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Into the (Pretty) Great Unknown: The Future of Marketing + AI

Like it or not, robots are taking over. Ok fine, it may not be exactly like the Terminator franchise predicted (yet), but look under the hood of some of our economy’s major drivers and you’ll see what I mean. The AI revolution is quickly upending many aspects of our lives. Manufacturing, delivery (drones), transportation (self-driving cars), retail (Amazon), the virtual assistant inside your phone, and customer service chatbots are all products of Artificial Intelligence. And that’s just the beginning.

 

But how will this technology influence the business of branding and marketing?

 

I recently read an article that foretold three scenarios for how Artificial Intelligence will impact marketing. There is little debate that AI will exert growing influence over the advertising and marketing industry. And while some versions of AI’s outcomes are downright scary, I am more hopeful about the promise of AI to deliver benefits and significant impact to three major groups: consumers, organizations that market goods/services, and the marketing agencies themselves. 

 

CONSUMERS

We’ve already seen a wave of successful startups using an AI-based approach to give their customers better choices and service. The online retailer Stitch Fix collects customer data on body measurements, style trends, customer feedback, and previous purchase habits of their entire customer base to predict what clothes they’ll like. This personalized and predictive style of retail could easily be applied to almost all consumer industries, with broad implications for ‘marketing.’ Do I need to see an ad for a new pair of jeans, for example, if I’m already confident that Stitch Fix knows and understands what type of jeans I will like, and they just send them to me to try on? Traditional advertising will certainly be less influential in this case.

 

In a similar fashion, online AI-powered shopping assistants area already revolutionizing  the way we connect to products and services. Launched in 2016, eBay’s ShopBot promises to help you find what you’re looking for. By snapping a picture and sending it through their platform, the bot will ask questions and make personalized product recommendations. We can imagine marketers will add ‘sponsored’ items or make other attempts to game ShopBot’s recommendation engine, just like we see an entire industry of marketers promising to help get your product discovered on Amazon. And as the ecommerce platforms evolve, marketers will need to evolve with them. 

 

ORGANIZATIONS THAT MARKET

There’s an old quote from John Wannamaker, the department store magnate, in which he stated that “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half!” 

 

With the advent of the hyper-measurable marketing campaigns that we currently run through online platforms like Google and Facebook, we’ve made significant progress in knowing which ads insight a potential customer to actually become a buyer of your product or service. And with the introduction of AI, marketers can use tools to more accurately optimize campaigns and use predictive modelling to keep us from making mistakes. 

 

In the near future, AI will be able to generate assets (yes, including copy and imagery) in addition to testing and deploying the most effective campaign creative based on user behavior and engagement. This ability is going to pay vast dividends to companies that know and understand this technology — leveling the playing field between big, established organizations and scrappy tech-savvy upstarts. With scalable platforms that allow any company to access predictive AI-enhanced media solutions, first-mover advantage becomes all the more important – with an ultra-efficient marketing machine quickly building market share before others can catch up. Imagine a world where we know exactly which marketing tactics work, and have better insights into the ones that don’t. That will translate into less money wasted on ineffective marketing & media.

 

MARKETING & CREATIVE AGENCIES

For decades, brands have counted on agencies to solve complex problems by bringing together creative minds, specialized industry knowledge, technical innovators, and insights about culture and trends. Combining those areas of focus and distilling them into a singular strategy, and executing on that strategy, is still a very difficult challenge for AI.

 

However, the robots are catching up. Right now we use predictive tools to help identify target audiences and to optimize campaigns to be more effective. We can definitely envision a world where digital campaign execution requires you to enter a few simple parameters, and simply push ‘go’. 

 

The truly scary leap for creative agencies is when AI can analyze the universe of creative assets (copy, artwork, music, etc.) and execute better than a human. We’re already seeing the start of these trends, with early forays by AI creating viable artwork, music, and books.

 

We believe the value agencies bring is in that creative spark of an idea. Agencies that are adept at consistently generating ideas that elevate their clients’ brands, connecting them to customers in unexpected ways, and bring together art and science in new and novel ways will continue to excel. Deep consultation with clients, the one-to-one understanding of their challenges, and making valuable connections between actual people is another area that computers can’t replicate – yet.

 

Marketing agencies will need to adapt, but we always have. There is enormous opportunity to harness the immense power of AI to solve our clients’ problems in more effective ways. We’ll see a total transformation of the industry at large (just like we’ve seen throughout the decades). When print advertising began its slow decline, we became savvy in digital. Like any business, the marketing industry must  apply their creativity to figuring out ways to leverage smarter tech and bring those valuable solutions to clients.