Big data, combined with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), is the mega trend that is upending industry after industry. While most of us have heard about driverless cars, programmatic buying and automated assistants — all driven by powerful self-learning algorithms that use smart computing and data to make efficient and quick decisions — a silent revolution is now taking place in today’s workplace.
These algorithms are automating a number of decisions that have traditionally been made by experienced professionals. For brand managers, I see artificial intelligence and machine learning as fundamental game changers. With the advent of big data, digital and mobile revolutions, the role of a brand manager has already changed in the last five years. Analytical skills, which used to be the purview of specialised analytics teams, have become essential for marketing success.
However, the marketing world has continued to get more and more complex. Not only do we have more channels — retail (traditional and organised), online, social, mobile, flash sales etc — the fundamental behaviour of the consumer has also been changing.
Moreover, marketing decisions need to be made at a significantly faster pace.
Nimble and tech-savvy startups are eating the lunch of established companies. As a result, brands all over the world have been struggling to connect with the changing consumer. Notably, none of the traditional brand marketing powerhouses have been able to master these changes. This is putting tremendous pressure on brand marketing companies such as P&G, Nestlé, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. They have been underperforming in the stock market and activist investors are applying pressure on them to change and deliver better financial results in the wake of slower growth and lower brand premiums.
In this complex, fast changing scenario, artificial intelligence and machine learning are starting to play a bigger role in brand marketing. While there has been a lot of focus and excitement about how machine learning can help marketers connect better with their customers, there has not been much discussion about how the fundamental role of brand managers will change as these technologies are widely adopted across industries.
Traditionally, data and analytics have been used to understand and develop insights about the customer journey and to measure the impact of various marketing actions. Machine learning and artificial intelligence are upending the traditional paradigm in a big way by automating the decision making itself.
Thus the role of the brand manager, which in the past was about using insights to make better decisions, is changing as machines can do a host of tasks better and more efficiently. Let’s take the example of marketing budget allocation — a big part of a brand manager’s role. Traditional methodologies such as market mix modelling and digital attribution have depended on analysing historical data to understand drivers of ROI and then using this learning to enable brand managers to make better decisions for the next quarter.
In this currently evolving scenario, decisions need to be made faster across a larger number of ever expanding channels where customer behaviour, competitor strategies and their marketing spends are constantly in flux. No brand manager can keep pace with this complex environment. We have already seen the role that programmatic buying has taken in online media buying. Similar approaches are now being tried in other areas of marketing budget allocation with significantly improved results.
What does all of this mean for a brand manager? In the short-term, brand managers will continue to enhance their analytical skills. However, as machines take a bigger role in decision making, it will be the creative side of brand managers that will matter more. If in the future, data driven decisions will be done entirely by AI and ML-enabled machines, what will be the brand manager’s role?
Fortunately, computers have not yet learned to be creative like humans and that is where brand managers will play a bigger role. Creativity will have to be applied to come up with new campaigns that are different from what has been done in the past, including new messages, new channels etc. Once a new creativity based campaign has been run, machines will take over and optimise it further while the brand manager goes back to coming up with the next creative solution. This world is not too far from where we are — a number of forward thinking companies and start-ups have already started moving in this direction. It is time for the rest of us to catch up before the wave sweeps us away.
The writer is co-founder and CEO,Absolutdata Analytics