Marketing Automation: Don’t Forget That John Henry Died. | DiMassimo Goldstein

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Marketing Automation: Don’t Forget That John Henry Died.

When it comes to marketing, how do you find the right balance between human judgment and the power of the testing and optimizing machine?

You’ll remember the story of John Henry, who competed head-to-head with a machine laying down railroad ties and hammering in spikes to secure the rail. Most people remember that John Henry beat the machine that day. Few remember that he dropped dead immediately after.

Brad Stone writes, in his definitive book on the history of The Everything Store, how over time and through testing it was established that automated and personalized recommendation messages outperformed the creative copy created by proud, literary editors. This ultimately led to the end of the editorial department. At that time, one of the departing editors ran this add in a local Seattle newspaper:


If you only had a heart to absorb our hatred… Thanks for nothing, you jury-rigged rust bucket. The gorgeous messiness of flesh and blood will prevail.

This reminds me of a story by Ray Bradbury, set in a distant future when humans have relied on computers for so long that they have completely forgotten mathematics. Expensive computers perform complex equations to steer missiles in an interplanetary war. One day, while repairing a missile, a lowly mechanic re-discovers by-hand calculation. His eureka moment proves revolutionary. Earth’s military leaders reason that human beings are cheaper computational guidance systems for their missiles than expensive computers. Realizing the evil that has come from his wonderful discovery, the mechanic takes his own life.

Be careful what you wish for.  Machines are taking jobs, because they can do certain jobs more effectively. Make your tests intelligent and extensive. Let an enlightened, holistic and clear-eyed reading of the results guide your decisions. Be willing to adapt your role and your organization to making the most of technology in producing marketing results. In doing so, you grow and you drive growth.

For more on how rigorous testing and marketing automation can help you drive growth, please write to me at my personal email Or call me at 646 507-5820.


Mark DiMassimo