AI is changing marketing as we know it, and that's a good thing

By Andrew Stephen
Trends and insights

Artificial Intelligence is influencing the way marketing teams work. Andrew Stephen from Forbes shares his insight on how marketing is being changed by AI. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) seems to be the current business hot topic, including in marketing. It seems nearly impossible for any kind of marketing/advertising industry event or conference to not have at least one (or likely more) session or panel discussion on the subject. (I should know, in the last month or so I’ve been a panelist four times at different industry events on both sides of the Atlantic talking about how AI will impact marketing, advertising, consumers, and the futures of business and work.) Are we at “peak AI” or is this trend of great interest in the topic set to continue? Probably the latter, and rightly so.

The AI revolution in marketing, which I’ll focus on in this post, has been spurred by the influx of affordable and accessible advanced data analytics tools (typically based on machine learning methods), the availability of increasingly rich (albeit still noisy) and extensive datasets, and a growing acceptance among marketers of the potential power of data-driven approaches to marketing decision making. The winds have been blowing in this direction for some time, so this is not a new phenomenon. However, it seems that now we are at the point where almost everyone is talking about it and (hopefully) thinking hard about how AI can and will change how they do things. Here are some of my thoughts on how marketing is being changed by AI.

Marketers have more insights-related tools at their disposal that facilitate true data-driven decision making but AI is needed to help integrate across tools, datasets, and platforms.

Of course, data are never perfect and marketers’ interpretations of patterns found in data by machine learning and AI analytics systems are still subject to bias and could mislead. However, we have never had so many opportunities for truly data-driven marketing. The difficulty, though, as one CMO friend described to me earlier this year, is that there are now so many tools and data sources and analytics packages and marketing technology software services available. Integrating insights across all of these tools is not easy, even if the various types of software and datasets play nicely with each other (which is often not the case). In the current marketing technology landscape, tools tend to be single purpose and sit in silos. This will change, and AI can help power these changes.

One idea, which I heard from some software engineers at the recent Teradata Partners conference in Anaheim, CA, is “analytics on analytics.” This is a great idea, in which AI-powered analytics tools can be used to take in the outputs of all the tools, platforms and datasets to identify new patterns that can give managers an even better, and importantly, integrated, view of things. In the world of science, we call this a “meta analysis” (an integrative analysis of results from multiple studies), and it is a great idea for marketing analytics and AI can be very helpful on this front.

The nature of marketing work is changing, but not necessarily becoming completely technical and focused on data science. Instead, the infusion of AI into marketing work can aid decision making and automation can free up valuable executive time.

At a recent event in London, the founder and CEO of the global analytics company Meltwater, Jørn Lyseggen, launched his new book, Outside Insight, in which he talks about how analytics and AI is changing business. In a panel discussion that I participated in, one of the interesting ideas to emerge was the belief that prescriptive AI (i.e., AI tools that can “make” decisions based on learning and sets of preconfigured rules in an automatic, or semi-automatic, manner) will be a boon for decision-making executives because time will be freed up. I agree with this, and there is indeed a lot of promise in prescriptive applications of AI (as opposed to simply those that describe the past or predict the future without taking action). There are, naturally, some situations in which managers would choose to not automate tasks and decisions, and that is fine. But it is true that AI-powered marketing organizations should find themselves with more time once the simpler, repetitive tasks have been intelligently automated.

From a work standpoint, this means that more time can be allocated to areas where human input and focus is needed the most. The tough, complex and difficult challenges faced by marketers in today’s world aren’t going away, so more time to put into these challenges seems like a good thing. Also, as consumers become even more digital and themselves automate more things using smart AI-powered tools and devices, the  human part of a firm’s relationship with a customer will become even more important. More time for marketing teams to spend on human interactions with customers, thus, seems valuable. Lastly, increased time resources for marketers can be devoted to the creative side of marketing. This might actually lead to overall improvements in the quality of creative work in advertising, which is an interesting prospect.

Indeed, digital skills will continue to be in demand and the future workforce (not just in marketing) needs a higher level of digital literacy than the current workforce has. But to me the most interesting way in which AI will shape the future of marketing work is to give us all more time to focus on the decisions that need human input, creative thinking and on building more meaningful and deeper relationships with customers.

Consumers are changing due to AI-powered tools and devices being involved in consumer search, choice set construction and purchase decision making, and as this becomes more widespread and feels normal to consumers, AI will start to automate certain consumer decisions.

We are still in the early days of AI’s influence on consumer behavior, but the pace of chance moving forward will be rapid. One of the challenges on the consumer side is that most of us are still not fully comfortable handing over human agency, i.e., our need to make decisions, to machines. But we already do that, perhaps not noticing. As consumer-facing AI-powered systems for things like product recommendations become more reliable and powerful, we’ll all start to “outsource” more of our consumer search and choice set construction tasks to AI. Why spend hours searching for the right hotel for a vacation and compiling a list of alternatives from which to make a choice when a piece of software that knows ALL of your preferences can do it for you? For some consumers there’s still pleasure in searching for and discovering products and services, but typically only limited to certain categories. Thus, consumer behavior itself will be increasingly “powered by” AI.

For marketers, this has implications ranging from how to advertise to how to handle customer relationships and after-sales support. How do you advertise to what is, essentially, an algorithm? (You probably don’t, but maybe you pay to “persuade” the algorithm to give your brand more weight in any recommendations it generates.) How do you have a relationship with a customer if the transaction is intermediated by a series of software bots? These are important questions, and there are many more that arise when thinking about consumer use of AI as part of the customer journey. Where do traditional marketing touch points come in? At the end of the day, although we are still at the early stages and consumers haven’t yet outsourced much of the parts of their customer/shopping journeys, this is starting to happen (e.g., think about what Amazon’s Alexa is doing when you ask it to buy something for you and you don’t mention a specific brand). The role of marketing in persuading and informing consumers then changes.

Visionary marketing leaders need to understand AI and how it impacts both marketers and consumers. 

Moreover, they must think broadly and creatively about the AI-powered future of marketing and take proactive steps to ready themselves and their organizations for the future that they (and their customers) are creating.

All in all, a lot is happening in marketing with respect to AI and it is not only on the data analytics side of the industry. Marketing leaders need to be out ahead of this, and must ensure that the technology doesn’t get ahead of the business and consumer needs. Like any technology that comes into marketing, we often find executives succumb to the “shiny new toy syndrome” and put technology innovation ahead of value-creation, purpose-based and customer-driven innovation that can be facilitated by new technologies. AI is one of those things, however, that is multifaceted and can be many things. Understanding AI and its powerful potential to shape marketing is critical. Even more critical is thinking about what the future should look like in a world where marketers’ and consumers’ thoughts and behaviors are influenced by, or even completely managed, by intelligent, data-hungry and analytics-based software applications.

 Additional reading:

This article was written by Andrew Stephen from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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