Spend any amount of time with science fiction literature, movies, or shows, and you’ll notice some trending concerns about the future of mankind. Cloning will expose our innate prejudices and destroy personal identity. Successful alien contact would require an immense effort on mankind’s part to not come off as barbarians.
Computers, when given artificial intelligence, have a tendency to get rid of people—killer robot allies, optional.
Perhaps it’s because of our familiarity with the murderous processor trope that so many conversations about AI in business today take a paranoid tone. There’s a fear that as we improve efficiency, we may also lose touch of some of the human factors in the marketing process; that machine learning’s data-driven approach may not perfectly hit the mark for understanding people, that automation could threaten to displace too many people from much-needed jobs.
But the story can look very different when approached from the standpoint of company leadership. Imagine a small company with a product that becomes a surprise success over night, over-reaching its predicted audience considerably. If the company wants to scale and continue providing interesting content to a now significantly larger-than-expected cohort, artificial intelligence solutions can be an excellent way for it to gain fast and accurate insights that can guide a growing team of marketing specialists and content creators. Consider the needs of two newly merged companies that need to understand and serve their combined audience by coordinating analysis of historical data and the present feelings of their markets about their new entity. Put yourself in the shoes of any creative agency that’s juggling several client needs when, suddenly, a ball drops, requiring them to quickly shift focus and produce new work on a tight schedule.
In those situations, the answer could lie in artificial intelligence.
Artificial intelligence isn’t the cataclysmic force of destruction that Hollywood or marketing technicians sometimes fear it be. Rather, it promises to be the next step in a rapidly developing history of marketing technology that’s enabling marketers to focus ever more on the human part of the marketing equation.
While much of the AI conversation has centered around ways that computers can improve (or replace) the work of marketers, the technology’s reach is actually far more impactful. Tedious jobs that would previously have taken far too much time and manpower to finish can now be automated, opening whole new avenues for marketing insight and action. The most difficult part of this transition? Convincing marketers they need new marketing technology to complete unprecedented tasks for reasons they haven’t yet considered.
So what do these AI applications actually look like?
Perhaps one of the most direct applications present today, Adgorithms is an AI-based marketing company that uses machines to tie together analysis of user behavior across all of a company’s promotional channels. While not particularly revolutionary, the weight this removes from people in terms of constant analysis is enormous. “These things will become more common. In media, CMOs will be liberated by technology,” said Adgorithms CEO Or Shani in a Q&A with Mediapost. “Marketers will be free to make marketing fun again and not just focused on the execution of a campaign plan.”
But while much of the AI tech space is currently dominated by ad optimization solutions, there are also applications with a far more personal touch. Consider for instance SwiftKey, a popular app that uses natural language processing to shorten texting time and provide intelligent autocompletion on phones. With some time and sophistication, however, this AI application could help marketers craft messages or complete stories for specific audience segments. Imagine being able to complete a content audit, then automatically distill your findings into direct suggestions for your content creation team’s ongoing work? This is the idea behind companies such as Automated Insights and Narrative Science, both of which are explicitly looking for ways to tie human language patterns to audience behavior data.
Natural language interfaces—that is, machine learning that allows a computer to synthesize natural human speech into a query for a computer—also extend into speech today. Look at Amazon’s wildly popular Alexa suite, which features a number of speaker products that respond to spoken requests. While the speakers are certainly fun to work with, the more impressive part of Amazon’s undertaking is the massive open-source database of apps and programming that allows users to create their own applications through Alexa’s growing library. It’s a powerful precedent to set: building a strong AI back end, and then finding ways to make it accessible to regular users for custom application.
To be honest, it’s tough to say. It’s certainly likely that some jobs in the marketing space will be phased out over the next decade or so. What’s more likely, though, is that roles will evolve, fueled by the breadth and depth of information that AI can easily provide. As long as marketers are willing to focus on the places this new marketing technology can lead them, they’ll continue to find ways that AI will enable us all to do better work, remain dynamic in an ever-changing marketplace, and to engage with our own creativity on a more regular basis.
The path ahead for AI marketing technology isn’t entirely clear, but mostly because we’re learning the capabilities of this technology with each passing day. With new ideas, successful (and unsuccessful) implementations to look at, and continued interest from venture capitalists who want to fund the space, marketers should expect to see two things into the future: more tools that free them up from tedious activities, and resources that help them tell engaging stories, better.