What’s next in the ‘Age of AI’ for marketers?

As Artificial Intelligence is slowly becoming a reality, George John, chairman and co-founder of Rocket Fuel Inc, talks about what AI means for marketers.

I’m sure many people would be surprised by a recent study from Stanford and Cambridge Universities that suggests computers know more about you than your friends and family. Researchers found that by using Artificial Intelligence (AI) they were able to predict and study a participant’s personality by analysing just 10 Facebook likes.

Over the last year we’ve seen AI appear in the news agenda with increasing frequency. The Turing Test of a computer’s intelligence was met, AI start-ups were acquired by internet giants, Hollywood movies including CHAPPIE, Ex Machina and Her were based solely on AI storylines, but it was the risks that really made the headlines.

Highly regarded public figures, such as Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking warned that we should be cautious of the rapid evolution of AI. In my opinion, I believe with the proper safeguards and procedures in place, the end of the world at the hands of robot armies is unlikely. However, while there may be a potential threat to the jobs we know today, overall I think AI will bring about more good than evil.

When it comes to marketing, AI will continue to impact the sector in two ways.  Firstly, the types of jobs marketers will do, and secondly the way campaigns are conceived, run and measured.

There’s already fear that programmatic buying systems are threatening the jobs of media planners and media buyers. Indeed technology and automation has continued to impact the job market across industries, but simultaneously it has created new roles and opportunities.

Many of the jobs people have today in marketing didn’t exist a decade or two ago – web designers, SEO consultants, social media experts and mobile and web app developers are all relatively young professions.

It is true to say that the impact of technology and automation advancements is positively far reaching. Technology is freeing up our creative potential to be applied to our business models, strategic thinking and brand marketing propelling the creative economy to a state of real maturity, fast.

The role of the CMO has already been revolutionised by AI. The demands on the modern day CMO are quite extraordinary; although their central and long term objective of creating revenue and driving brand awareness remain the same. CMOs have never had so much data available to them to make decisions but so too, they’ve never been held so accountable.

The scale of the opportunity and volume of data these new marketing platforms is creating is not only changing the role of the marketer but the skills that marketing departments require.

Marketing departments are now employing big data analysts and data scientists to uncover insights to drive business decisions. Marketing technologists are bridging the gap between the marketing function and IT, while SVPs of digital strategy understand the potential of harnessing data and technology to improve the effectiveness of marketing across every channel in order to drive revenues.

With the use of AI in marketing we’re actively talking about creating programmes to solve problems that are beyond human scale challenges and assisting CMOs in achieving their goals more effectively.

AI working at an airline for example could recognise that a certain route is regularly under-used by passengers. Its systems would automatically trigger a campaign that targets customers who may be interested in flying that route and offer incentives via the most appropriate channel (offline or online).

UK supermarket Tesco is another good example. If there are 60 million people in the UK and Tesco has 20 potential opportunities to interact with each individual a week, there are 1.2 billion possible interactions at stake.

It is impossible for even a large marketing team to perfectly calculate and place specific ads that appeal to those individuals’ specific wants based on their previous purchasing or browsing history. However, AI and machine learning does have the mechanical capacity to make this possible.

It’s not just when to initiate a campaign that AI will change. Machine learning has the potential to fundamentally change the way we market businesses, products and services. As AI technology improves and evolves we’ll see it progress beyond selecting the right message and design (crafted by humans) delivering to the right person, over the right channel, at the most opportune time – to actually having a two way conversation in real-time.

The appropriateness of this dialogue is the challenge of future marketers who will need to become experts in managing these machines and establishing the parameters of these conversations. After all, the one thing that robots lack, that we humans have, is common sense.