Will AI Replace Marketers? Six Experts Weigh In
This article originally appeared on Knect365, October 14th, 2018.
“AI may compete with an employee able to earn $100 per hour sometime between 2027 and 2055.” Creative Disruption: The impact of emerging technologies on the creative economy.
“The creativity of evolution is not limited to the natural world: artificial organisms evolving in computational environments have also elicited surprise and wonder from the researchers studying them”. The Surprising Creativity of Digital Evolution: A Collection of Anecdotes from the Evolutionary Computation and Artificial Life Research Communities.
There is a great deal of buzz, but not a great deal of concrete information, on what artificial intelligence will mean for marketing roles over the next several years. Being a marketer myself I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say I’m concerned that I may be part of a dying breed. There have been big shake-ups in marketing since the 1990s with the advent of digital, and again since the late 00s with social media; but marketers have for the most part been able to adapt. My gut – and everything I’ve read – tells me this is something far more disruptive.
We know that a knowledge based, non-repetitive skillset is replacable by AI. The science is there. So my question is – will marketers still exist in 10 years or will we be replaced by technologists who maintain a “team” of AI bots? To find out, I reached out to several AI and marketing experts – from C-Level marketers with experiences in AI to executives at companies developing AI technology for marketers – to ask them what they think the future holds. The list includes: Camila Casale, SVP & CMO, U.S. and Canada Softtek; Mark Floisand, CMO, Coveo; Peter Mahoney, Founder & CEO, Plannuh Inc.; Catalina Butnaru, Ambassador, City.AI & London Co-Producer, Women in AI; Katie King, MBA, CEO, AI in Marketing; and Alexander Avanth, Director of Business Innovation, PTC Holdings, Futurist, Dare Disrupt. Their opinions varied, but there were definitely more commonalities than differences in their views on marketing’s future.
We’ve Only Skimmed the Surface of What Artificial Intelligence Will Bring to Marketing
Accelerating technology will bring a sea change to how we humans relate to our computers over the next few years, and screens may go the way of the dinosaur. In this “voice first” world marketers will need millions of voices that can actually engage with customers, powered by what else but AI. Peter Mahoney, Founder and CEO of Plannuh says chatbots have indeed been changing marketing – but buzz aside, have not really leveraged AI much at all – at least not yet. Mahoney explans: “If you believe the hype from marketing technology vendors, marketing has been fundamentally changed in the past few years through the advancement of AI and machine learning. While most of us are surrounded by AI-infused technologies, the influence on the role of a marketer has been subtle to date.”
“The vast majority of applications of AI are focused on high velocity, rote tasks, like text or image classification, machine learning (ML) ad optimization. These applications are all quite valuable, improving performance or productivity, but they have not yet fundamentally changed the job.”
“There are other applications, most notably chatbots, that have required marketers to think differently about their digital customer engagement strategies, but most of these applications do not really leverage much AI at this point. For most marketers, their chatbot is a simple tool that engages customers with packaged workflows for routing requests or scheduling meetings. There are notable exceptions, including companies like Automat.ai that focus on consumer brands with large scale data sets that support true AI interactions. However, most marketers do not have the available data or the sophisticated customer segmentation in place to support true AI chatbots.”
“The good news is that these tools are getting better and require less and less data to deliver meaningful interactions. To prepare for the emergence of true AI systems, marketers should get their data and segmentation strategies in order so they can take advantage of these advanced capabilities.”
“As AI continues to grow in sophistication, it will take on a broader and more strategic role in marketing. Chatbots will cover far more conversations in a richer way – fueled by much more data gathered from marketers and advanced AI that can learn from smaller data sets. Chatbots will ultimately become “relationshipbots” as they retain context from multiple customer engagements. They will also forge relationships with other consumer bots via mechanisms like the Botchain, an innovation from Talla.”
Artificial Intelligence: Making Marketers’ Lives Easier or More Difficult?
