“Driverless cars” seems to have been a news story almost every day for the last few months and no sign of it slowing up. Personally, I’m not keen on the idea – I can’t think of a single piece of IT that I have owned or used that hasn’t gone wrong at some point, so the prospect of trusting software, satellites etc. to drive me at seventy miles an hour doesn’t have great appeal. Perhaps I’m just being a bit of a grumpy old man – time will tell.
Actually, the other problem I have with “driverless cars” is the terminology. I don’t think it’s really true. When I think about my driving or that of other people when I’m a passenger, it seems to me that one of the key functions of a driver is to respond to real-time situations, making quick decisions and implementing them effectively. From the traffic light that changes to amber as we approach, to the child who looks like they might step out into the road, as drivers we are processing huge amounts of information and using our skills and experience to make decisions on what to do.
In a driverless car, the same information has to be gathered, but instead of a human being sat behind the wheel, there will presumably be a high-powered piece of computing that makes and implements those decisions. It will have to be programmed to reach its decisions, and that will have been done by a human in an office or factory somewhere. So, to my mind, this car isn’t driverless, it’s just that the driver isn’t in the car with you. I don’t think that makes me feel any better!
I’m concerned at the moment that marketing is heading the same way. The explosion of software, systems, apps, outsourced services and other tools might make it feel like we don’t need the marketing professional any more. It can certainly be valuable, saving time, automating the routine tasks and processing mountains of data. But in the same way as with the car, a skilled and experienced marketer is still needed to direct those resources and make great decisions.
I have long felt that one of the most important attributes for someone to be successful in marketing is empathy. The ability to stand in the shoes of the customer or prospect and perceive the world the way they do helps us improve every one of the marketing ‘Ps’. Algorithms can’t do that for us – only real people can empathise with another human being.
My advice is to think about where in your marketing you can safely go ‘driverless’, delivering greater results from fewer resources, and where you really do need your own skilled and experienced marketing driver.