Will Artificial Intelligence Take Over the Marketing World?

The robots are here.

Automation is threatening job roles for humans in lots of industries, not just manufacturing. In a recent study, marketers predicted their use of artificial intelligence (AI) would grow the fastest of all technologies they are considering in the next two years. In fact, more than half of all marketing leaders are already using AI.[1]

AI is already a big part of marketing and communications:

  • Programmatic ads use targeting to increase clicks. Machine learning helps optimize ads to ensure that only the most relevant products and ad copy or images appear.
  • The real estate website Homesnap uses AI to generate community profiles based on relevant data like property value and crime statistics.[2]
  • AI drives Amazon product recommendations and LinkedIn job recommendations. As users interact with these sites, the recommendations become smarter and more relevant, sometimes within hours or days.
  • The Washington Post uses AI to recommend articles or email newsletters on its website; it also serves up certain kinds of content, like videos or articles with lots of graphics, to users who tend to interact with or respond to that type of content.
  • Facebook uses image recognition software to tag people in photos.
  • Google uses an algorithm to deliver relevant search results.
  • Apple’s Siri answers questions about airport schedules and weather forecasts and the nearest bacon cheeseburger.

In some ways, AI isn’t just nice to have; it’s critical in a modern world where companies, organizations and individuals collectively publish billions of pieces of content every. Single. Day. AI harnesses advanced personalization technology to deliver contextually relevant, real-time experiences. It helps brands serve up the right message, on the right channel, at the right time, when it’s most meaningful to the intended audience. It even helps homeowners dim the lights or adjust the thermostat or lock the back door – all commands Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant understands. 

But are robots taking over the world? 

Machines have been beating humans at their own games for more than 20 years. In 1996, Deep Blue, a 2,800-pound supercomputer from IBM, defeated Soviet grandmaster and World Chess champion Garry Kasparov. In 2011, IBM’s Watson beat Ken Jennings at Jeopardy! And in 2016, a Google system won a complex game of intuition and strategy called Go against the game’s most skilled human player.[3] Today, computers are playing the stock market via quantitative trading, in which investment decisions are based on complex mathematical formulas rather than traditional trading methods that inject human emotion into the equation.

Without question, bots are taking part in more conversations and doing more to power our world than ever. But when it comes to marketing, there’s one fundamental problem with depending on AI to do everything…

…and that’s emotion.

Marketing content is often emotional. We tell stories because we want to influence our audience – to make people laugh or cry or click the buy button. We want to do more than just sell products, because just selling doesn’t cut it anymore. We need our audience to watch and read and buy and share because of what the brand means to them. 

That’s why effective marketing content usually induces an emotional response, and even the smartest supercomputers in the world today can’t do that without serious help from the humans. That’s why supercomputers capable of beating the likes of Hemingway and Steinbeck in a book-writing race have never written a book anyone really wants to read.

If anything, smart human marketers and content creators will only become more critical in the future. Our roles will become more strategic and our content more structured. We’ll still tell stories, but we’ll tell them in a more machine-readable way. We’ll share words and images and videos that can be chunked into specific, consistent buckets to help machines learn and people wade through the billions of pieces of content born every day.

The Content Marketing Institute says AI is “largely intended to augment human knowledge and capabilities, not replace them.” And right now, I can’t envision a world where robots are able to think creatively and critically – which would all but ensure the perpetual importance of human dreamers and doers. No matter how advanced the machine becomes, I believe humans will always need to teach the machine.

But I’ve learned to never say never. Because in marketing and in life, saying never might be the biggest risk of all.


[1] Salesforce Fourth Annual State of Marketing – Marketing Embraces the AI Revolution

[2] Content Marketing Institute

[3] The Atlantic – When Computers Started Beating Chess Champions

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