Anna Anisin, Founder of Formulated.by, sees things slightly differently and argues that indeed, AI has had an impact that marketers are already feeling: “The AI revolution has forced marketers to be more data driven. AI has also brought forth new tools allowing marketers to be more efficient and precise in our craft. I’d say that AI is Improving the life of a marketer overall.” Katie King, CEO, AI in Marketing agrees: “Thanks to emerging AI tools and breakthroughs in machine learning capacities, data is now utilised as a means of analysing customer patterns for sales, advertising and marketing purposes, in order to develop automated systems and customer profiles to target certain markets.”
Camila Casale, SVP & CMO, U.S. and Canada, Softtek, has experienced AI as “a double-edged sword” but also finds it an “exciting time” to be a marketer. Casale explains: “I think the main thing is that we have much more data to analyze, and better ways to analyze it. For a long time we’ve had huge volumes of data that we didn’t know what to do with – what audiences buy or don’t buy, why they buy or don’t buy, where they buy it, what they like or don’t like, etc. And over the past couple of years there’s been increasing use of cognitive and pattern recognition programs that can analyze all of that data and draw insight from it. So thanks to AI, the whole process of defining target audiences is becoming much more sophisticated, refined and focused. Five years or so ago, you might target a demographic of women aged 18 to 34. Today, you’re able to slice and dice the data to target, say, women aged 28 to 32 who live on the Eastern Seaboard in rented apartments, make at least $75K and haven’t bought a phone in the past two years. Basically, the dynamic is having more and more data to work with, and having increasingly powerful tools to analyze that data and put it to work.”
“From an operational standpoint, we’re also seeing a lot more automation for activities like email campaigns and follow-ups and automated alerts. While that’s not true Artificial Intelligence, we do spend less time doing busy work and have more time to spend on strategy and adding value. Bottom line, what’s changed is that we as marketers have a lot more opportunities to be strategic and to have an impact on the business. And with that, there’s that double-edged sword, and the expectation from the business that marketing teams need to deliver more value and be more productive. It’s an exciting time to be in the field.”
Google Rules the World, We Just Live in It
70% of online traffic is owned by Facebook and Google, so it’s no wonder that consumers are used to what Mark Floisand, CMO, Coveo, describes as expecting a “Google-like” experience. Floisand explains: “AI has completely changed the consumer landscape and has had a significant impact on marketers. Today’s customers, both B2B and B2C alike, have come to expect Google-like access to information, with Amazon-esque personalization. As technology evolves, as do their expectations and AI is the only way to keep up and get ahead.”
Floisand continues: “AI is empowering marketers with actionable consumer insight, allowing them to tailor their messaging, content, campaigns and complete digital experience to the wants and needs of their audience. AI and machine learning capabilities enable marketers to make sense of their data and extract valuable and actionable insights. AI also allows them to automatically wow their customers at every touchpoint of their journey at scale, something that was very difficult and time consuming to do 5 years ago, and is simply impossible to do at scale by hand.”
“This insight gives marketers full visibility into their customers journey, which was once a black hole. AI identifies customer context and intent, equipping marketers with the information they need to personalize the content that’s being delivered and the experience as a whole. The results of AI-powered personalization include but are not limited to: more time on site, increased engagement, higher conversions, more opportunities to upsell, higher customer satisfaction and ultimately greater customer lifetime value.”
The “Amazon-esque personalization” Floisand describes definitely brings necessity and urgency to the adoption of AI, agrees Katie King: “Personalisation is a huge aspect of the AI transformation within the marketing realm, and is currently the name of the game. So much so, consumers now expect that personalisation. Personalise, or risk falling behind.”
“The notion of personalisation is quite simple. One example would include your favourite brand presenting you with products that are curated specifically for you, as opposed to the same three products everyone else sees.”
“As a marketer in today’s digital age, it is extremely important to create experiences, which match our audience’s style, shopping preferences, and individual tendencies down to the smallest detail. Marketing’s goal is to drive sales, so if we master the above, then we are on our way to achieving this objective.”
