Marketer, meet machine! - helping marketers get a handle on AI

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher August 31, 2021
Marketers need to get to grips with the potential - and the limitations - of using AI to ply their trade.

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) in marketing tech is not new; adtech, ABM (intent data), content creation solutions, and other technologies incorporate machine learning and artificial intelligence elements. Some have done it for a while. But even the most experienced marketer is still trying to wrap their head around how AI fits into marketing software and how it can help them change the way they work.

A recent survey speaks to the challenges marketers face today and how AI can help: too many manual tasks. In Airtable's 2021 Marketing Trends report, marketers spend up to 13 hours a week on manual, operational tasks.

Cathy McPhillips, Chief Growth Officer for the Marketing AI Institute, argues there's a better way for marketers to deal with manual, often repeatable, data-driven tasks – leverage AI. The Marketing AI Institute was founded by Paul Roetzer six years ago. Roetzer owns the ad agency PR 20/20, but he's always had a keen interest in Artificial Intelligence. He realized early on that there were many ways marketers could leverage AI to help them improve their jobs and their work. So he started the Marketing AI Institute to educate marketers on how they can leverage AI to help them with certain repeatable, data-driven tasks allowing them to spend more time on strategy, creative, and culture.


McPhillips joined the Marketing AI Institute a couple of months ago, coming from The Content Marketing Institute. She oversees marketing, sales, and customer experience, working with sponsors and the sales team to ensure that what the Institute is doing and what they are selling to sponsors is beneficial to their customers (the members of the Institute):

My passion is just making sure that this community is growing and thriving, and I'm connecting people that can help each other. And that's really important to me.

Marketer and machine

Marketers often panic or get confused about AI - what it is, what is the technology? It's not marketing automation, McPhillips notes, where you continually tweak things manually (eg: subject lines, creative, messaging). AI will learn from your changes, and it will learn what your customers like, how they respond, and it will recommend how to make the experience better.

For example, Salesforce has implemented AI capabilities into its ABM solution to help customers find the right target accounts, she points out: 

In the case of its ABM offering, Einstein Key Account Identification uses AI to surface those accounts that the AI recognizes as having the greatest chance of getting to the stage of actually making a purchase. With those accounts identified, insights and recommendations are on offer to inform and prompt actions for marketers and salespeople to target those with spend/purchase or other decision-making responsibilities within those organizations.

McPhillips shared a fundamental perspective of Paul Roetzer, founder of the Marketing AI Institute - "the machine is there to help us, but we need to get the machine to a point where it can help us." In other words, the marketer is responsible for checking what the machine is saying, recommending, or doing and ensuring it is right. They can't blindly turn away and expect (hope) for the best.

One of the founders of Phrasee, Neil Yager, said it best:

Make no mistake, AI can do a lot. However, modern AI systems excel at narrowly defined tasks. In the case of Phrasee, our system specifically generates short-form marketing copy. In some situations, it is better at this task than humans. However, we can't flip a switch and use the technology to write a blog post or an ebook.

Artificial Intelligence and NLG have evolved and improved dramatically in the last two decades. But, today, most AI tools do just a couple of things well. They're not general systems that beat humans at everything."

Yager said that a year ago, and while we all know change seems to happen at the speed of light these days, there's still much truth to it. Machines will not replace humans; it will be a matter of co-existence that benefits the marketer and, ultimately, the customer.

It's also not as simple as trusting that the AI is doing what it's supposed to be doing. At the same time, the technology is complex, making it hard for marketers to wrap their heads around it. Sometimes it is easier to accept that it's doing the right thing for customers and the brand. With some of this tech, that might be okay; but with others...well, that's where the trouble is going to kick in. Vigilance and understanding are critical to successfully leveraging AI in marketing.

Taking on the virtual conference challenge

The Marketing AI Institute is holding its MAICON Conference (Marketing Artificial Intelligence Conference) for the second time this year. It didn't happen last year due to COVID. This year, McPhillips said, the conference is virtual, but it's not going to duplicate the 2019 in-person event.

This is good because many conferences are struggling with creating virtual events that engage the audience and are worth taking the time to attend. McPhillips said the idea is to create an experience through a mostly single-track, 2-day event that includes keynotes and sessions from speakers such as Cade Metz (author of Genius Makers), Karen Hao (MIT Tech Review), Christopher Penn, Mathew Sweezey, and Tim Hayden.

In addition to the sponsor/exhibitor hall at MAICON, the Institute is in the process of holding a pre-event webinar series called "AI In Action," where sponsors are spending an hour showing their technology through customer use cases. McPhillips said it's not a demo or thought leadership but a way to show marketers where AI is currently helping markers. The good news is that these webinars are open to everyone (registration is required), giving anyone who wants to understand Martech and its use of AI better a chance to learn.

My take

As a marketer, I am fascinated with how machine learning and Artificial Intelligence are helping companies improve their marketing and sales strategies. But also understand we have a long way to go, and there are many questions around how to use AI right.

The key point to consider is that marketing goals are being tied more and more to revenue goals, which means marketers need to find ways to improve their strategies. They need to spend more time on strategy, more time on creative, more time with customers. And the only way they are going to do that is to adopt technology to intelligently automate some of their work. This is where AI can help and where we need to focus adoption of AI.

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