The Slow March of Artificial Intelligence in the Marketing Industry
A new generation of AI tools is helping marketers get a better handle on the drudgery, freeing them up to concentrate on more creative tasks. Is your company ready for this wave of innovation?
During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union waged an arms race over nuclear weapons. These days, the world’s leading superpowers, the U.S. and China, are racing to take the global lead in the development of artificial intelligence technologies (experts say China is currently ahead). And therein lies an important tale about the importance of these emerging technologies.
With steady advances in computer processing speeds and natural language processing, ever-cheaper data storage and more powerful analytics tools, these technologies are changing the way we do business. With AI, computers can learn faster than humans, though not as deeply—a crucial advantage to be seized upon.
Still, as the research organization Gartner recently noted, the hype about AI in the marketing industry easily outpaces its actual rate of adoption. Nevertheless, the steady incorporation of these tools is very real.
The March to Data-Driven Marketing
As marketing becomes an increasingly data-driven discipline, the more effective use of data is the key to improving customer personalization and thus better customer experiences. This becomes exponentially more difficult for larger enterprises. Analyzing extensive data sets and interacting with thousands of customers and prospects can be tedious for humans. But artificial intelligence tools can take on complex analytical tasks that would be time-consuming and onerous, if not entirely impossible, for humans to perform. The key: farming out these tasks to AI tools frees up humans to do the more intuitive, creative work that machines still cannot perform, and perhaps never will.
These AI tools can greatly enhance efforts to better target and segment customers and to more systematically listen to what the market is saying (in social media and other venues) about your products and market niches. The trick, of course, is to use all these tools and data to provide meaningful insights to better manage operations.
Analytics can help map customer journeys from prospects to lifelong clients. Emerging speech recognition and chatbots help improve the interface with customers by establishing conversational marketing that can mimic human speech, while programmatic advertising can automate ad targeting. Predictive analytics can refine any number of tasks, from better sales forecasting to dynamic pricing. And AI-powered tools can help a large enterprise organize its huge cache of unstructured data and documents into a real knowledge management system.
Bewitched by Productivity Boosts, Frightened by Possible Threats
Few subjects prompt as much promise but also as much dread as artificial intelligence.
There’s no way to ignore the potential threats. A widely-cited 2013 study by Oxford University estimates that nearly half of all U.S. jobs are susceptible to automation within the next 20 years. Technology maven Mark Cuban recently warned, “artificial intelligence, deep learning, machine learning … learn it. Because otherwise, you’re going to be a dinosaur within three years.”
While we’re perhaps culturally programmed to fear artificial intelligence as a threat—think of the robot Hal in the science fiction movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, taking over the ship–others prefer to focus on the promise of breathtaking leaps in human productivity. The consulting firm McKinsey & Co., for instance, estimates that as much as $2 billion of global economic activity could be diverted to automation simply by capitalizing on the tools that are already available—and artificial intelligence technologies are making tremendous leaps all the time.
In the end, the most exciting opportunities may be in the blend of AI and human faculties. The consulting firm Accenture calls this a “capital-labor hybrid.” The firm conducted research on the potential impact of AI in a dozen developed countries. It found that “these technologies could double annual economic growth rates in 2035 by changing the nature of work and creating a new relationship between man and machine.” Accenture projected labor productivity could increase by as much as 40 percent.
Implications for Talent Recruitment
The steady integration of machine intelligence and AI tools into the marketing mix means that hiring managers, as well as both internal and external resources, must find and recruit professionals who are comfortable with these tools and new approaches. As a columnist in Chief Marketing Officer magazine recently put it: “as a CMO, you don’t necessarily have to be down in the trenches and know the nitty-gritty technicalities of natural language processing or robotics. You do, however, need to understand AI’s impact on your team and customers to effectively define the strategy and orchestrate the right AI-powered decisions.”
In general, recruiters in every industry, but especially those who focus on marketing and the marketing communications niche, are now charged with finding candidates with high digital aptitudes. For instance, Gartner predicts that by 2020 one of every five companies will dedicate staff to monitor and guide neural networks, the technical foundation upon which most artificial intelligence operates.
Those of us in the recruiting and executive search industry are of course also looking hard at how we might adopt artificial intelligence innovations to stay ahead of the curve, and to continue cultivating the best talent available in the market. There are now artificial intelligence-powered virtual assistants that aid search executives in a notoriously time-intensive task: sourcing passive job candidates. The deft use of such cognitive tools enables executive recruiters to more proactively evaluate talent.
Even more than in other industries, all these tools must be leveraged in a way that allows the human touch–our vital connection with clients and candidates—to remain at the center of what we do each day.
While many understandably fear the onrush of artificial Intelligence tools due to melodramatic depictions in popular culture, the reality is less scary than it might seem. After all, artificial intelligence already drives a wide range of tools most of us use every day–from digital personal assistants like Alexa and Siri to the autocomplete function on Google searches.
In most industries, including the marketing arena, these tools are less likely to replace humans than they are to enhance and supplement what humans do best. This hybrid form of work—blending the best aspects of computers (speed and no boredom with repetitive tasks) and human efforts (creativity and intuitive wisdom)–will become increasingly common across the economy and especially in the marketing industry.
Chief marketing officers now must be comfortable with orchestrating all these activities. Crucially, they also must marshal these tools and this talent to quantify actual impact and prove AI’s real return on investment for their organization.
Successful companies must build the human infrastructure to make all this work.
- Posted by Stuart Glassman
- On April 11, 2019
- 0 Comments