The Marketer of the Near Future Will Need a System Upgrade
Across the board, all of the marketing experts I spoke with unanimously agreed that, although they believe marketers will still be around in 5-10 years, there will be a fairly radical change in expectations. Camila Casale has this to say: “I think marketers will spend less and less time doing busy work and have more time to focus on really thinking and on being strategic. We won’t spend two hours analyzing the results of a campaign, for example, because a program will do that and give us a summary. And I think that AI is having that very same impact on any number of fields, that is, doing the routine and rule-based analytical work. As far as being obsolete, I think we will all be obsolete if we don’t continually upskill and challenge ourselves to learn and get better, and find new ways to add value to our business. To be more specific, I was talking to an expert in AI a year or two ago about jobs disappearing from smart automation, and he basically said that, if your job involves really specific tasks that can be documented and that are repeatable, your job will probably be done by a robot soon, so you’d better start developing some new skills.”
Mark Floisand takes those thoughts a step further, explaining that the marketer of the future won’t just need more skills, but will need to be a completely different type of person: “Technology is already starting to automate predictable and repetitive tasks, freeing up marketers to do what they do best – connect with people. As AI evolves, so too will marketers’ ability to truly understand what their customers need and they’ll have more time to focus on creative ideas and ways to innovate. In the next 5-10 years, I believe we’ll have a new and enhanced breed of marketers. We can expect to see an uptick in ingenuity, imagination and out-of-the-box routes to market from marketers that algorithms can’t replicate.”
Katie King argues that not only the type of marketer, but type of role will need to change: “AI can free up time for higher level strategic work that will most likely lead to greater levels of employee happiness and professional development, not to mention business results. On the flipside however, this does mean that new hires will naturally need to be more strategic, more proactive and moderately more advanced than simply managing the “everyday” “admin” tasks – since this can be taken care of elsewhere. Entry-level positions will look more like mid-level positions do today, requiring more creativity, decision-making and delegation (to a bot).”
Smarter Marketers, Smarter Marketing
AI will certainly change the way marketers work, says Peter Mahoney: “Enhanced conversational AI will require marketers to think differently about their customer touch points to ensure that they are digitally aware so they can participate in the AI conversation. They will also be forced to think more strategically about customer goals and outcomes vs. individual tactics. Today, marketers are trained to optimize a single tactic, like a digital campaign, with little regard for the overarching customer objective.”
“The back office for marketers will also change fundamentally. Today, marketers spend a large percentage of their time preparing reports, tracking budgets, and consolidating information in spreadsheets. Automating the marketing back office with AI represents a huge opportunity and is the focus of my company, Plannuh, to leverage AI to build, manage, and collaborate on marketing plans and budgets without the need for manual work and spreadsheets.”
“What does this leave for marketers to do? Well, the marketing, of course. The good news for marketers is that by automating increasingly complex tasks and workflows, AI will enable marketers to focus on the more strategic elements of marketing: messaging, positioning, ideas, customer insights, and creative.”
Fear of An AI Planet
Perhaps the most scary thing about AI for us marketers is change. All the marketing experts agreed wholeheartedly however that this change would inevitably be for the better. The way Katie King explains it, the future sounds a lot less boring and a lot more fun for marketers. “Automation and machine learning not only create efficiency and boost productivity, but can also result in potentially more satisfying work for the employee due to a reduction in repetitive and mundane tasks.”
“While some sceptics may argue that bots could make marketing messaging and content too predictable, the upside is that marketers will have more brainpower/capacity to augment what bots produce, which means they will have the capacity to add creative touches and outside-the-box campaign ideas to the bot’s automated foundation.”
Mark Floisand reminds us that AI would of course make us more successful at our day to day jobs (and isn’t that the point?). Floisand explains: “AI helps marketers to be more proficient in their roles. In order to be better and faster at getting their job done, tasks that can be automated should be; such as, A/B testing, tracking consumer behavior and identifying trends. The responsibilities that will be taken over by AI are the ones marketers can’t perform, like personalizing millions of digital interactions, according to the context and intent of each individual visitor, in real-time.”
