With all the talk about artificial intelligence and machine learning and generative AI and such, it’s reasonable for marketers — especially those early in their careers — to ask, "Does marketing have a future? Is there a path to success as a marketing professional in the future?"
I won’t keep you in suspense. I’m fairly confident that the answer is yes. So much so, in fact, that it’s how I plan to continue spending my time and energy for at least the next decade.
That doesn’t mean that marketing will remain entirely the same. It doesn’t mean that you won’t have to grow your skills or that you won’t need to be open to change or that what "marketing" means down the road won’t be different than it is today. But… when has that ever not been the case?
Does marketing have a future? Do opportunities for future growth exist in the marketing profession? And, if so, what will that look like? That’s what this episode of Thinks Out Loud will try to answer for you.
Want to learn more? Then give a listen, review the transcript, and check out all of today’s show notes. Enjoy!
Big Trends: Does Marketing Have a Future? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 375) — Headlines and Show Notes
Show Notes and Links
- A Far Too Quick Look at the Metaverse, web3, and the Future of Digital (Thinks Out Loud Episode 349)
- The Most Important Trends in Marketing 2023 (Thinks Out Loud Episode 369)
- Big Trends: The Early Innings of AI in Marketing (Thinks Out Loud Episode 374)
- The End of Google? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 372)
- Is ChatGPT Going to Steal Your Job? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 371)
- AI Won’t Steal Your Job: Smart People Who Put AI to Work Will (Thinks Out Loud Episode 208)
- Will ChatGPT Kill Google? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 367)
- The Future is Already Here (Thinks Out Loud Episode 370)
- How to Build a Digital Team (Thinks Out Loud Episode 344)
- How to Build the Business Case for Digital in Your Budget (Thinks Out Loud Episode 353)
- Microsoft is holding a ‘future of work’ AI event on March 16th | Engadget
- Table 1. Job openings levels and rates by industry and region, seasonally adjusted – 2022 M12 Results
- Full-time office work is ‘dead,’ economist says
- 4-day workweek trial so successful 91% firms to continue, trial shows – The Washington Post
- Full-time office work is ‘dead,’ economist says
- Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers : Occupational Outlook Handbook: : U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- US Business Firmographics – Company Size | NAICS Association
- Number of employer firms by employment size U.S. | Statista
- The Future of Content Marketing is Already Here (Thinks Out Loud Episode 350)
- How to Escape Big Tech’s Web (Thinks Out Loud Episode 395)
We have some free downloads for you to help you navigate the current situation, which you can find right here:
- A Modern Content Marketing Checklist. Want to ensure that each piece of content works for your business? Download our latest checklist to help put your content marketing to work for you.
- A Brief Introduction to Thinks Out Loud. As a bonus, we’ve also included this PDF document that highlights some of our core episodes to help you dig into what the show is about. We think it will help you capture the show’s essence while you’re working your way through the 300-plus episodes published so far. Download it here.
- Digital & E-commerce Maturity Matrix. As a bonus, here’s a PDF that can help you assess your company’s digital maturity. You can use this to better understand where your company excels and where its opportunities lie. And, of course, we’re here to help if you need it. The Digital & E-commerce Maturity Matrix rates your company’s effectiveness — Ad Hoc, Aware, Striving, Driving — in 6 key areas in digital today, including:
- Customer Focus
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Transcript: Big Trends: Does Marketing Have a Future? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 375)
Well, hello again everybody, and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital expertise, your business. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 375 of the big show.
375 episodes? That blows my mind. Not that we’ve done them, but that you’ve listened and I really appreciate you tuning in. I think we have a really cool show for you today.
AI is Reshaping Marketing: Does Marketing Have a Future?
Obviously I have been talking for the last bunch of weeks about all of the things like the new Bing and how AI is beginning to permeate marketing function in a really, really significant way. And I was having a conversation with someone the other day with a younger person about does marketing have a future?
