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Getting to Know: Zimm Zimmermann, Vice President, Personalization

I had a chance to catch up with one of the brightest and funniest individuals you can meet, Zimm Zimmermann of Merkle. I can guarantee that you’ll walk away from a conversation with Zimm smiling. He is one of the foremost thought leaders on personalization and orchestration and a sought-after resource in our organization for his years of expertise. Here is some career background, great insight, and solid advice from him.

Zimm Zimmermann of Merkle

Why did you want to work in marketing?

I didn’t. My degree is in wildlife and fisheries. About 25 years ago, I started working in a call center where I was building its marketing mart (database) and using Crystal Reports to do some analytics. I started to see how much data we were collecting and how it could be leveraged.  I then went on to my next job, where I built out my first campaign management solution and saw how we could engage people through this platform.  My interest exploded when I started to see first-hand results that validated our work. Then, about 17 years ago, I started using Epiphany’s machine learning solution and from then on, I was hooked on marketing. I could see the power of data, analytics, and machine learning.  I knew they were the future and were going to make for a fascinating career.

What advice do you have for people that want to get into marketing?

I think based on the future of marketing you should focus on two things: constantly learning and understanding data. First, you must continuously be learning. Spend 30 minutes a day to learn something new, it doesn’t necessarily have to be about marketing but it can be something personal or it can be a general business topic, but the idea is to create a habit of learning. Second, you must understand data, understand algorithms from a human’s perspective, not from a systems perspective. Being in marketing is not necessarily about being creative, it’s also about learning and understanding how analytics impact everything within marketing.

What do you see coming that will disrupt the market?

This is what I was just talking about. AI is changing, from simple algorithms to deep learning.  Any job that requires a template or is a repeatable type job like executing a campaign or building weekly reports will be automated through AI. You will have a massive shift in skill sets with fewer people doing the repeatable job’s that exist today. It will happen sooner than most people realize. While some people are saying it won’t happen for 10-15 years, I already see it happening now. Let me give you an example, many of the fantasy football articles you see today are AI written, the job of the copywriter is already changing. Copy is going to be taken over by AI (e.g., tweets).  Marketer’s do not have the capacity to keep up with all the data, interactions, and experiences expected by and with their customers. This barrage of data and engagement is already happening at scale. It used to take me a day to write a blog, but now AI can write 100 blogs in a day.  I like the quote “if it’s in a template, AI will do it.” So, make sure your kids are playing programming games and not learning templates. If you want them a part of the future, they will likely need one of two skills — coding and managing systems or something a machine could never take over like a pastor or a therapist ... at least not yet.

There is a video Steve Reigel of Merkle shared with me I think is a good overview:  How AI and Deep Learning Will Change Marketing Forever

What good books would you recommend?

Non-business: My favorite book of all time is Ender's Game. It’s not a happy story, when you dig into it. The primary character is a total loaner and survives. If you look at when it was written and then look at today’s capabilities, you can see how much of the future Orson Scott Card predicted in that book.

Business: I used to recommend business books like Data Warehousing for Dummies but I believe you must be linked in on key groups, blog sites, and articles to stay up to date and relevant. A blog entry in a book today is immediately outdated as soon as it’s published and then in many cases it becomes irrelevant. There are a handful of sites I visit regularly such as Chiefmartech.com and hubspot.com and then I have several LinkedIn groups I follow.

What do you like to do for fun?

I like to watch really bad movies, while constantly researching and learning on topics that may or may not serve any relevance whatsoever. Lately, I’ve been researching how the entire universe might be a computer simulation. Oh, and I like bad TV too, like Sharknado and Piranhaconda, and finally, I always enjoy a good walk.