“Many fear that AI will take over the need for marketers but in fact, the opposite is true. The only marketers who are at risk of being out of a job 5 years from now are the ones who don’t embrace AI. Artificial Intelligence will transform, not replace marketers.” Floisand continues: “The key change in the next 5-10 years will be for marketers to build trust in what recommendations and suggestions are being offered up by their AI-powered systems. Marketers’ roles will evolve to manage the process of personalization, rather than the personalization tasks themselves. Given each interaction should be as relevant to the customer as possible, marketers need to get comfortable with every one of those interactions being developed and delivered on-the-fly by AI-powered relevance and recommendation engines, built into websites, apps, ecommerce sites and more.”
Marketing Roles May Actually be Some of the Safest Jobs Around
All of my worries about no more marketing jobs are unfounded, according to Anna Anisin. “Not to worry, marketers aren’t going anywhere. In fact, according to Christopher Whitely, Senior Director of Data Science at Comcast, marketing managers and strategists will be the last to lose their jobs to AI. Someone has to make sure that data is clean and the message and story arc are relevant to your customers/buyers whomever they may be. I only envision more tech and tools to help marketers be more successful at our jobs. The future is bright!”
“The Future of Marketing is not a Competition but a Collaboration”
Alexander Avanth, Director of Business Innovation, PTC Holdings, brings up a compelling point – that AI has far deeper implications in our society which will affect the roles of marketers. He argues that the marketer of the future will not only need to be a data scientist – but also an anthropologist. Avanth explains: “’The way that people think about privacy is changing a bit … What people want isn’t complete privacy.’ These words were uttered by Facebook CEO and Founder Marc Zuckerberg back in 2010. Eight years later Marc found himself at Capitol Hill testifying against how Facebook could cost 87 million users their privacy in what can be seen as one of the largest public data breaches. Mark going to Washington is the beginning of a new era of marketing, one that entails both dark ethical dilemmas and powerful user value channels. For those who were surprised by outcomes of BREXIT and Trump, do know that nothing was random, this was all carefully engineered by companies leveraging new AI infused marketing tools. If big data is the crude oil of the 21st century, public social media would be the oil rigs, but the oil refineries are the data analytics and AI companies. Despite the scrutiny of such tools and the ethical considerations of data privacy, these events pave the road forward for what the future of marketing will entail.”
“Future marketers will be a mix of data scientists and anthropologists, and their work will no longer be product general but instead be consumer-centric. AI will automate coding and content creation, leaving the marketer to pursue a more humanistic centered approach. This will, in turn, change the narrative of data and marketing from, ‘what does data say about selling this product’ towards ‘what does data say about true consumer value’. In short, for marketers, the future of AI will not be a competition but a collaboration.”
City.AI Ambassador Catalina Butnaru is in accord with Avanth’s idea that AI will have massive implications for society, and cautions marketers to tread cautiously – and conscientiously – in this brave new world: “The brightest future in marketing that AI has the power to enable for us is a future where each and every one of us has a digital guardian of their privacy to protect their most valuable asset – their digital copy, which includes personally identifiable information and behavioural parameters. This AI guardian of their digital copies has the capacity to negotiate access with brands who want to personalise promotional messages, such that the person’s free will is sheltered from ultra sophisticated nudges, while the person can still maintain and nurture a personal relationship with a business. That’s the most promising future.”
“In reality, transfer learning and adversarial training will be used to predict and influence shopping behaviour, to the extent that product owners and shareholders allow that to happen. So I urge everyone who works in marketing and product design to consider the long term implications of deploying AI that is solely optimised for profitability and cost reduction. Take a step back and find a way to model each person’s best interest as well, and only then allow yourself to use AI or build AI for marketing purposes. The short term wins achievable with AI are not worth pursuing if they destroy the very fabric of humanity.”
It looks like your job is safe marketers, at least for now. But you can get ready for the coming AI revolution with our Data Analysis and AI for Marketing course taught by Katie King happening this November in London! King is a regular international speaker and frequent commentator on BBC TV and radio. She is Managing Director of the award-winning business consultancy and content marketing agency, Zoodikers, and the Founder and Director of AIinFM (Artiﬁcial Intelligence in Facilities Management). Katie King has just written a book in AI in Marketing, which is available to pre-order and is due to be published in February 2019 by Kogan Page.
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