And if you work in marketing, if you are thinking about making your career in marketing, if you make your career in marketing today, it’s a really worthwhile question to ask because it’s entirely possible that what marketing looks like two years from now or five years from now or 10 years from now is going to be very different than what it looks like at the moment or what it looked like two years ago, or five years ago, or 10 years ago.
So I want to start by just answering the question from my perspective. Does marketing have a future? Yes, I am very confident marketing has a future, and I will tell you precisely how confident in just a moment or two.
What Will Marketing Look Like?
I think a more important question is to say, what will marketing look like? What will that work look like? And that’s definitely tougher to say.
A few months ago I did an episode about what the future of the metaverse might look like, and the metaverse have a future. And at the moment it doesn’t look like it, but you.
A Simple Framework
There was something in that episode that I thought was really interesting, which was this framework around, when we talk about the future of anything, there’s a few different things we have to do:
- One, we have to define our terms
- The next is we have to define what does success look like. What do we mean by these things?
- The next is what kind of timeframe are we talking?
- And the last one is, how confident are you in whatever it is you’re talking about in the first place?
What Do You Mean by Marketing?
So I’m going to start with, when I talk about marketing, when I talk about the work of marketing, I want to define terms. I want to say, what do I mean by work in this context?
I tend to define marketing more broadly than. There’s the famous Peter Drucker quote that says, "the first job of business is to create a customer." The quote goes on to say, "business really only has two jobs, innovation and marketing."
And when we think about creating a customer, we’re really talking about the four Ps of marketing.
Now, for those of you who remember the academic framework of the four Ps, those are product, price, place, promotion.
- Product. What is it that you offer your customers?
- Price is what do you charge or how is the product paid for? So that could be advertising revenue, for instance. You know, that’s a way to quote unquote, price your product, even if the user doesn’t pay directly.
- Place, of course is where can your customer get your product or service? You know, if we think about something like hotel distribution, deciding whether or not you’re going to be on Expedia or booking.com, or if you’re only going to appear on your own website, or if you’re only going to work with travel agents — though very few people do that these days. Those are all place decisions, obviously in retail. When we talk about channel management, it’s the same.
- And of course, promotion is what most people think about when they think about marketing. Which I like to think of as what is the story you tell about your product or service and where do you tell it? How do you decide to put that message in front of your customers? How do you get their attention?
So when I think about marketing, I think about the four Ps of product, price, place, promotion.
Do Those Marketing Disciplines Have a Future? Yes
And yes, across those various disciplines, there will absolutely be people who are paid marketers whose jobs depend upon developing products or determining pricing strategies, if not necessarily the price. We may use, you know, AI to determine what the best price is for something. Or determining the places we’re going to sell those or determining the promotions that we’re going to run.
We may use AI to automate some of those decisions. We certainly, I would certainly expect, we will use AI to automate the research around those. I expect we will use AI to run tests.
But the decisions I think are still going to be made by people. The criteria by which we determine, did the AI get the right answer to those tests? I think it’s still going to be people, and I think we’re still going to have people in those roles.
More to the point, I think it’s very unlikely that there won’t be any people in any of those roles. That just doesn’t jibe with history — or reality, in my view.
What Does Successful Marketing Look Like in the Future?
Now, of course, we have to talk about what successful jobs look like or success in those roles looks like, and I think there’s a lot of room here to grow.
Finding Marketing Talent is Still Challenging
I’ve been having discussions over the last handful of weeks with members of The Conference Board. These are people who work for very large companies in various marketing and strategy roles. I can tell you across the board, talent is still tough to come by. People are still struggling to find people now.
You may hear all the news about Big Tech and all of their layoffs. One of the things you want to keep in mind when you hear those is that the big tech companies, the AGFAM — Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft — are still, even after these large layoffs, these large rounds of layoffs that they’re having, they’re still really, really big companies.
