How I will remain relevant when the bots come for me

remain relevant

By Mark Schaefer

A couple years ago I was playing around with an early version of IBM’s Watson technology. It allowed me to input marketing data from various sources to see what connections could be made. To my surprise, the output of this exercise was a suggestion of the questions I should be asking about the data set.

I had a chilling realization … as a consultant, the process of sifting through data to determine the right questions is … WHAT I DO.

A moment of panic set in as I saw myself being replaced — sooner rather than later — by a lifeless line of computer code. Or worse, The Marketing Terminator.

As I looked more deeply into the reality of the situation I realized that I have a few years left … at least. But the fact is, I have to be intellectually honest about the situation, and so do you. The bots are coming.

A lot of people still reject the notion that our algorithmic overlords will eventually come after our marketing jobs but I don’t think you can honestly assess the developments in marketing technology without being a little concerned that marketing jobs like consultants, content creators, and community managers are on the bubble.

For a few years I’ve been thinking about my strategy to survive in this new world and I thought I would share my personal strategy with you today.

1. Every Blockbuster has its Netflix

The weirdest thing about our world is that everything is in a process of becoming obsolete. This is a new thing. My grandfather was a plumber. His father was a plumber. His grandfather was a plumber. The trade and tools were basically the same for generations.

So this notion of being replaced by technology is relatively new to consider.

The first rule of survival is to stop being naive and close-minded. Do not be Blockbuster. I am convinced that there are programs that exist now that can be more thorough, more kind, and yes — and eventually more creative — than humans. Let’s accept the fact the AI competition is going to be better at most human activities than humans. And they are cheaper.

Be afraid. That is a good thing. Survival is a most powerful motivator. I’m concerned. Good for me.

2. Mark Schaefer the brand

An awesome fan of the blog dropped me a note recently: “I love your blog. It’s how I start my day. I get a cup of coffee and read your post for the day.”

I have become part of the fabric of her life. No matter what amazing bot comes down the road, it will not replace the emotional connection with me, the “brand.”

Whether you are a person building a personal brand or a company nurturing trust in your products, branding is more important than ever. Building a strong personal brand is a bot-survival strategy!

3. Diversify income stream

remain relevantI recently wrote a post discussing my 18 different income streams — most of them are small but the top source of revenue — consulting — is probably also the most vulnerable. I need to put more emphasis on revenue streams like coaching, teaching, and other activities where the human-to-human connection is still crucial (although those fields are being disrupted too).

I believe the most secure sources of income will be those that leverage my distinctive brand (I create new value because I see things that others don’t) and unique level of experience (30+ years in the field with top brands).

4. Remain relevant by doing

I’m sure you’re expecting me to say that I need to acquire new skills. I’m not sure about that. I think my core skills — strategic thinking, strategic writing — can carry me across the finish line. Those are skills that are adaptable to a lot of situations.

The real challenge is knowing enough about the changes in the world to stay relevant and for me, that has come about by actually doing stuff. I don’t think I need new skills. I need new experiences.

Although I normally operate at a strategic level, every year I take on a few projects that puts me in the trenches so I actually DO the work. This is my best education and also adds to my credibility because I can use personal examples from my own life to justify what I write about.

I need to keep learning by doing. I’m actively seeking some roles where I can have a first-hand experience with AI and the algorithmic overlords, for example.

5. Follow the leaders

I have already subscribed to several relevant “futurist” streams of content so I can keep finding the key people, ideas, and technologies that will determine our marketing future.

I can’t make it on this transformation journey alone. I need to find the new thought leaders who will guide me. I particularly enjoy the skillfully-curated content of The Exponential View by my friend Azeem Azhar and the specific marketing-slant on technology offered by Ross Dawson. The Luminaries podcast I host for Dell has provided me extraordinary insights into this rapidly approaching intersection of humans and tech.

So that’s the plan. I’m having too much fun in this world to stop short of my potential by letting some chat bot get in my way. I want to own my future and be a meaningful contributor to our field for as long as I want. It won’t be easy, but nothing is in our profession.

I’m sure your plan to remain relevant is different than mine. What would you add?

Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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