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17 June 2016

The marketer of the future in an algorithm driven world

At the WebTomorrow event Sophie and Karolien built further upon the on stage panel discussion about “Will marketing become an algorithm?” during a tasty lunch session.

As we are evolving towards a world driven by algorithms and technology, a lot of marketers fear that robots will take over their job and that machines will replicate humans. But at The House of Marketing we don’t believe that marketing will become exclusively algorithm driven on the short term. We are convinced that technology and the human aspect should always go hand in hand.

Several examples underline this statement:

  • The Next Rembrandt: Art historians who created, together with software developers and data analysts, a painting that corresponds exactly to the laws of a real Rembrandt, using algorithms and AI. Beware: original paintings are still a creative idea of Rembrandt. The use of technology transferred the idea into something innovative. (
  • The cognitive dress: Fashion brand Marchesa collaborated with IBM Watson to make a dress that can understand the audience. For example, when a person appears on the red carpet, Watson will monitor Twitter and change the color of the dress to match the emotions being expressed by fans. This is the ultimate pairing of man and machine, of human ideas and computer insight coming together in a piece of clothing that can respond to the reactions it’s creating. Watson didn’t remove the design process, but enhanced this process by giving relevant information. (

These examples show that creativity is still in the hands of humans. It is about having that big idea. To then transfer a creative idea into a successful product/service, that is where algorithms and technology step in.

So our fear shouldn’t be that machines start replicating humans. Our biggest fear should rather be that humans start replicating machines, that marketers only focus on data and algorithms and lose their own gut feeling out of sight. We need to have confidence in the importance of the human touch and focus on developing future-proof skills and knowledge. As we saw in the examples, machines are missing gut feeling and soft skills for the moment, like creativity, amongst other aspects. Creativity remains very human, think about Einstein’s quote: “Creativity is intelligence having fun”.

But what are then the needed competencies of the marketer of the future?

If we have a look at a more macro level, we believe at The House of Marketing that a CMO isn’t an isolated specialist nor a marketing only guru. (S)he has to reach out, speak the language of other departments and know and understand their figures and technologies. This requires a T-shaped profile: a broad marketing expertise but also a very clear vision and collaboration skills with other departments locally and globally.

In this orchestrator role, the CMO needs to align not only with for example sales, but also with the Chief Technology Officer, IT and even the legal department since privacy will become a hot topic for marketers when using data and algorithms more and more. The reason why this cross-departmental role is very important is simple: the customer needs to be at the center of everything.

A lot of enterprises are creating the function of Chief Digital Officer. But at The House of Marketing we believe this will only give a temporary digital boost. It is clear that marketing should own digital, but the purpose of marketing remains understanding and connecting with the customer, digitally and non-digitally. That is why we are convinced that the new CDO profile and the existing CMO profile will step by step be merged into the Chief Customer Officer, responsible for everything related to the customer.

Announcing the possible new role of the Chief Customer Officer leads us immediately to the necessary change not only of the organization but also of the people. On which competencies should we focus most for creating impact? Which mix of competencies will be needed in your team in the future?

The emphasis is too often on narrow skills that will soon be out of date. The marketing world and technology are changing so fast, hence the necessity for focusing on some skills that never go out of style in combination with marketing fundamentals. It doesn’t make sense to focus for example on the best video specialist in Belgium, when tomorrow you might need the expert in augmented reality.

It is a fact that technology should be in the DNA of every marketer and the amount of data and algorithms will only increase. Analytical skills are a must, but not necessarily data crunchers. It is mainly about marketers being able to collect and structure insights, to connect the dots. So should every marketer be a tech nerd? No. Should every marketer be creative? No. It is about having the right mix in your team.

Given the orchestrator role of the CCO, marketers should be able to work with others to find common ground, enhance mutual interdependence and achieve shared goals. Linked to accountability, ownership, trust and decision making: knowing when to lead and when to follow. This is enabled by a dynamic networked organization that breaks barriers across departments. And it asks for persuasive power as well: motivating others to drive change and build commitment around a common agenda.

Of course, in this rapidly changing world, driven by artificial intelligence, other algorithms and new technologies, agility is key to be open to change, but also initiate change, constantly questioning the status quo.  Algorithms and the Internet of Things enable completely new business models, so you need an entrepreneurial mindset inside your company, meaning the openness to failure, the drive to make it happen, a higher risk tolerance and the boldness and courage to take decisions.  Go lean to really make it happen.

All of this makes sense?  Or even sounds easy to you? Well, then just imagine how you would tackle the following.  I have a connected fridge and bought Becel.  So every time I run out of butter, I get Becel in my fridge.  But, you are the brand manager of Solo. What will you, or your team, do to make me interrupt the logical process of the algorithm and make me deliberately choose to switch to Solo?

It shows that:

  • Building strong brands will more than ever be relevant, just as getting a true connection with your consumers. So the basics of marketing won’t change. A strong brand remains everything. You will only have to apply the fundamentals more efficiently to create more value for your customers.
  • And next to being able to build strong brands, you will also need marketers that can connect the dots and see the potential in new business models or partnerships. So the entrepreneurial spirit Sophie was talking about. Solo for example will need to start working together with a fridge brand to make sure that Solo can show need-based advertising on the right fridge. These need-based ads are product suggestions based on factual consumer data: which consumer had which butter brand in which fridge. These very targeted ads will then enable marketers to embed special offers and allow the consumer to order for example right from their fridge and switch their brand choice.

So it is clear, today's consumers turn to search engines to find answers, products and services.  The consumer of tomorrow will be confronted with suggestions of products and services in their everyday life, based on factual needs.  If you thought relevance is important now, you “ain’t seen nothing yet”… 


Read also: 

- Insights from WebTomorrow: 10 speaker quotes to remember!

Insights from WebTomorrow: 8 start-ups to watch!