More to the point, they are much bigger companies than they were pre pandemic. Since 2019, Amazon has 93% more employees than it did in 2019. I mean, that’s a crazy number. Sure, it is absolutely true that many of those people work in warehouses or work in, you know, logistics centers and distribution centers, logistics and distribution roles, that are not properly classified as marketing, which is completely fine.
So let’s look at some of the pure tech folks instead. Microsoft is 53% larger in terms of headcount than they were in 2019. And Facebook is 69% larger, even with the large numbers of layoffs they’ve been running, even with all the challenges that they have. These folks are hoovering up talent all over the place, many of them engineers, many of them technical folks, and such. It is absolutely true that you cannot do marketing today without technical roles.
So almost every company needs developers, data scientists, data analytics people, artificial intelligence and machine learning specialists, front-end developers. Those are all jobs that are very much out there. But the digital marketers who think about, and the product specialists and the promotion specialists who think about what they want those engineers to do still are in demand as well.
I’ve done searches on Indeed, just as a quick, for instance, for jobs like digital marketing, product management, digital analytics. And there are tons of jobs out there, available for the moment. There’s data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that there are still two job openings for every unemployed person in the country right now.
A Quick Note for Listeners Outside the US
By the way, for my listeners outside the United States, I apologize for using just US data during this discussion, but it just gets too complicated to look at all of the possible permutations.
How Large is the Opportunity?
The reality is there are an enormous number of companies out there hiring rank. If you think about all of the companies that exist out there, there’s 165,000 companies in the United States with over a hundred employees. And those companies account for roughly 48% of all employment in the United States.
About 350,000 people work in marketing in some capacity. So there’s lots of people working in this space.
How Will the Marketing Role Change?
Now I do think the work will change. We’ll be using AI more. We’ll have to work with tech talent more than we do today. Things like salaries might not grow quite as fast as they have over the last few years. We know that salaries outside the Big Tech companies are lower, but they’re still objectively high. And we know that remote work may or may not be on the table for some folks. You know, just because we’ve seen a lot of it, it does look like the new normal is people are going to work remotely at least a few days a week, or at least a couple of days a week. But we’ll have to see.
I will tell you, I heard about a CEO at one very forward-thinking company recently who said, "We need to earn our workers’ commute. We need to earn the right to ask people to commute."" If we can’t give people a reason to commute to work, we shouldn’t be asking them to do so, we should let them work remotely.
And I think that is going to be an attitude you’re going to see more of over time. We’ll see. I’m not a hundred percent sure on that one. So the work may change. The nature of the work may change. Where you do the work may change. But the work still seems to be there. And I think it’s going to be there for a while.
What is the Timeline for These Changes?
Which comes to the next thing I think you need to define when you talk about these, which is define your timeline. You have heard me say many, many times or quote many times, Bill Gates’ comment, that, "We always overestimate the change in the next two years and underestimate the change in the next 10."
I think it’s very likely. I think if we use that as a framework, it’s probably likely that the work you’re doing for the next couple of years, the next two years is going to look a lot like what it’s looked like for the previous two or the previous five. Yeah, maybe it’ll start to evolve over those two years and it would probably evolve over the next five to 10.
But I think that over the next two to five years, we’re going to see people doing things that look pretty similar.
And I would be shocked if in five years we don’t have roughly the same number of people or more working in marketing that we do today. Right now, the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts growth of the marketing profession at about 10% per year.
I could see that growth rate declining. Maybe it’s possible that AI takes some of that growth away. And given that the population is probably going to increase, maybe 350,000 marketing jobs becomes a smaller share of total employment.
But overall, it does not seem likely that we’re looking at a total collapse in marketing over the next five to 10 years. It just defies all of our logic and all of our history.
Now, how confident am I in this? I’m reasonably confident. I’d call it 80% confident. I’d be willing to bet a fair bit that I’m in the right ballpark on this.
How much would I be willing to bet? Well, for starters, , I’m betting my entire income for the next decade on that fact.
