The Rise of AI Marketing
AI has already shown its efficacy across many marketing use cases, such as improving marketing relevancy at-scale and enabling entirely new consumer touch points like digital assistants (e.g. Amazon Alexa.)
As the underlying technology continues to improve and AI adoption becomes even more ubiquitous, marketing as a whole is quickly becoming closely intertwined with AI.
This brings about some important questions for us to consider:
- What does an AI marketing landscape look like?
- What (if anything) changes at a macro level as brands rely more and more on AI for their marketing efforts?
- How (if at all) does the relationship between brands and consumers change in an AI Marketing landscape that allows for 1-to-1 personalization at scale?
- What will the brands of tomorrow need to do in order to stand out from the crowd?
Some might argue that AI is simply another tool for marketers to use, similar to social media and digital advertising. AI might improve the effectiveness of a marketing campaign, but marketing as a whole will stay the same.
However, if companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook are any indication, it seems that AI has brought about a fundamental shift in the relationship between brands and consumers. This shift is particularly apparent with marketing.
The trend towards data-driven marketing goes hand-in-hand with AI. Brands now have the ability to reach the right consumers with the right message at the right time and place like never before.
Marketing is no longer about making an educated guess about who your target audience is and what they want to hear. Today’s marketing is hyper-personalized to the unique needs and wants of each individual consumer. It’s an empirical process centered on learning who your target audience is in real-time and engaging them with relevant content along each step of the buyer’s journey.
The implications of this can be summarized into three main points: changes to consumer behavior and expectations, an increased importance of having clear brand purpose and new opportunities presented by humanized technology.
Changing Consumer Expectations
As of 2016, there are an estimated 2 billion millennials (defined by the World Economic Forum as people born between 1980 and 2000). The buzz surrounding millennials in marketing has been palpable over the years, and rightly so as they have become highly influential in the world economy.
Many millennials, and those born after them, Generation Z, are considered digital natives - they were born at a time where technology plays an integral role in daily lives so adopting new technology comes naturally to them.
While not every member of these generations are digital natives, a significant portion of them (of which already command $1.3 Trillion in annual spending (Eventbrite, 2014)) were brought up in a fundamentally different way than any generation of humans before, and have different expectations how brands market to them.
AI allows firms to accommodate for changes in consumer expectations. Automation of time-intensive tasks frees up resources to focus marketing efforts on creating impactful messages.
From the consumer perspective, AI means that the marketing they are exposed to everyday is more relevant. They are shown more of the products and services that they’re likely to want, and less irrelevant offerings that they’re forced to drown out.
Whether it’s bargains for the penny-pinchers or experiences for those searching for life’s purpose, AI marketing improves the process of connecting the right brands to the right consumers. Since the digital native Millennials and Generation Z members spend plenty of time online, this means that AI can help make a significant portion of their lives more relevant and meaningful.
Conversational applications give consumers direct access to brands whenever they want. This allows them to take control of their experiences at their convenience and interact with brands in a way much more natural to human nature.
Frictionless shopping experiences give consumers what they want, whenever they want it in a hassle-free manner. Tasks that were once burdensome can be streamlined, freeing up precious time and energy for more important facets of life.
Increased Importance of Brand Purpose
As AI improves, so will the level of marketing quality (i.e., the relevance of ads, the quality of creative content, the level of personalization, etc.). Brands will need to realign their focus toward delighting customers more than ever before as the status quo is lifted all around.
Brands can position themselves for long-term, sustained success by using AI as a tool to deliver impactful creative, communicate meaningful stories, and make people’s lives easier.
AI Marketing should serve as a tipping point for brands to adjust their higher-level marketing strategy. In being able to automate repetitive, labor-intensive tasks, brands can expect to have more time and resources on hand once they overcome any adjustment period that may occur when implementing AI.
We can expect to see a change in the role of brands that brands play in the lives of consumers. Businesses traditionally have played a transactionally role selling goods or services. But AI Marketing opens the floodgates towards a new model - one that is centered on creating meaningful experiences.
The idea of the experience economy is rooted in Joseph Pine and James Gilmore’s book The Experience Economy. This concept illustrates the progression of increasing economic value, heightened differentiation, and ability to command premium pricing as a brand moves from the lowest point of extracting commodities, past making goods and delivering services, and towards staging experiences.
