If you’re anything like me, you’ve attended a few marketing conferences in your time. At these conferences it’s almost inevitable that you will hear panel discussions about the uptake on Augmented Reality (AR) or Virtual Reality (VR), and debates on topics like “Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Human Creativity and the Big Idea?”
While these topics are valuable to marketers, there could be more discussion on taking marketing conversations up to the wider leadership level at organisations.
Recently as I was flicking through the pages of the latest State of Marketing report, my mind drifted off to the conversations I’ve had with business leaders over the last few years. What struck me was that, between the pages of statistics in the report, there is a narrative of a business discipline that has undergone significant transformation and is possibly on the cusp of an even more dramatic shift. A shift where marketing platforms get smarter and move towards increasing automation and self management, and marketers can stop focusing on short term, tactical goals. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is certainly on the way to becoming mainstream. From the report, marketers’ adoption of AI has grown by 44% since 2017, globally, showing a significant shift towards this new paradigm.
Let me provide some context to my theory. A few years ago the way that my team and I would engage with a client would be through a marketing leader. The strategy work we did was predominantly in ‘Digital Transformation’. As we have transitioned our business to be a ‘Customer and General Transformation’ focused consultancy, our conversations have broadened.
What does this mean for companies operating as a single unit?
Today we now deal with CIOs, CFOs, CEOs and board members on a regular basis more than previous years. We are now helping shape organisational operating models that are orientated around the customer. We are being engaged less frequently by CMOs alone as a focus on customer experience outcomes has become the rallying cry of the entire organisation, not just the marketing department. This has dramatically altered my perspective on the marketing industry and its role in shaping organisational strategy.
So that brings me back to the State of Marketing report and what I believe it is telling us. Over the last decade or so marketers have been pushed to focus on the optimisation of marketing performance. The space that was once renowned for creativity has become obsessed with short term metrics and real-time performance. Shareholders demanded to see returns on marketing technology investments every quarter and as a result marketing technology has evolved rapidly to meet the needs of the industry. That fact is evident in every page of the report. Especially if you compare it with the same report from 2017 where marketers surveyed expected to see unprecedented growth in their marketing technology usage over the next 2 years, with 59% of marketers in ANZ beginning to adopt AI.
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The shift away from short-termism
So as organisations have been increasingly focused on developing customer oriented strategies, the pressure on marketers has been to focus on short term results and tactical investments. The impact of this, except for in very rare cases, is to push marketers further away from impacting organisational strategy and influencing company boards.
What are the questions we really need to ask? What will make boards sit up and take notice? It’s not “will AI replace creative humans in the future?” but “how do we operationalise AI now to get the best out of the technology and human resources we have?” In other words, how do we make sure the machines are doing what they are good at — repetitive data based tasks, such as real time optimisation — and the humans are doing what they are good at — creativity and collaboration.
What is even more important is asking “what does this mean?” and “where is marketing headed?” It is clear that AI is already starting to take up more of the responsibility for cross channel consistency and experience optimisation. And if marketers no longer have to focus on short term tactics they will be freed up to focus on using the technology in more creative ways. Is this telling us that perhaps the rapid adoption of AI in marketing is a signal of the sizeable market shifts that will occur as AI matures?
I personally look forward to the day where a whole industry of marketers no longer have to feel like they need to be masters of technology and short term results, but instead can focus on using those tools to tell compelling, long term stories that helps set the direction for a whole organisation, and by doing so have a seat at the table when the strategy of the organisation is developed.
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