Just as social media once transformed the marketing profession, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a formidable force, promising efficiency, profound insights, and a paradigm shift. How will marketing professionals thrive? Can the profession master AI's nuances and leverage its remarkable capabilities? I would argue that there is no one function better poised to demonstrate AI's benefits to the world.
The AI Awakening
Artificial Intelligence, once confined to science fiction, has seamlessly integrated into our daily lives. From voice-activated personal assistants to recommendation algorithms, AI's omnipresence is indisputable. For marketing professionals, the ramifications are profound. AI can automate mundane tasks, sift through colossal datasets in seconds, and forecast consumer behavior with unparalleled precision. It is making work, less work.
Two years ago, I immersed myself in the world of AI with a particular focus on its ramifications for marketing. It's abundantly clear that AI's role is not to supplant creative minds but to amplify them. The world needs your curated, creative mind, and AI presents more opportunities. Not fewer.
So, my plea to business leaders bringing us into this new era is this: Immerse yourself. Bring your marketing teams into a learning environment with real timelines of outcomes. Don’t get caught up in the hype or the unknown. Instead, create practical applications of AI in your space. For marketing in particular - if you are a campaign manager, search for and report ways that AI will assist you with audience data. If you are a website builder, share how generative AI will help you improve search engine optimization. If you work in public relations, feed messaging into your AI (securely) that will help you write a stronger first draft. AI will be woven into the fabric of everything we do. It will negate red tape and overly-processed marketing execution.
You might be overwhelmed by AI – most of us have been. So, here are five considerations for you to be purposeful in developing an AI-first mentality.
ONE: The Power of Insight
AI's prowess in analyzing troves of data is unrivaled. It can discern consumer behavior patterns, unveil concealed trends, and furnish invaluable insights. Marketing professionals with AI-driven tools gain a competitive edge in comprehending their audience, campaign customization, and making decisions steeped in data-driven wisdom.
Outcome for the customer: “Thank you for taking the time to understand me.”
TWO: Efficiency Redefined
Picture a realm where routine, time-consuming tasks are mechanized. AI refines workflows, allowing marketing teams to channel their efforts toward higher-impact activities. Whether it's content creation, email campaigns, or the orchestration of social media, AI can shoulder the burdensome tasks, permitting professionals to concentrate on strategy and ingenuity—yes, original thought.
Outcome for the marketing professional: “I can finally use my mind in a different, more strategic way. My stakeholders value me more.”
THREE: Personalization at Scale
In an era of information deluge, personalized experiences emerge as the holy grail of marketing. Marketers were excited when Amazon unveiled their recommendation engine, but that was just the start. AI can furnish bespoke content and product recommendations to individual consumers on a grand scale. This personalization elevates customer engagement, boosts conversion rates, and encourages brand loyalty.
Outcome for the customer: “In a world of clutter begging for my attention, I pay attention to the brands who know me.”
FOUR: Original Thought vs. AI. Original Wins.
While AI is a formidable tool set, original thought and ingenuity remain the core of marketing. The human touch is irreplaceable in weaving captivating narratives, shaping brand identities, and forging emotional bonds. Marketing professionals should perceive AI as an enabler rather than a substitute for their own creative brilliance. Nothing replaces an authentic human relationship.
Outcome for the individual: You’ve been created with purpose. Your curation of life is different than anyone else. You have a voice. How will you use it? Unlike robots, you have heart. Genuine passion is not something programmed.
FIVE: Battle Against The Uncertainty Paradox
In drawing parallels to the transformative impact of social media on marketing, it's crucial to remember that social media was greeted with skepticism and uncertainty. Much like the early days of social media, AI faces many “uncertainties.” Enterprises are concerned about the lack of security of OpenAI. They are begging for responsible AI. So, naturally, skepticism about AI’s impact on marketing lingers.
However, there are practical remedies available today, such as Xebia’s AI Chat Assistant solution or Amazon Q. And just as social media became an integral part of the marketing landscape, AI is poised to do the same, enhancing, not replacing, the creative minds that drive the industry forward.
But How Did We Get Here?
In 1997, I was reading another article on social media and how it would redefine the marketing profession. For some today, it is difficult to understand the nervousness that existed in the marketing profession and for business owners more than 25 years ago. Business leaders and marketing professionals were asking questions like, What would this new platform mean? Would it replace jobs? Add jobs? How would misinformation be handled? Would there be unfair reputation bashing and a spate of libel cases?
Today, social media has undoubtedly given the consumer a louder voice and has provided the world with unprecedented transparency. It has also created a great deal of noise and provided a forum for falsehoods about various companies – to which they have been compelled to respond. The bottom line is we went through these growing pains together. We learned from the mistakes made by many organizations. We shared in the triumphs of the companies that broke through.
Busting Through Uncertainty
The 2008 Great Recession added even more growing pains. Social media had matured, and business leaders saw a more direct route to the customer. Many of those executives asked, “Why should we employ so many marketers when the lines to the customer are more direct than ever before?” In fact, many would lay off entire marketing departments and slash budgets drastically. Frankly, marketing professionals weren’t helping themselves much either. Marketers were clinging to their processes and their red tape. Many were still relying on “spray and pray” marketing techniques when executives were asking for more measurement and the implementation of what we now know as digital marketing.
The layoff of so many marketing professionals was overdone. This stemmed from the convergence and unknowns of social media and digital marketing, accelerated by the recession. When the fog lifted, the realization of the need for marketers was back—so much so that the fastest-growing jobs coming out of the 2008 recession were sales and marketing-related. In the first-year post-recession, sales and marketing jobs saw 13% average growth.1 This growth helped to right the wrong of uncertainty and overcorrection.
Let’s look to the past to learn for the future. The introduction of radio commercials did not eliminate the need for newspaper advertising. Hey, we still can’t kill newspapers – they were reinvented. And just as television didn’t get rid of radio, the Internet didn’t put an end to direct mail.
Marketing professionals are more ready for the AI revolution than any other function within a business. As a social science. Marketing has transformed and advanced through every major revolution. Even if AI is bigger than radio, TV, and the Internet – and I believe it is – marketers are poised to lead others through it, as long as they can be immersed in education and keep the main thing the main thing.
What’s the main thing? As my buddy Seth Godin sums it up, “Marketing is telling a true story that resonates with your smallest viable audience that causes them to take action or tell their friends. It is about giving the people we serve something they want to talk about. If they think it is remarkable, it is. If we think it is remarkable, who cares?” That’s marketing for today and the future.
The AI revolution is well underway, calling on marketing professionals to be the vanguard of innovation. My sojourn into AI research has unveiled its transformative potential and underscored marketers' need to adopt and adapt. AI's progress will only amplify the significance of original, curated thought and create new jobs and opportunities globally. In 2018, the World Economic Forum predicted that “machines and algorithms” would create 133 million new jobs worldwide while displacing 75 million jobs.2 Digital communications, Financial Services, and Health Care were predicted to lead all industries in their adoption of AI. All of this seems to be on point and accurate. Yes, the stakes are high. And yes, this is different than many other revolutions. The world needs people who can think about security, creativity, and be practical in AI’s use. Ultimately, it is the fusion of human creativity and AI's capabilities that will propel success in this bold new era.
In a landscape where change reigns supreme, marketing professionals who embrace AI and nurture their creative instincts will not merely endure but flourish in the ever-shifting digital realm. The future of marketing belongs to those who can adeptly blend technology and original thought, crafting campaigns that resonate deeply within the hearts and minds of consumers.