Emerging Trends in Marketing: Structural Unemployment

This is the first in a series of posts on long-term things that will impact your marketing environment, from automation to macroeconomic trends. Keep these trends in mind as you craft your marketing strategy!

We’ve gotten rid of a fair few jobs over the centuries. You would be hard-pressed to find a telephone switchboard operator or at ice delivery professional these days. Horse and buggy drivers are hard to come by except as tourist attractions in cities. That said, for every job we’ve eliminated in modern times, we’ve created many more, but technological changes may profoundly impact the mathematics of that statement. Let’s look at five examples of what may be a mega-trend of structural unemployment.

Example 1: Via Reddit, an experimental kiosk in a fast food restaurant. Tired of cashiers who screw up your order or are surly? Problem solved!


Example 2: Momentum Machines is debuting a fully automated sandwich making machine. Want that burger your way? The robot can do everything and anything and get it consistently right, every single time:


Example 3: Remember that video of a delivery truck driver who just flings packages as abusively as possible at houses? Problem solved! At least, that’s what Amazon and a variety of other companies are working on.


Example 4: Did you notice that Google’s self-driving car first mastered highways before it mastered cities? There’s more than one reason for that. Certainly, highways are easier to process in terms of variables. You’re less likely to have to deal with bikers and children playing in the streets on an interstate road. But there’s another reason, too. The interstate trucking industry is big business, and can be profitable business. How much more profitable will it be without human drivers? Automated trucks could do the long hauls and then have humans do the final mile or so of driving.

Example 5: Controversial employment practices and labor sources for agriculture have multiple solutions on the horizon as robot dexterity gets better and better. This is a clamshell packer, which previously required unskilled labor to stuff lettuce into plastic boxes, already deployed at Earthbound Farm. No more workers contaminating the goods with unwashed hands.


All of these examples showcase how technological innovation is eliminating service jobs that are low-wage and low-skill but plentiful. This poses a significant problem for consumer-focused businesses: the millions of people who will inevitably be displaced will not be able to retrain quickly to higher-skilled jobs, nor will those jobs be as plentiful. You don’t need a thousand people to maintain a thousand robots – you need perhaps two dozen.

What does this have to do with your marketing? The answer is straightforward: if your business relies on the consumer, particularly the lower-income consumer, your revenue stream is in jeopardy. It’s in jeopardy because without employment, your customers will vanish.

As a marketer, you will need to get better at identifying and segmenting out customers who can afford your products and services, because there may be large portions of the population who simply cannot. If you’re not skilling up on micro segmentation and being able to work with social network APIs (that can identify things like work changes and/or job loss) to shut off marketing to people who aren’t qualified to buy, your marketing will deliver fewer results in the future.

As a marketer, prepare yourself for these changes. Anticipate them, plan around them, strategize in advance of them so that when the ground does shift underneath your feet, you are able to adapt while your competitors stumble and fall.

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Warlords of Draenor Cinematic and interactive marketing

Before we get to some thoughts, give this a watch:

Admittedly, as a hardcore World of Warcraft nerd, this made me happy. For those who are not fans, I won’t bore you with the interesting plot twists from that universe (or multi-verse, technically).

What I do suggest you think about is this: that cinematic (as with many of Blizzard’s cinema tics over the years) was just as compelling and well-produced as any motion picture studio trailer.

As marketers, we spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on broadcast media, on one-way “conversations”. This is partly because many marketers grew up in a non-interactive environment, and partly because one-way media is easier to manage and much easier to scale.

The landscape has changed, however, and will continue to change under our feet if we don’t adapt. World of Warcraft is a decade-old example of mass interactive media as over 100 million people have played it, including some of the biggest name celebrities in the world.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Games like Ingress are bringing players into the real world, visiting locations around them as our smartphones become our portals to the game world while we navigate the physical world.

Something to think about: if you were going to go all-in on a massive media buy, you might want to look at having a game built for you. As long as you hired the right developers and designers to create a game people actually wanted to play, your media buy might become a franchise of its own.

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At a very high level


There are over 400 messages in my LinkedIn inbox that are unread. A good quarter of them are solicitations for feedback about someone’s project, someone’s book, someone’s this or that. (I will eventually get to those messages, just not soon) Almost all of those solicitations ask for feedback “at a very high level”.

That’s such an interesting ask, such an interesting request. What exactly does “at a very high level” mean to you? To me, it means something stripped of all of its tactics and execution details, all of its campaign strategy, and left only with a little bit of grand strategy and overall perception.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you had a web page that you were working on. What kinds of feedback might you receive?

Lowest Level of Feedback

I’d move the red button 14 pixels down and change the phone number to be (XXX) XXX-XXXX format. That should help conversion by a couple of percentage points.

Low Level of Feedback

The red button needs to be moved, and the format of the phone number standardized. Conversion should increase by about 2%.

Moderate Level of Feedback

The page layout needs to be improved. Clean things up and standardize them and conversion should increase a little.

High Level of Feedback

The website isn’t working as well as it could be. It’s messy. Clean it up and conversion should increase.

Very High Level of Feedback

The website probably isn’t going to do what you intend it to do.

As you work your way up from tactics to strategy to grand strategy, details get lost, little details that can point you in the right direction. The most valuable marketer on your team is going to be the marketer who can operate at a very high level (so as to be efficient and focus on the most dire problems), but when everyone else is stuck and there’s a burning problem, that marketer can jump from very high level to very low level. Such a marketer can then find the problem, fix it, and resume their high level work.

That’s what I hope you aspire to be as a marketer, and one of the reasons why, even at senior levels and in strategic roles, you still need to polish and perfect your marketing skills (particularly in the areas of creativity and technology). You should have an operational understanding of what’s going on so that you can lend fast, insightful assistance at every level of your organization.

What do you think? What’s your take?

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