While maybe not intentional, Sinek provides a framework that is ever more important for the era of AI Marketing. In essence, he proposes that all marketing efforts of a brand stem from an overarching purpose, the brand’s “why."
This brand purpose then gets applied to their processes (the “how”), and results in the end-product (the “what”). Starting with “why” means basing every decision a brand makes from the perspective of one overarching purpose or reason the brand exists.
By doing so, brands can create sustained value and see their efforts genuinely resonate with their customers. In the context of the near future of marketing, AI offers significant improvements to the “how” and “what” factors of Sinek’s framework.
AI will soon be able to automate many of these lower-level tasks in an incredibly efficient manner. For a brand to center their marketing efforts in communicating “what” they are selling and “how” they do business is a clear path to mediocrity.
AI Marketing places immense importance on marketers’ ability to articulate and communicate their “why”; their brand’s overarching purpose that serves as fuel for the lower-level aspects that AI can then execute.
This “why” element of a brand should be seen as a way to make the brand more human and relate to the common pain points or aspirations of communities. Developing and articulating a brand’s reason for being through marketing can increase the likelihood of people resonating with the brand. Shifting the focus to these high-level, “why” elements of a brand can allow marketers to achieve differentiation and create long-lasting brands in the era of AI Marketing.
In totality, marketers will need to realign their efforts to focus more on clearly formulating and articulating their mission, story, and reason for being. Lower-level tasks that formerly would consist of the bulk of a marketer’s workload are now ripe for automation. This means more time will become available to focus on the aspects higher-level tasks that create impactful experiences and ultimately, build value for the customer.
Less busy-work means more value-added activities. These are the factors that make for the era of AI Marketing being an inevitability, which is favorable for marketers and consumers alike.
People will want the AI that they interact with on a daily basis to be designed in a way that fits seamlessly into their lives. A push toward unobtrusive, intuitive, and empathetic technology is what I call humanized technology.
Humanized technology means implementing AI in a way that integrates seamlessly into our daily lives. By adopting a human-centered, empathetic perspective, we can use AI to its full potential. Brands that effectively humanize their AI Marketing can win loyalty from customers as they stand out from competitors who appear invasive and obtrusive.
Much like how computers have gone from early iterations of massive machines with complex interfaces to powerful pocket-size devices, AI should evolve into a technology working its magic in the background to facilitate great experiences and deliver real results.
AI represents a natural progression of the democratization of creativity and knowledge. The democratization of creativity and knowledge are concepts that describe how technology has opened many opportunities for people to learn and do things that were previously only accessible to a select few.
Software for creative production like the Adobe Creative Suite, social platforms like Instagram, and educational resources on the internet like Coursera all have helped people learn and express ideas more than ever before.
AI can extend this idea even further. Currently, AI can seem daunting and inaccessible to the general public. Many people don’t know where to start with learning about it, let alone actually working with and implementing it.
Overtime, we may see the democratization of AI technology, which would allow for more and more people to use it as they please. Applications and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) models could be made that would simplify the process of creating and deploying complex AI models, and more educational content can be made to teach people how it all works.
Humanized technology places the onus on humans for actualizing its potential. AI is only as useful as the level of comprehension that the person using it has. Since General Artificial Intelligence (GAI) is still a long ways away, it is important for more people to learn how to use Narrow AI as a tool to galvanize their ideas.
AI can already paint on its own, but it still requires the guidance of humans to provide value in day-to-day life. It is up to us to provide it the direction and ideas to create the impactful experiences of which it is capable.
Emphasizing the development of creative thinking skills, metacognition, and improving the ability for creating frameworks to engage with the world can allow marketers to hone in on their innately human qualities that will deliver value using AI.
Where Marketers Should Go
While we may still be a ways away from an AI Marketing landscape, early adopters will be in an incredibly advantageous position. Speculation about the long-term impact of AI in marketing aside, brands are already seeing a positive ROI from their AI initiatives.
Proper implementation of AI will vary from company to company. There are many factors to consider, such as the data sources available and high-level business objective. Take a look at my guide on implementing AI for a deeper dive into this.
From the individual’s perspective, developing a basic understanding of AI is the first step. Non-programmers can, and will, thrive in an AI Marketing landscape as the need for AI strategists and people who know how to interpret and take action on the output of an AI model become more in-demand.
I’ve put together a roundup of no-code/low-code AI tools here, as well as a comprehensive guide on need-to-know AI terminology here.