Over the past 100 years, our expectations for artificial intelligence (AI) have largely been shaped by Hollywood films and TV shows. Whether we represent futuristic AI as a threat to the human race or as benevolent servants, most people have accepted the idea that AI will eventually take over everything, from grocery stores to governments.
But here's a question: when will AI replace your marketing firm? Will it ever happen - and if so, how long will it take? Based on the current state of AI and the many functions that a marketing firm serves, the likeliest answer is: no time soon, and maybe never. But advances in AI can provide marketers with a competitive advantage if they are leveraged successfully.
In this article, we'll talk about the state of AI in marketing today, its limitations, and how AI may impact marketing strategies of the future.
The State of AI in Marketing
Over the past decade, advancements at the cutting edge of AI have given rise to truly stunning applications. Last year we saw the arrival of OpenAI's GPT-3, a state-of-the-art natural language processing (NLP) algorithm that can generate news articles, poetry, working code, and more. Earlier this year, OpenAI pulled through once more with Dall-E 2, an image generation AI that took social media by storm.
While marketers aren't using technology like GPT-3 or Dall-E 2 on a daily basis, they are regularly using simpler AI applications at many stages of the marketing funnel. As listed in a previous blog post, examples include:
- Generate social media posts – Lately’s social post autogenerator can extract excerpts from any given link to create and schedule dozens of social media posts instantaneously.
- Automate keyword research – AI already powers SEO through Google’s RankBrain, and Twinword allows brands to identify high-ranking keywords for their long-form content using a combination of AI and manual research.
- Develop content strategy – HubSpot’s blog topic generator uses AI to assist with content brainstorming. MarketMuse goes a step further, analyzing brands to develop a full-blown content strategy complete with topics and a full calendar.
- Summarize data – WordSmith is used by the Associated Press (AP) to summarize and discover newsworthy insights hidden within data. Quill has similar functionality, with an emphasis on business.
Aside from these examples, AI works in the background to power many of the services marketers rely on, from customer relationship management (CRM) software to programmatic ad bidding and A/B testing software.
The Limits of AI
Since AI already helps marketers on a day-to-day basis, it stands to reason that it can go much farther. Consequently, a 2020 survey of early AI adopters conducted by Deloitte named three marketing-related applications among its top 5 goals for AI.
Nevertheless - the hype cycle is an ever-present threat, and enthusiasm for AI has often led to disappointed expectations in the past. It's important to temper those expectations with a realistic understanding of the limitations AI has in its current state, including:
- Lack of Human-Like Intelligence - the best commercially available AI still falls short of human-like performance in domains associated with creativity and abstract thought - take the limitations of Dall-E 2, for instance. Since marketing is an inherently human-centric field focused on connecting businesses with customers, AI-transformation can only go so far.
- Confinement to Narrow Domains - as the Harvard Business Review points out, most common AI marketing applications are narrowly focused on well-defined tasks. While there are exceptions - such as programmatic advertising and CRM - high-level decision-making that accounts for integrated organizational data and outside context remains elusive.
- Complex and Power-Hungry - applications at the cutting edge of AI - such as machine learning (ML) and neural networks - are as staggeringly expensive as they are powerful. Training, deploying, and maintaining a basic ML model can cost thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours; running it may require expensive computing power, which is why most commercial AI applications operate on a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model.
- Data Intensive - training ML models for marketing purposes requires vast swaths of data about customers, clients, historical trends, and other factors that may be out of reach for small-to-medium sized businesses (SMBs). Furthermore, using that data brings a risk of data privacy breaches, which are hard to afford in the age of emerging data privacy legislation.
Ultimately these are all real concerns - but that doesn't mean we can't dream.
The Future of AI in Marketing
How AI will transform the field of marketing over the next 50-100 years largely depends on unknown variables. While thought leaders and futurists make confident predictions, the simple truth is that no one knows for sure: AI researchers and early adopters are trailblazing new terrain. They may bump up against unforeseen limits, or progress may occur at an exponential pace.
In a future where AI development meets no unexpected obstacles, we can expect it to transform marketing from high-level decision-making to campaign execution. Armed with human-like intelligence, AI will be able to strategize marketing campaigns from scratch, generate creative assets, and produce ads personalized to individual prospects on a level never before seen.
For some, it's a frightening possibility - but historically, automation has always required humans in the driver's seat, and that's not likely to change any time soon. While most stock trading is done by algorithms today, that has not eliminated the traders or analysts who make them run - likewise, when AI is able to generate marketing campaigns from scratch, it will still need marketers to steer it in the right direction.
Is Your Marketing Team AI-Ready?
In conclusion, AI won't be replacing your marketing firm any time soon - and there's little danger that it will fully replace them in the long-term either. But there's a very real danger that businesses who lack the power and increased efficiency of AI-driven tools will be left in the dust by companies who have them.
Today, the best marketers are able to leverage the latest technological developments to improve their clients' marketing strategies and propel them to success. Conveyance Marketing Group is here to help: no matter what the future holds, we provide the data-backed strategy and expertise to make the most of new technology and reach your prospects.