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Taking a careful approach to AI in marketing

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher September 12, 2023
How well do marketers and executives understand AI? Use with caution.

Cute robot holding megaphone on blue background © Lerbank-bbk22 -
(© Lerbank-bbk22 -

In the 2023 State of Marketing AI study from Drift and the Marketing AI Institute, it's clear that marketing (and marketers) are at a crossroads. The adoption of AI in marketing is growing daily (not just generative AI, although it is the hot-button AI topic today). But as much as marketing sees AI as transformative, executive leadership needs to step up and ensure a clear strategy behind what and how it's used.

How well do marketers and executives understand AI?

The survey of 900 marketers examined how AI is used in their work. When asked what their level of understanding of AI terms and capabilities was, 54% said it was intermediate, and 35% said beginner. The level of understanding was higher for more senior respondents.

The small percentage that said they had an advanced understanding of AI was mostly C-suite executives. And this is good because they are the ultimate decision-makers when it comes to purchasing AI-powered marketing tech.

At the same time, you have to wonder how much executive teams really understand the value of AI, because when asked about the impact of AI on marketing jobs over the next three years, 47% of CEOs are more likely to think more jobs will be eliminated. CMOs are split equally, saying 41% more jobs will be eliminated and 41% more jobs will be created.

Where AI can help

AI can support many things in the marketing department, but the most important for CEOs and CMOs is reducing time on repetitive data-driven tasks. It's actually the most important outcome for all respondents. See the screenshot below for all the desired outcomes.

State of Marketing AI © Marketing AI Institute
(State of Marketing AI © Marketing AI Institute)

In a webinar exploring the findings of the report, Paul Roetzer, founder and CEO of the Marketing AI Institute, said this about the top outcomes:

I think for this one, this is what we see all the time. It's the most natural thing. It's how we teach it, like the use case model. Look at the things you're already doing. Find ways to do it more efficiently. It's the fastest path to value creation in AI. But I think what we're gonna start to see, and we've seen in the data moving year to year, is the leading companies, the ones who really become disruptors in their industry, are going to look at ways for AI to enhance creativity, decision making innovation, they're going to look more at the acceleration of revenue side of this.

Roetzer said it makes sense that companies want to stay with cost-savings, but he recommended that as they go into 2024 planning, they need to think strategically about leveraging AI to solve problems and achieve goals. 

Survey respondents were asked how much of their current marketing tasks are intelligently automated and how much they expect them to be automated in the next five years, and the gap between the two was pretty significant. Fifteen percent said that more than a quarter of their tasks today are intelligently automated, but they expect that to increase to 78% in five years. This clearly indicates how fast things are moving and how much new AI-powered technology is coming to the market.

The impact of AI on content writing

listened to a webinar that discussed some of the findings from the Content Marketing Career & Salary 2024 outlook from the Content Marketing Institute related to the use of AI. And while there is excitement, there is also genuine concern that writers are being devalued thanks to generative AI. In this study, 36% of respondents use AI to write drafts.

Robert Rose (who was part of the webinar) said it heartened him that only 36% are using AI in this way. He said creating content is the least interesting thing about using AI in content marketing. AI helps us enhance and expand our talent as writers, he said. At the same time, though, new AI-powered tools that want us to believe they can write copy and content better than writers themselves are continually coming out. The answer, according to Rose, is that we need to find a balance and be smart about using these tools the right way (and the right way is not to let AI do everything for us).

Cathy McPhillips, Chief Growth Officer at Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute, was also on the webinar and made an excellent point. She said the marketers trying to pump up the content are trying to game AI, but the good marketers are using the tools correctly. She also said you can tell what content is written by AI and that good writers are needed more than ever.

The key takeaway from both Rose and McPhillips is that writing is only a piece of the puzzle. Good writers are subject matter experts who know the topics inside and out and can help tell the right stories and create the right content. These writers can also work on strategy and develop ideas. Writing as a core skill will not be a priority, said Rose.

Just getting started with AI in marketing

Most companies are still in the learning phase of AI transformation. In this study, 58% are learning how it works and where to apply it for the greatest value. Another 35% are piloting technology, and only 7% are scaling.

Adoption barriers continue to exist around how to best use AI. Whether it's a lack of education and training (64%), a lack of awareness and understanding (44%), or a lack of talent with the right skillset (38%), marketing teams are still struggling to figure out the best way to leverage AI.

And it doesn't help that most of the companies in this study have no AI-focused education or training, and even more have no policies that guide AI use.

My take

We can't turn a blind eye to what AI is bringing to marketing, but we also need to be strategic about how we use it to improve content marketing and other marketing strategies. On the CMI webinar, David Berkowitz, Founder, Serial Marketer consultancy & community, and the AI Marketers Guild, said we need to embrace what’s ahead with a critical eye. He said we need to find where AI fits in to help us be more collaborative and productive. And I agree with that approach. We need to understand how AI can fit into our processes and then find the right technology.

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