“Interested in #marketingautomation? This is an event you can’t miss!” So say the organizers of the Marketing Automation International Roadshow.
I can’t help but wonder, though: What would happen if we did miss this Roadshow? What will we get out of being at the event that we couldn’t gather through a scan of conference’s web site and the social media coverage that will come from the presenters, and the others in attendance?
Come to think of it, if automation is so amazing, why should anyone at all attend the Marketing Automation International Roadshow? The presenters could just set up an RSS feed with their content, and then people could set up their own automated processes to go out and gather the content, plus that of anyone commenting, and sort it through a few algorithms to present a condensed analytics report to summarize what the Roadshow was all about. They could even arrange an automated process for making social media posts about the Roadshow, using their analytics, without actually having to write them.
It would be more convenient for the Marketing Automation International Roadshow to be organized in this way. It certainly would be more efficient.
But then, convenience only gets you so far. Sometimes, being efficient isn’t really the point.
People don’t go to marketing conferences to learn so much as they go to have a shared experience with other people. They hope to meet other people of like minds, and form social connections with them. The content of the presentations usually doesn’t surprise anyone, but gives attendees something in common to talk about. If the conference were automated, all of those indirect benefits would be lost.
The same holds true for marketing in general. I’m not denying that marketing automation can bring some benefits to the companies that practice it. What I’m saying is that along with those benefits come some substantial disadvantages.
A company, even though its explicit purpose is to make a profit, is more like a community than a money-generating machine. A corporation incorporates ideas and values as much as it is substantiated in the form of factories, offices and stores. Customers seek out companies that they can share some form of identity with, and inside corporate headquarters, it’s more like a conference than an assembly line.
Usually, working for a corporation is kind of lousy, but employees usually do what they can to build a culture around their shared professional experiences. Even when they’re relatively disengaged, they put something of their heart and soul into their work. Even though this process isn’t perfect, and it’s far from efficient, something special is built up in these times – an esprit de corps that helps the company to get through the hard times.
When marketing is automated, this human element of company life fades away.
Michael Pollan, author of Cooked, provides a useful metaphor for the consequences of excessive automation through his examination of the impact of decline of cooking in American households. He writes, “Our growing distance from any direct, physical engagement with the processes by which the raw stuff of nature gets transformed into a cooked meal is changing our understanding of what food is. Indeed, the idea that food has any connection to nature or human work or imagination is hard to credit when it arrives in a neat package, fully formed. Food becomes just another commodity, an abstraction.”
What Michael Pollan has to say about cooking can equally be said about marketing. Factory-processed foods can deliver adequate nutrition, but most don’t, and besides, food is about much more than just nutrition. Automated marketing can deliver products that match consumers’ explicit needs, but consumption is about much more than just meeting consumers’ explicit needs. The culture that is fostered when human beings work together to develop products and market them is the equivalent of a warm, home-cooked meal. Without it, marketing can only offer commodities.
Efficiency and convenience are cold comforts in a commodity market. In marketing, as in cooking it’s the ingredient of human experience that matters.