Modeling the Future of Marketing - Part 2

The trouble with market research is that people don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think, and they don’t do what they say. | David Olgivy

David Olgivy's famous line about the difficulty of market research makes the case for doing something other than just polling potential customers about their wants, needs, and desires. Sony conducted extensive research on the market for a portable music cassette player and found zero -- yes, zero -- demand. Nonetheless, Sony co-founder Masaru Ibuka brought the Sony Walkman to market with enormous success, and started the trend that eventually led to the iPod, and (indirectly) the iPhone. They believed in a future scenario where all sorts of people would walk around listening to music played on portable devices wearing headphones, even when the people involved didn't know how to feel about that, yet. As Steve Jobs said,

A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.

Sony Walkman

This just shows the potential value of adopting futures practices to consider alternative scenarios for change in a market, industry, or political context, and not relying on classical market research, alone.

Last week, I posted the first of a two part series, Modeling the Future of Marketing - Part 1, subtitled 'Looking at marketing through the work futures lens'. This is the companion to that, both sponsored by Sprinklr.

In part 1, we looked at the Futures Cone as a modeling approach to differentiate trends by the probability and time frame.

I broke time into four periods: Now, Soon (2020), Later (2025), and The 'Future' (2030), and distributed a bunch of topics against the probability versus time fram matrix:

cone/time now (2018) soon (2020) later (2025) the 'future' (2030)

That's useful for structuring a first-order discussion about the various topics that Marshall Kirkpatrick of Sprinklr raised at the outset of this project on the Future of Work in Marketing.

However, there is a critical third dimension, which perhaps is more important that probability: impact. Even a low probability trend has to be considered deeply if it threatens to have an enormous, disruptive impact. And conversely, an event of low impact can be shrugged off even if it is extremely probable.

Automation in Marketing Creative

In preparation for the recent Adweek webinar that Sprinklr sponsored and developed, The Future of Work in Marketing: Insights from Workplace Futurist Stowe Boyd, I created a set of graphic models incorporating impact as the third dimension.

As you see in the chart below, I have taken three related trends -- AI in tasks, functions, and roles -- and distributed them as blobs according to what their impact might be. The probabilities in this graphic are color coded as shown in the key.

As you can see, we believe AI will have an enormous impact on marketing, in a stepwise fashion:

  1. First, it is highly probable that specialized tasks will be automated, by 2020. As a specific example, marketing via Alexa and Google Duplex will set the stage for trends below.

  2. Second, it's plausible that entire functions -- eg, running a social media marketing campaign -- will be botified by 2025

  3. Third, with the most sweeping impact, entire roles will be impacted, where large percentages of market staff could be replaced, by 2025 or 2030. I rated this only possible in this graphic, but I feel the urge to say this is more like plausible, after living with the model for an extra week.

Also note the blobs are moving upward and toward the right: over time, their impact will increase.

The graphic above represents a probable but relatively low impact scenario: AI Narratives where entire story arcs are outlined by AI. This is an example of a task being automated.

Larger scale and farther in the future is AI Content Creation, which represents a function -- or perhaps even a role -- being automated. This is much higher impact: an example of the depeopling of marketing that AI will probably be a reality by 2025.

I included Human Sci Fi Narratives, as shown, where marketing folks develop narratives that feel more like science fiction tropes than conventional marketing content. This is already happening and is even becoming commonplace, but is unlikely to have a large impact: at least nothing like the impact of the others earlier in the list.


The biggest takeaway from this exercise is that developing scenarios about potential futures can be a very helpful exercise for many purposes, such as examining challenges for an organization, an industry, or an occupation.

This does not have to be a one time exercise: for example the marketing team at your company mighty update a set of scenarios on a regular basis, say quarterly, or add new scenarios as new innovations or threats appear in the marketplace. You're working at a car company, and the emergence of electric scooters in major metros across the world is happening: what's your assessment of its impact on private car ownership, taxis, public transport, and ride-hailing services?

In our project, we focused on the ways that trends generally associated with the discourse around the future of work could impact the business of marketing: like automation, economic platforms (like Amazon, eBay, and Uber), and the larger macroeconomic context (like growing distrust in institutions, and polarization arising from economic inequality).

I hope to return to those topics in later posts, either as part of this Sprinklr-sponsored series, or independently. In particular, we spent a great deal of time looking into 'Amazonification', where the importance of brand may be significantly degraded as companies come to rely on commerce platforms (Amazon, Boxed,, etc.) as a major source of sales. Their impact has already been enormous: platform commerce is changing the world, and internal and external platforms for work (Upwork, Uber, etc.) are doing the same for business operations.

Just remember, you don't need to go off and get a certificate or a degree in futures work to apply these techniques. All you need is a white board, post-it notes, a lively imagination, and a small group of diverse minds. Feel free to steal my approach, or to get me involved if you want an obstreperous mutant to help guide a workshop on making sense of an uncertain future.

Get going! The world won't wait.