Whats the deal with AI and digital marketing?


AI. It’s currently the biggest buzzword of the day, and in fact, 51% of marketing leaders are already using a form of it. But are marketers ‘under threat’ of AI as much as we think we are? Whilst Hollywood and the media may have you hyped about the latest inventions coming out of Silicon Valley, real Artificial Intelligence – robots with the cognitive capacity for emotional intelligence – is just not up to scratch. But seeing as 4 in 10 marketers incorrectly believe they are using AI, we need to know where it currently is and how it fits into the world of digital marketing? To help us find the answers, we asked the online Editor of Access AI, Charlie Moloney.

“AI has not heavily impacted the marketing industry yet because there is still not much understanding of how to make the most of this technology. Marketing teams are not investing enough in development and training,” advises Charlie. “It will impact marketing soon because the teams who are not using it will see their engagement rates fall as social media sites employ more sophisticated algorithms to block spray and pray marketing.”

So how are we using it? One of the main ways AI is being integrated into marketing is through chatbots, which in the future could replace a lot of our current customer service options. But it’s no longer at a ‘smarterchild’ level, nor is it solely made up of set automated responses. Machine learning means that chatbots learn on the job through interaction with humans. This might sound scary to some but is also incredibly useful and cheaper from a brand point of view. But it’s not without its fair share of flaws. ML can backfire, as we saw with Microsoft’s ‘Tay’ bot on Twitter that turned racist, homophobic and sexist after less than 24 hours exposed to online human discussion. Not too promising if we consider chatbots could ultimately replace customer help centres.

“There is still not much understanding of how to make the most of this technology. Marketing teams are not investing enough in development and training. AI will impact marketing soon because the teams who are not using it will see their engagement rates fall.”

Another way it’s infiltrating digital (soon to be even more so, according to Amazon) is through voice search. Whilst we’ve used the likes of Siri and other glamorous voice ‘assistants’ for a while, Amazon Alexa and Google Home have now fully invaded our personal space and brought voice technology to the fore. Whilst Alexa and co aren’t pieces of AI themselves, rather just interfaces for the technology, research suggests that they could actually be permanently changing how we interact with tech.

AI is also useful when it comes to data mining. Through apps, social platforms and different devices, AI-facilitated software collects information and distributes it back to brands in order to tailor the content you see and market to you better. Which means less work for us as marketers.

In fact, the biggest role AI is set to take in the workforce is ease-of-living – removing monotonous tasks we have to carry out on a day to day basis. Charlie says, “It will be possible to do the same amount of work with fewer marketers. But the work which will be automated, manual and repetitive. If you ever find yourself spending a large portion of the day doing a mindless, repetitive task and thinking ‘there must be a way to automate this,’ there probably will be within 5 years.”

“If you ever find yourself spending a large portion of the day doing a mindless, repetitive task and thinking ‘there must be a way to automate this,’ there probably will be within 5 years.”

So AI is going to help make our day to day lives easier, great. But according to Jade Atwood, one of Curated’s own content gurus, we have to be careful not to let it make us lazy.

“Yes, ML can allow us to learn more about our audience, but it should only form the inspiration for producing great quality content,” she says. “Granted, reporting stats does not necessarily need a human eye or soul behind them to function. But automated editorial articles, work against a lot of what good content marketers have tried to eradicate – thin, disinteresting repetitive content.”

But, we have to start using it in innovative ways. John Andrews, CEO of Photofy and a marketing practitioner with a fascination for AI, reminds us that we need to be thinking of creative ways to implement AI and not let it control our habits.

“Digital marketing is still push-based and reliant on conversion. This means any customer suspected of having any interest in buying something is hammered with repetitive messaging through programmatic advertising which they hate – as we all do.” This is what John calls ‘digital spam’ – targeted ads that are annoying potential customers more than nudging them into action. We have access to a lot of new technology, but we’re using it to teach a new dog old tricks. We need to be coming up with new ideas on how AI can benefit us.

“What’s inspiring is that the new inventions we’ll create with AI will be unrecognized until they have jumped ahead of all the other techniques. They will come from unexpected players.”

