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Learn from David Bowie’s reinventions and embrace marketing industry change

David Bowie’s genius was in understanding that artistic reinvention wasn’t a choice; it was a necessity. Rather than let the physics of time – and its inevitable impact on popular culture – define his work, he simply flouted its rules and embraced it wholeheartedly, right up until the end.

Life imitates art and the media and marketing industries have seen their fair share of mavericks, daredevils and provocateurs through the years – creative leaders who have thrived on change.

The 1960s advertising guru, Howard Gossage (some say) invented interactive advertising, social media – even “buzz”. His Pink Air campaign for gasoline company Petrofina was viral gold. Scooter Braun, Justin Bieber’s manager, was laughed at when he claimed he’d discovered the world’s next global star on a website called YouTube. More recently, Ryan Holiday certainly turned a few heads through his work at American Apparel, creating something that’s truly disruptive.

I’ve witnessed wholesale change first-hand in the industry. I remember the hours spent in the mailroom, packing 400-plus press packs in time for the five o’clock post, faxing statements to the newsroom and biking physical photos across to hugely influential lifestyle magazines. We had an intranet of sorts, but you were lucky enough to receive only a handful of emails, most of which were actually important.

That was in 1998 and, although some fundamentals remain, the communications business is now vastly different. It has been an exciting ride and some may be tempted to breathe out, relax and remain comfortable in the belief that we’ve finally come through the other side of this revolution.

However, this is just the beginning.

Futurist Ray Kurzweil talks of the law of accelerating returns, where human progress has the ability to evolve at an ever-increasing rate. Artificial intelligence (AI), the current industry buzz-term, will be eventually superseded by artificial super-intelligence (ASI), defined by philosopher Nick Bostrom as “an intellect that is much smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom and social skills”. Varying arguments exist as to when, or if, this will happen and what the implications are. How many communications pros understand how this might affect our world in the future?

Forget tomorrow. What about today? How many experts in the multi-billion dollar social media industry are aware that more than 75% of online content is being shared through dark channels (channels that are undetectable through analytics engines) and not through Facebook and Twitter? This presents an enormous challenge to our clients and the industry.

We’ve all got to stay engaged with technology. We’ve all got to dissect new innovations, debate their usage, explore and expound upon their merits, insist that clients try them out, be willing to fail, and try again. Gartner predicts that by 2017 the chief marketing officer will be spending more on technology than the chief information officer. The geeks are inheriting the earth, so get on board.

The successful marketer will grapple with this rapidly changing world, embrace it and be invigorated by it. One thing for sure – and to borrow from Bowie – is that we don’t know where we’re going from here, but it won’t be boring.