? Chances are, a bot already has its eyes on your job. 

Yes, it’s scary. No, I’m not saying we’re all screwed. But we will be if we don’t lose two bad habits quick:

On one hand, some of us try to compete with the bots by crunching more numbers and regurgitating more data to our bosses. On the other hand, some of us ignore the bots entirely: we won’t learn the technology, and we pray it goes away.

Both attitudes are dangerous. The first group will work harder and harder for less return—becoming less valuable as bots consistently deliver the same value faster and cheaper. The second group will be cut out of the game entirely by the very technologies they ignored. 

Thankfully, there’s a way for marketers to consistently add value in the age of the machines: Marry the technological expertise of the bots with the insight and storytelling that only a human being can provide.

The Human Advantage

Bots will increasingly be able to present your boss with more accurate data at even less cost—24 hours a day. Machines don’t grow tired or bored, and they’re already faster than we’ll ever be.

But a bot can’t provide insight. And a bot can’t tell a story. As Joe Pulizzi (@juntajoe) cautions in his post, Reporting Content Marketing ROI to the C-Suite:

“Please don’t show an analytics report to your CXO. They don’t care.”

He’s right. We must be hybrid marketers with serious expertise on the technical side. But the data’s just the first step. We need to know what it means. And we need to know what to do about it. 

That’s where human value comes into play. 

In a world of machine-generated noise, marketers who can identify meaningful signals for executives and tell the story of why they’re actionable will have the keys to the kingdom.

It’s not about the new tools or the advanced analytics. It’s about honing the way you think to find insight where others can’t.

It’s not about the what any more. It’s about the why.

Provide that, and even the bots will start asking: “What’s your secret?”

Photo courtesy of Ben Husmann via Flickr

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