Blog: The robot salesman: AI and marketing
In my latest podcast I spoke with Katie King, author of Using Artificial Intelligence in Marketing: How to Harness AI and Maintain the Competitive Edge. There was so much to talk to her about, given her three decades of experience consulting across brands and businesses, that I hardly knew where to start! But I began with a big question: did she think the introduction of AI into the world of marketing was a revolution?
She started by explaining the concept of the three Ds: dirty, dull and dangerous. These are the tasks which we will most readily reassign to AI, in order to free the human element for higher creative tasks as well as leisure. Katie went on to say that AI-embedded tools could, for example, take up a lot of the slack in email marketing, perhaps assessing subject lines for usefulness and suitability. Like having a thousand interns!
Katie argued convincingly that companies need to make a careful analysis of what they need AI to do. What is it for? Do you want to be an innovator, keeping ahead of the curve in your industry? Or would the spread of AI technology make you just another business jumping on the bandwagon, pursuing the technology because everyone else is doing it? Can you afford to be left behind? She referred in particular to the sheer, dizzying range of products on the market, and emphasized the need for companies to carry out due diligence on their genuine needs before taking an expensive or complicated plunge.
If a business does go for the adoption of AI, this is a nose-to-tail process. It covers the whole customer journey, from the CEO to the customer-facing person on the shop floor. Katie expanded using a restaurant scenario: “When they come into the restaurant, the operatives, the people at reception, the people serving know that person. They know they’re vegan. They know it’s their birthday. So that touches marketing. That touches customer service. That touches sales. So for me, what it means is the blurring of the boundaries of these different job functions.”
She highlighted this by talking about the fact that AI was generally being brought into companies by their marketing departments, but those departments and their chiefs were really stepping on the toes of IT and CTOs. What this means is that there have to be some fundamental reimaginings of internal structures to get the most out of the technology available. What is described as digital transformation is really, in Katie’s words, business transformation, and that can be an uncomfortable process for entrenched mindsets and vested interests.
There is a real issue of organizational fatigue. Innovation is built on innovation, with technology improving all the time, and this can exhaust the risk appetite of a company. How, I wondered, could CEOs and leaders set a course through these AI reefs, staying away from the sharp coral and keeping the vessel in forward motion? Because you have to have buy-in at this high level since ultimately, the driver for AI, like all technology more widely, is commercial gain. This may be a huge disruptor for a CTO or a marketing department, so it may be that the CEO is the only person with the scope, the span and the bandwidth to encompass all of these different influences. It’s a huge opportunity, of course, it’s a huge responsibility, too — which is where consultants like Katie can really prove their worth!
We shouldn’t underestimate the degree to which this is already happening. We’re not starting from ground zero. As Katie put it, “We upload a photograph to our Facebook and we’re told: ‘Katie, that’s probably James, isn’t it? Let’s tag James,’ because of image recognition.”
I had to get Katie on to my favorite topic, digital anthropology. She agreed that, in the long run, AI might have the potential and the power to help ease issues like discrimination and ethical problems, but that, at the moment, it is doing more to cause them. So we need to handle with care. AI is nothing short of an industrial revolution, like electricity and steam before it. Job functions will change, transform perhaps unrecognizably. But they won’t disappear. Ethical issues will open up: data democratization versus data exploitation. We’re already alive to the dangers, now we need to find solutions.
I asked Katie to give her final verdict on the development of AI in the marketing field. She told me: “Don’t be frightened by it. Assess how it’s being used in your job function, in your industry sector, in your country. Read. Keep up to date. The book’s been out a month or two and every day, new startups are cropping up. But do your due diligence.” I can’t really add to that!