MKTG-10652_istock photo needed

Warning! — Terminator: Genisys spoilers ahead…

In the latest Terminator movie (Terminator: Genisys), Arnold Schwarzenegger turns out to be the good guy. Well, the good machine. He has been reprogrammed to protect Sarah Connor from other machines that come from the future to prevent her from having a son who will stop the machines existing in the first place.

Confused? So am I. That’s the thing about technology; it can be difficult to get to grips with, even without the paradox of time travel.

Some marketers are struggling with it. Modern technologies add a whole new dimension to their work, driven by data and machines. But marketing automation, in particular, isn’t sinister like SkyNet. In fact, just like the new Arnie, it’s here to make our lives easier. And that’s just how all marketers need to think about the merging of marketing and technology.

The latest eConsultancy “State of Digital Marketing in Australia and New Zealand” report, commissioned by Marketo, shows how marketers thoroughly understand the need for technology. 68% percent of company respondents said it helped maximize the potential of digital channels. For that reason, 62% say they have increased their investment in marketing technology this year, with CRM software and marketing automation ranking at the top of the must-have list over the next few years.

The Future Is Yours to Change

Bringing us back to Terminator: Genisys, the machines of the future realize the rebels have gone back in time to stop them from being created. This sends a best-of-breed T-800 killing machine back to kill them before they get the chance. The movie is riddled with references to alternate futures, all determined by actions at one point in time.

While marketing automation systems don’t allow you to alter the past, they are brilliant when it comes to driving different outcomes in the future. When a prospective customer performs one action, such as viewing your website, a marketing automation platform can ensure you relate to and engage with that customer differently from that point on. It helps you send them what’s interesting and compelling to them, whether that’s emails with links to thought-provoking content, targeting them with relevant ads on other sites to attract them, or, perhaps, indicating that it’s time to call them and offer a lunch meeting.

The principle sounds straightforward (and much less confusing than the film), but it becomes complex (in a good way) when you apply it to a varied range of customers, all behaving in different ways, through different channels, at different points in time. It’s a necessary complexity that makes your life, as a marketer, easier. Marketing automation systems are the machines that drive the capability, providing alternate futures for each person based on their behavior today.

Human Intervention

But, these systems still need human intervention to help determine the process. Just as well, really, because we know what happens when machines are left to think for themselves (dun, dun, dun…). This has created the demand for a different type of marketer—someone with a very logical mind who is able to understand processes, with very deep analytical skills, deciphering data to understand which activities are achieving the best return. And mixed with all of that are the traditional skills a marketer needs, including a strong creative flair and a fundamental grasp on messaging.

That’s a lot to ask from one person. In “Terminator,” the machines manage to blend themselves with humans, so they can think more like we do. We face the same issue—marketers need to understand the way machines think, so they can make sure they respond appropriately to the buyers journey, on a personal and individual level.

Okay, in the movie the outcome is stopping the eventual overthrow of mankind, whereas marketing automation systems are more about maximizing the return on marketing investment. But the principle is the same. In each case, it’s about the fact that how we act today can create an alternate future timeline.

In the eConsultancy report, 37% of respondents said the level of digital knowledge in their business was good. And to roll with the changing times, this percentage will predictably increase as more marketers get ready for “a brave new world” where machines consistently help them to determine the way they converse with their customers. It helps that the vast majority (96%) of senior marketing leaders surveyed agree that a good understanding of technology is critical for the future of marketing. And so, as more companies experience it and fully understand its merits, marketing automation will become the overwhelming norm.

Marketers understand the need for change and those who spend the time building the skills and getting on board with modern technologies will, just like Arnie, never become obsolete.

What other things can you relate marketing automation to? I’d love to hear your creative take in the comments section below!

Read more: Why Terminator Will Never Really Nail Customer Success