How Artificial Intelligence (AI) is disrupting and enhancing marketing
The idea of artificial intelligence (AI) is often associated with a dark and ominous perception that our future will one day be controlled by robots, machines, and cyborgs, thanks to Hollywood’s depiction of AI in films such as The Terminator, The Matrix, and ExMachina. However, when examined further, the future looks much more promising when AI is used to increase productivity and efficiency within the workplace and in marketing across a multitude of industry sectors.
Recently we hosted a ‘Put It To The Panel‘ event, where our exceptional panel of industry experts gave some amazing insights on the who, what, and why of AI, how it’s already disrupting, and most importantly, will continue to disrupt and enhance the future of marketing as we know it!
Our panel included:
- Jarther Taylor | CEO @ Datarati
- Henry Cho | Head of UX & AI Integration @ Upwire
- Kristi Mansfield | Customer Experience, Innovation and Data Strategy @ Oracle
- Chris Collacott | Director of Digital Marketing, Customer Behavior & Content @ Deloitte Digital
Some of the key questions and answers on AI are highlighted below
Q: What is Artificial Intelligence (AI) and why should marketers care?
There are multiple ways to think about AI, but I’d describe it as a nexus of data modules; plus the associated data with those modules, and the computing power to run those modules at high speed to deliver a human experience. So, it’s the acceleration of computer power that allows it to deliver deeper and greater insights that are closer to our personal experience.
The most obvious example of AI would be Siri, which is an experience that builds on our daily interactions. Whereas, an example that is less personal to us would be IBM Watson, which is very human-like in that it tries to discover solutions to problems but inhuman in that the level of personal interaction is not quite there yet.
I agree, I think it is important to distinguish between ‘big AI’ and ‘small AI’. There’s the concept of general intelligence and organisations like Google that are working on things like ‘Deep Mind’ which is an intelligence that has human-like and brain-like capabilities that it can learn skills and insights in one area and apply them to others. This is exactly what we do now as humans and I find it very compelling especially given the correlations and possibilities. Then there’s small AI — when you interface with things like Siri or Amazon’s Echo to deliver services like natural language processing or image recognition.
Q. What marketing roles and disciplines are most at risk and face the most immediate impact from the introduction of AI?
Talking at a macro level, statistics suggest that almost 30% of all work both professional and blue collar will be replaced by machines within 8 years. In particular; content and research professionals from multiple different industries like financial services and beyond.
I feel the biggest impact will be at an operational level; where if you have a role that has any kind of regularity to your work, there’s very high chance that it will be disrupted and eventually replaced by machines in the very near future. I also believe that edges of creativity will be affected. One example that is regularly talked about is the area of content marketing. There are a number of organisations and AI companies that exist today that are developing writing programs that both analyse and create content for sports reports and finance. I don’t think this will stop there in terms of the content the machines will be able to create. It is important therefore to focus on how and where we can up-value the curve through human ingenuity, innovation, and creativity to combine concepts in other ways to enhance real life experiences.
To add to that, what I see as interesting is the changing importance/value of roles within an organisation and team. To give a practical example of this, using airlines and commercial air travel — it was not too long ago that the pilot was the most critical employee and the flight attendants were the least critical. Today, however, it could be argued that the flight attendant is the most critical as they are the ones delivering the service, where pilots have the tools to equip the airplane to fly itself.
To take a paradigm shift and apply it to marketing, it is very rare that I see creative work that is genuinely new and that has not been replicated in some way, therefore AI is bound to impact strategy and creativity. Therefore looking ahead I feel the most important applied human skills will be around empathy and when to attach and/or delay messaging.
Q. What skills do you feel we need to harness to protect our careers and thrive in an AI driven world?
The big opportunity as a professional of the future is data and having the ability to harness this. Data scientists, analytical skill sets and the idea of the data journalists — giving us a greater ability to tell stories using more data than ever before to impact the businesses that way. And of course on top of that, the ability to understand the latest technologies to get the best out of the systems available to us now and in the future and importantly for the technologist to understand how that links back to overall business objectives.
Data and behavioural science are two areas that are going to be particularly critical in allowing us to harness that power of AI. Understand the how and crucially why we behave in particular situations, essentially the nerdy version of empathy!
Q: What are the most exciting developments in AI that are impacting marketing today?
While we think about AI as being a human behaviour, there’s still a lot of opportunities to discover unforeseen insights. For example, over Christmas, Google’s Deep Mind did two interesting and slightly controversial things. Firstly, it created its own encryption system that we DO NOT know how to crack. This means there are open problems that it can read by itself. Secondly, it created a meta-language. With general translation systems, AI can teach you how to translate between two different languages (i.e. Japanese to Korean and vice-versa or Korean to French and vice-versa) but could Deep Mind teach itself to translate between two languages without resorting to English as a bridge between them? Yes, it could. It taught itself out how to translate between two languages that were not explicitly linked in any way, thus developing its own connections between concepts to words and creating its very own meta-language.