If you consider how Facebook’s promise to divide content from individuals and brands using AI, influencer endorsement is looking like one of the most viable ways of promoting content on social. But with a change as new as this, only time will tell. “What’s inspiring is that the new inventions we’ll create with AI will be unrecognized until they have jumped ahead of all the other techniques. They will come from unexpected players.”

“AI is mimicking human behaviour because it’s programmed by humans. It’s looking for relational patterns and seeking to connect people with content that they like. By creating and sharing content that has high engagement, influencers act as the in-between and shift behaviour, training the systems to favour their type of media.”

The elephant in the room, however, is where it leaves digital marketers. Whilst many welcome AI systems to ease the workload others worry it may overtake us.

“It should not mean the loss of any jobs if marketers focus on developing their ability to come up with creative campaigns and engage with customers,” Charlie explains. “Those marketers whose jobs may be at risk are those who focus on combing through large datasets to collect insights. Whether you’re developing customer profiles or analytics reports, a machine will be able to do the same much faster. Marketers should, therefore, focus on being good at interpreting and figuring out how to best act on the insights that the machines will collect.”

But we do need to stay vigilant as the nature of our work is what’s going to be changing. The biggest impact it will have is on paid search. According to Peter Hayes, a data scientist for the fintech Certua, machine learning is going to aid us in a lot of capabilities and it won’t (necessarily) replace our jobs, just the job description as we know it. “In ten/twenty years time we could see systems capable of running PPC end to end far more efficiently than humans, assuming PPC is still as we recognise it today.”

Peter says instead we should be looking at strategies and software to support humans with this change. “A better first goal should be to design systems that support ‘humans in the loop’ in how ML operates; as opposed to keeping it a black box. For example, a slick interface and clear control to know to when to activate an ‘autopilot’ for these types of services, how to adjust its behaviour and how to monitor; in order to allow them to take on more accounts and manage bigger budgets themselves.”

“AI has its benefits and is becoming part of our everyday lives. What it cannot replicate, in my eyes, is human emotion, memory or understanding of the human condition on a basic level. Nuance cannot be predicted and is what makes us creative, drives our imagination and forges our ideas into reality.”

But while the paid search and data automation side of the industry is one thing, writing, editing and fine-tuning creative content are quite another. Creativity is an innate human skill and can’t be replicated, can it?

“This is one topic I can strongly say no to,” says Jade. “AI has its benefits and is becoming part of our everyday lives. What it cannot replicate, in my eyes, is human emotion, memory or understanding of the human condition on a basic level. Yes, it will understand who we are by what we know and machine learnings on how we behave but what it cannot account for is human individuality. Nuance cannot be predicted and is what makes us creative, drives our imagination and forges our ideas into reality.”

We have seen AI try to replicate human creativity before. At the end of 2017, AI and ML were programmed to try and recreate a Christmas carol by listening and learning to all that came before it. But the finished product was creepy, weird and made absolutely zero sense. That being said, IBM Watson was able to successfully create a trailer for ‘Morgan’ through ML, and it’s a spectacular feat. When it comes to written prose it might not be up to scratch yet, but whether it will be able to fully eradicate humans from the process is the million dollar question, and according to Jade, we need to realise if we would ever want it to.

“I may be proven wrong, but if AI does get to a level where it can replicate all of this and therefore make creative content without any hesitation I think we’d be in trouble – it would need sentience and a ‘soul’ so to speak to reach that level.”

These developments are beyond many of our realms of control, so how do we keep up? Charlie says it’s important to stay up to date and keep learning. “It’s a good idea for marketers to consider doing some basic courses in machine learning, data science, and neural networks, all of which can be found free online. Those who have some understanding of these topics will be better able to compete.”

So there we have it – the current stance of AI within the world of digital marketing. But even with the wise words from experts and opinion of leading marketers, the truth is we don’t know where this rapid rise of technology is going to take us. While some stress it won’t endanger our jobs, the warning is not to ignore new developments taking place. In the meantime, however, AI systems are helping us to become more efficient, knowledgeable, and free up time we would have previously spent on mind-numbing tasks. We just have to be careful not to turn our backs on the tech.

“It’s a good idea for marketers to consider doing some basic courses in machine learning, data science, and neural networks. Those who have some understanding of these topics will be better able to compete.”

We’re always looking at what’s new in the world of digital marketing, and moving with the trends. Need some guidance? Get in touch for a chat!

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