Automation vs. obsolescence: How AI is reinventing the role of the digital marketer

From the rise of virtual influencers and the advent of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to TikTok’s explosive growth and Meta’s forays into the metaverse, we’ve seen a flurry of digital advances and innovation over the past five years. While some technologies such as virtual reality and NFTs still seem to loom far on the horizon, one heavily hyped tech that has broken through into the mainstream is artificial intelligence (AI).

Generative AI tools such as ChatGPT and DALL-E are experiencing rapid growth that rivals the speed of adoption of smartphones and social media. The blisteringly quick rate of adoption threatens to leave behind marketers who don’t upskill and reskill. Many marketers are starting to question what their future role will be in an age of automation when machines do so many tasks that were once human jobs.

A rapid path from manual to automated processes

Yet it’s helpful to take a step back and look at how digital media has evolved over the past 20 years. When digital advertising and marketing were in their infancy, digital marketers would spend a lot of their time manually adjusting our bids and audience strategies to optimise ad spend and get the best possible return for our clients. That all changed when Google launched its automated bidding capabilities about seven or eight years ago.

All of a sudden, smart bidding enabled us to auto-optimise campaigns through machine learning with minimal human intervention. Programmatic platforms gained the ability to automatically adjust bids and targeting in near-real time based on intent singles created by users as they move through the digital ecosystem. Back then, I wondered whether digital campaign managerswere becoming obsolete.

Digital marketers: Needed as much as ever

But in reality, we’re here several years later, arguably stronger than we were back then. Automation has been a boon for us, enabling us to become more efficient and productive. An algorithm can identify optimisations hundreds of times quicker than a human, just like a machine can see things on a medical scan faster than a human eye. But this doesn’t change the fact that we still need campaign managers and doctors.

Instead, technology augments our capabilities and reframes what our clients expect from us in terms of speed, accuracy and efficiency. In much the same way as an agency that uses faxes rather than email and has no smartphones would go out of business today, tomorrow’s agency will need to incorporate advanced AI and intelligent automation into its processes to remain relevant in the future.

Incorporating AI and intelligent automation for relevance

Tools such as ChatGPT and marketing automation enable us to rethink what human work should be. We today recognise that humans shouldn’t be spending their time formatting emails and managing email databases because it can be automated—so we can focus on campaign strategy. Likewise, media strategists no longer need to spend as much time analysing audiencesand adjusting targets. Instead, we can focus on the business goals and guiding the machine learning algorithm to achieving those goals.

This does mean that campaign managers and media strategists must evolve their skillsets to remain relevant. Campaign managers need to become business consultants who cantake a big picture view of a client’s objectives, so they can determine which platforms, and which set up strategies to use. They also need technical expertise to leverage the platforms’ automation capabilities and ensure the algorithmsare fed the right data to identify the most relevant audiences.

From siloed roles to holistic campaign leadership

This change means that old job roles such as Google search specialists, programmatic experts and social media managers—all overseen by account managers or business unit directors—are no longer salient. Today, the person working on the front-line with the client needs to be the same person setting up ad accounts across all platforms, running the daily optimisations, and presenting client reports. We have thus replaced the campaign manager title in our business with the role of digital campaign lead.

The role sounds like a lot of work for one person, but with the right support structure, it is, if anything, easier and more manageable. Digital campaign leads have a holistic view that siloed employees never had. They might be doing all the front-end work, but they have support of strategists, technical experts and other senior campaign managers, as well as account representatives at platform owners. And of course, with the algorithms taking care of the drudge work, they can focus more closely on client liaison and strategy.