October 5, 2023 | 5 Min
News Flash: AI Will Not Replace Marketers
One of the earliest memories in my career was working the show floor at one of the big, now long-gone publishing trade shows. I was young, naïve, and excited to be representing Adobe with technology that, at the time, was the bleeding edge of the desktop publishing revolution for both print and the fledgling web. On the first day at that show my excitement briefly turned to fear: two angry men marched up to me, centimeters from my face, screaming that Adobe was killing their livelihood with the products they were selling. And so, they wanted to pick a fight with someone. That someone, they decided, was me. I stood my ground, kept my cool, and they soon backed off after a couple of minutes, cursing under their breath, realizing that there was nothing they could do and the tide was against them. But it taught me a valuable lesson very early on…
It is those humans who adopt and adapt technology into their livelihoods that are the ones who will survive, lead, and prosper. It is they, not the tech, that will replace those humans who choose to ignore the waves that will cause them to stagnate and drown.
And so it is today with AI in the workplace, as it becomes democratized and readily available for all humans in their work. It’s both an exciting and a scary time for many, just as the cloud and desktop publishing revolutions were before, albeit at an unheard-of scale and speed. And part of that excitement and fear stems from the threat that Generative AI could (and in some rare cases, has) replaced the work that marketers had done before. But it need not be that way: marketers can embrace and benefit from this brave new world we are entering.
So how exactly does AI help marketers?
AI technology helping marketers (yeah, we’re humans too!) to accomplish things that were laborious, slow or impossible before is certainly not new. We’re already used to leveraging machine learning in everyday experiences that our customers have like search, recommendations, advertising, and so on. The recent wide availability of Generative AI technology and tools has now opened the door to bring automation to the creative process within the workplace. This might seem threatening, and without proper controls in place, it certainly might be. Why hire a team of content creators for your commerce site, when someone can just become a prompt engineer and have algorithms spit out endless volumes of text and images for product description pages?
My belief is that this technology will elevate marketers to the next level of greatness and esteem, not just when they’re filling in the blank canvas, but when it is also used to augment and optimize what they already strive to do today, applying AI judiciously and with control and finesse.
How can marketers use AI to boost productivity and generate high-quality output?
As consumers, we have never been so influenced by external contextual factors in our shopping behavior. Everything from the changing weather patterns to cargo ships getting stuck in a canal to what a celebrity posted on social media that day informs our decisions. Businesses can respond to these contextual factors, but most who do so find they come and go too quickly for them to have a meaningful business result from. External contextual factors, as unpredictable and transient as they are, are still data points that can be learned and responded to in a timely manner with the experiences we deliver, but only when AI is used to augment the marketing decisions that are made by humans. Those who do not or cannot take context into account with their strategic and tactical marketing activities will find themselves floating in the ocean with no waves to ride upon.
We’re also pickier as consumers with the products and services we buy. If I am looking for a new sofa for my living room, I want to know not only every aspect of the product, including where and how it was manufactured and transported, but I want to know if it is the right sofa for my home. Sure, augmented reality can help here, but its adoption has been slow and it’s somewhat cumbersome for the vast majority of consumers. Instead, why not just show me what that product looks like in a traditional New England home with beautiful fall colors outside the window in the product image used on the product description page? Showing me what it looks like in a million-dollar loft apartment in New York City is not relevant to me. “But hang on a minute, Ali,“ you might say. “I do live in a million-dollar loft apartment in New York City. That is relevant to me!“ For most marketers at brands and retailers, it is almost impossible to reshoot a product in the many different known contexts customers have. Those marketers who use their deep human knowledge to drive AI technology to edit and optimize their existing product imagery for these contexts at a volume and speed they couldn’t achieve before are the ones who will be able to deliver shopping experiences that will stand out and ensure customers hit that add to cart button quickly. Those who do not think strategically about how AI can help augment what they do with the product imagery they use will just look like everyone else in the past: undifferentiated.
The number of industry regulations and national laws being established that impact what marketers can and cannot do in the digital realm are growing and becoming more diverse in nature. Not conforming to them can be a very costly proposition - with everything from fines to reputation hitting businesses hard. AI cannot fully replace legal interpretation and understanding. But if the volume and diversity of content used in experiences is growing exponentially, then the likelihood of just one piece of content not conforming with regulations is greater too. Enter AI technology to automate the process of identifying content - including images and videos - that potentially don’t comply, and then give the marketing or legal professional who embraces that tech the control to decide what to do next to correct the situation. Those who believe they can get by without AI to help them here are putting themselves in a precarious position with the law and their customers.
Have that conversation about AI with your team
My departing advice is to take these examples of how AI can augment and optimize what you do today as human beings, or others you might have thought of, and discuss them with your teams on what they would mean to you and your business. As we have seen before, those who embrace the newest technologies, especially today’s AI tech, are the ones who will stay competitive, propelling their business and their careers. If we marketers are not thinking about and applying those things, then are we too destined to angrily curse under our breath at those who did? I hope not.