If I break it down to what I’m seeing regularly — successful marketing is when you meet customer expectations by delivering a more personable experience. This includes anticipating what the customers want, at the right time, and in location to where they are. So, for those reasons, AI applications are very powerful; not only for building customer engagement and strengthening relationships, but also for customer acquisition. The most interesting and fascinating applications that I’m seeing now is within the Chatbot space, especially as a way to test and learn within the space.
To add to the point on meeting/exceeding customer expectations, Amazon is now promising to deliver goods to you before you as the customer even realise you wanted them through applications of machine learning. That is service you will be expecting from the very best businesses of the future, exceeding customer expectations.
Q: What would you say are the biggest dangers for businesses failing to embrace AI?
I think the biggest danger of not at least considering AI is that the cost of doing business for you will remain steady or decrease at a slower rate at a cost of doing business for other people. Also, the speed of which you will be able to do business is going to stay steady or increase more slowly than other businesses that are embracing AI.
Q: Where do you see the biggest opportunities lie for those businesses that are already using or starting to embrace AI?
The biggest opportunity within marketing is understanding that industries are going to be disrupted by AI and for those currently embracing it, they will be ahead of the curve in terms of efficiency and productivity. Those who don’t will be left behind. AI will give marketers the opportunity to interact with customers in a way that they want to be interacted with, with personalised content they want to see, receiving communications at relevant times and the best medium for the individual (email, social, telephone, etc).
At present, however, I don’t see anyone embracing AI too effectively from a marketing perspective, therefore the opportunity to get ahead of the competition is very attainable right now.
I feel both the biggest threat and opportunity is around efficiency and scale, underpinned by data. Data is extremely fundamental. If you’re not getting your data source now, then how will your algorithms learn? If you’re not collecting the right data and/or as much as you sensibly can, then there’s a big risk of not driving coherency into your system. When you fail to collect data and/or not capturing the right data, there’s a huge opportunity being missed for future proofing your business and preparing for AI implementation.
Q: What industries are already leading the way with leveraging AI in marketing?
Some of the most interesting applications of machine learning, predictive analytics and algorithms are in the high-frequency trading industry. For example, FinTech has driven a lot of disruptions in banking, insurance, etc. This is because innovators in that space, that are data-lead, have seen how to improve processes or even re-define models in a better way and as a consequence banking and finance is looking at how to change to become data-lead and not just have data. Thus, predictive analytics is one evolution of it, but AI, machine learning, and all the other applications can also drive value into that sector.
You can also look at retail, online retail, even in the non-profit sector, such as our Charity partner for the evening, beyondblue. They are using predictive analytics work with an organisation, helping them redesign services for people who have mental health issues.
So, the applications in AI are very much significant and we’re seeing high adoption in traditional markets and not just the financial services anymore, like telco, retail, energy, utilities, everywhere; there’s this application of AI and looking for how to improve how we go to market.
I think there’s the low-hanging fruit of AI as a diagnosis tool that has already proved to be beneficial, but could also potentially pose a risk later on. For example, we understand that if you have a problem early; by using all the signals that we have, AI can provide very accurate recommendations and determine highly probable diagnoses by instantly tapping into the collective knowledge of data on you as an individual, going beyond A/B testing to understand human behaviour and going deeper into your wants and needs.
Where this poses a threat is on an emotional level. We don’t want to have a bot saying things like, “Hey, you’re overweight, try this product!” We, therefore, need to invest in the right people to regulate AI to ensure we don’t lose the human/emotive understanding of communication.
Q. Where do you feel businesses should be investing their time and budget over the next 12 months?
Much importance is placed upon understanding what tech is coming next, therefore focusing on the people, culture and strategy is important. Investing both time and effort into what tech is coming through and how this can be used to add value to the human processes with the marketing mix, being able to adapt to whatever tech is coming through. We need people that are ready to embrace whatever is coming next, investing in systems that stitch previously siloed functions together, allowing marketers to be overall more efficient and effective in their roles.
It was an extremely fascinating and insightful discussion that our panelist gave and we heard many great insights into what AI is and what are future holds in marketing and other industries.
However, if I were to pick 3 keys learnings from the night, I’d choose:
- AI IS upon us now and we need to embrace it today in order to get ahead of the curve
- Careers will change in marketing due to AI, but this will bring about new opportunities in the space to better engage with customers, increase productivity and grow in marketing efficiency.
- The good news is AI’s still a fledgling market so any initiative taken today is likely to get you a head start on the competition!