I am a marketer. That’s what I do for a living. And I’m not terribly worried about my job.
I am worried about competing with people who use AI effectively. I am thinking about how do I do my job more effectively so that I continue to provide value to my clients and their customers.
But I’m pretty sure that as long as there are customers, there will need to be people who know how to connect with those customers and also know how to use the tools that allow them to do that more effectively.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Which is where I go in terms of the advice that I would give to people. If you’re thinking about entering marketing or if you’re a marketer today and thinking about, should I expand my skills in digital? The answer is yes. At least for now. Yeah, I think so.
And the advice I would give is keep learning. Keep learning about the other parts of marketing. If you are a promotions person, if that’s where you spend all your time in developing ads and things along those lines, learn about product, learn about price, learn about place. If you work in one of those other disciplines, learn about the others.
Look at how you think those are going to change in the next five to 10 years. Talk to others who are doing it and ask how they expect it to change in the next five to 10 years. Ask, how are they changing now? What are the problem areas in these marketing disciplines? And what work is being done to use AI and machine learning to address these problems?
Notice through all this. I didn’t say that marketing wouldn’t change. I just said I think marketing will continue to exist. Learn about the technology. What can these tools do? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? How can AI and machine learning make you better at the parts of marketing that you’re involved with and help your peers in the parts you’re not involved with do their jobs better?
One of the things that’s absolutely true, I’ve built my career on being a translator. People who can translate between the technology and the human being — between what someone I know calls "the plumbing and the poetry" — remain in high demand. That’s incredibly important, and I suspect always will be.
Learn How to Tell Stories Better
Speaking of poetry, Learn how to tell a story. AI-based tools are learning to tell good stories. They’re learning to tell solid stories, but someone must judge those stories for their emotional resonance, for their connection with your customers, their value, and what fits with your brand’s values. You have to be able to know, is this a good story that does what it’s supposed to do that is effective at what it’s supposed to do?
And sure, you’re going to do some of that by testing in the marketplace, but you’re not going to test everything. You’re going to have to exercise some judgment to say, this is something that I would test in the first place.
Learn More About Your Audience
How do you know what to test? Well, you have to learn more about your audiences, about what they care about. You have to learn, use data more to understand what matters to your customers, and also understand anecdotes, understand what you’re hearing from people, right? Subjective data as well as objective.
Improve Your Critical Thinking
You need to learn to think critically, and most importantly, ask the big questions. Don’t be afraid to ask dumb questions. You know, my favorite thing about my job is that I’m allowed to ask dumb questions all the time. Think about the question little kids ask all the time. Why? Why? Why ? Right? You could phrase that question more positively. You know, you could say, "Can you tell, can you talk to me about…?" "Can you help me understand…?" "What am I missing about…?" But you’re asking.
You can’t be afraid to ask those dumb questions, because dumb questions lead to smart answers and smart answers lead to you getting smarter and getting better at what you do.
Don’t Be Afraid
I said, don’t be afraid to ask those questions. And I think that’s the single biggest piece of advice is don’t be afraid. Keep your eyes open, keep learning. Because if you do that, you’re going to be a successful marketer no matter how marketing changes.
Conclusion: Does Marketing Have a Future?
So does marketing have a future? Absolutely. Do we know exactly what the future looks like? Nope. But I’m pretty sure that the future of marketing is going to be built on continuing to learn, learning about telling a story, learning about your audience, learning about your customers, and learning how you connect with those customers to solve their problems.
And if you do that, not only will marketing have a future, but you will too.
Show Closing and Credits
Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this. I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode, as well as an archive of all past episodes by going to timpeter.com/podcasts. Again, that’s timpeter.com/podcasts.
Just look for episode 375.
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I love chatting with y’all about this stuff all the time, and I relish the opportunity to continue to do so. So with all that said, I hope you have a fantastic rest of this. I hope you have a wonderful weekend and I will look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then, please be well be safe, and as always, take care everybody.