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The restructuring of marketing departments: less human, more algorithm

20.03.2018 10:49 Uhr PSI
The restructuring of marketing departments: less human, more algorithm | The restructuring of marketing departments: less human, more algorithm

The restructuring of marketing departments: less human, more algorithm

As promotional products consultants, we’re a part of the marketer profession, aren’t we? Granted, we must constantly fight for recognition – but that issue has its own interesting history. Keyword “price marketing”. But let’s not even open that can of worms today. Instead, what’s on our mind today is a recent headline: Zalando is radically restructuring its marketing. More algorithms, fewer marketers. A trend. Taken to its logical conclusion, will it mean that our pool of contacts will dry up? We’ll take a closer look.

“Scream for joy”! The epochal advertising slogan used by online fashion retailer Zalando in Germany most likely doesn’t come out of the mouths of its propagandists in the in-house marketing department anymore. And if it does, it’s probably more of a scream of despair.

The clock of purely human-made marketing seems to be running out, at least at the top B2C companies. Zalando (with approximately 15,000 employees, including about 6,000 in Berlin alone) might well position itself as a precedent. That’s because the online retailer is shrinking its marketing department in Berlin by cutting a whopping 250 advertisers.

Succeeded by the AI colleague

They’re succeeded by algorithms – the AI (artificial intelligence) colleague, if you will. What’s behind it? The answer is right on the company’s website. There, Moritz Hahn, senior vice president of supply and demand, explains “[h]ow Zalando is taking its marketing to the next level.”

He hopes that “... the realignment of our marketing teams will help us set the tone for the modern fashion industry and offer even smarter, more personalized and integrated solutions to our customers.”

The future of marketing has already begun

Which in plain English means: the future of marketing has already begun, and it’s heavily reliant upon data. That explains why some of the laid-off marketers are being replaced by developers and data analysts. Zalando aims to get even closer to its mobile customers and deliver location-based information and incentives to them even faster.

Today’s consumer is hyper-mobile and always looking for hyper-local content – and tomorrow’s will be even more so. Which once again proves the soundness of a credo long espoused by brands: think global, act local. Software is better at personalised, location-based information played out in real-time speeds. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

Initially, of course, this development is driven mainly by consumer brands that have online shops in addition to their brick-and-mortar stores. Or, as is the case with Zalando, by brand-focussed online shops aiming to increasingly develop physical locations.

Will my contact for me as a promotional products distributor now die?

Yes and no! Here’s a key point, for starters: the (interlinked) manifestations of AI, including language assistants, chatbots, smart platforms and contracts (based on blockchain technology), are pushing into marketing and sales. They’re taking over such key components of the sales process as e-mail marketing and other automated interactions with the customer.

By the way, Europe’s leading promotional products agencies have also been taking advantage of this technology – and not just since yesterday. But this isn’t the end of it yet: algorithms are also making inroads in the area of media planning. And that will at some point or another affect the deployment and procurement of promotional products, as well.

Where personal consulting expertise will stay in demand

Without looking in the crystal ball, we can say this: wherever the only tasks left are procurement and run-of-the-mill printing and finishing, the AI colleague will soon take the reins over deployment and procurement. And he’s hard to talk to. Which means he’s out as a customer for my consulting business. Blessed I am if I’m listed as a supplier in such cases. Only then will I have a chance of remaining as one of the suppliers in the – preferably automated – promotional products business.

Wherever real practical expert knowledge regarding the deployment purposes of the products, their compatibility with other marketing disciplines as part of the marketing mix, the nature of the products, or their CSR profile is required, however, personal consulting expertise will still be in demand.

What can I do myself?

As a member of the supply chain, you’re also one of your customers’ stakeholders. As such you can and must observe and analyse the decision-making and strategic alignment of your (major) customers. Plus proactively attend additional events and congresses, the places where the future of work and society under the banner of digitalisation is negotiated.

Build competencies beyond the consulting business. Know the spheres of activity where my customer must step up in order to remain profitable in future. Understand that exactly those spheres of activity are the ones that will dominate my future business, too.

Stay on the ball. Use the possibilities of modern digital communication and data management for my own company (keyword CRM, for example). Understand the digital transition as an opportunity.

The promotional products industry will persist because it’s needed more than ever

Not view the AI colleague as the enemy but explore his use and efficiency potential vis-à-vis my own business – and adapt. Keep moving, continue to evolve with the economy, think forward, and adopt new developments and business segments in order to stay in business.

Last but not least: say goodbye to backwards-oriented vested interests. The promotional products industry will persist because in digitalism, it’s needed more than ever. But it will also go through processes of change. It’s able to withstand those because it has been and still is exceptionally versatile.

The late astrophysicist Stephen Hawking put it this way: “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”

For additional information on Zalando’s new strategic alignment (German/English):

to News-Summary