Main content

Why generative AI is not a replacement for marketers...whatever the cost-conscious CEO might think!

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher June 1, 2023
It's coming to steal away your jobs! Or is it? Why generative AI can help marketers, but not replace them.

generative AI

There is a mixed reaction to generative AI in the marketing department. Some see it as a way to cut costs (and headcount), while others see it as a supportive technology to enable marketers to spend more time on the creative aspects of their work. The real answer leans more towards the second option, but that doesn't mean it's cut and dry for companies.

A recent survey by Norwest Venture Partners gives us some insights into how marketers are using generative AI and what concerns they have. Lisa Ames, Principal, CMO & Operating Executive at Norwest, discussed the survey results with me and her thinking on the value of generative AI.

Marketers are looking for answers

Ames spent most of her career working for B2B SaaS companies, but now works with Portfolio companies in the enterprise space at Norwest. She helps marketers with whatever they need to succeed, from strategy and ideation, through board prep and hiring, to even playing a fractional CMO role. Multiple leaders were coming to Ames to help them understand how to best leverage generative AI ChatGPT (or some other generative AI tool). One portfolio marketing leader even had a request to fire the content team and replace it with generative AI.

Her response was to hold a marketing huddle with Barak Turovsky, an AI expert and former Google employee. They brought the community together to discuss generative AI and work to create a "talk track" that would help show the CEO that ChatGPT is not a replacement for marketing people. 

Convincing the CEO  of this was only part of the discussions during the huddle. The marketers came with a lot of other questions on how to best take advantage of generative AI and ended up trading ideas and, in some cases, becoming more open to the bigger opportunities it offers. Ames found it to be a great event, but people were still left with many questions, so they decided to run a survey with a broader group to get the answers they were looking for. 

I asked Ames if any of the marketers at the event shared the mindset of the CEO. She said no marketer, regardless of their ChatGPT experience, wants to let go of headcount. Instead, they think of other places to deploy people. For ‌marketers, she said, generative AI was additive.

Marketers are excited about generative AI…

The more you play with generative AI tools, the more you start thinking about all the use cases for it that help marketing, Ames said. She argued that it helps marketers approach problems in unique ways and can open their minds to angles they may not have thought about before. You could equate it to sharing your work with a colleague and getting their feedback, she suggested: 

And if someone can just give you something that gets you part of the way down the field, you can always apply your creativity, your editing skills, your expertise to refine it.

In the Norwest survey, 93% of marketers said they were using generative AI (66% used ChatGPT), with 38% being active users working with AI one to four days a week on average. Nineteen percent considered themselves advanced users using it five plus days a week, some even multiple times a day. 

What are they using it for? There are a lot of use cases. In this survey, the most common usage was text generation (77%), followed by search (63%) and editing assistance (44%). There was also some use of image and video creation tools. 

Overall, 60% said they saved time using generative AI, an average improved output of about 25%. But others - 24% - said it didn't save them time. That could reflect not understanding how to best prompt the AI, or it could be that even though AI is helpful, it doesn't always speed up a process, instead shifting where the marketer focuses the most effort. 

…but there are still concerns

As per the survey results, marketers are worried about the accuracy and ‌quality control of AI produced content. So they might save time creating base content they can edit and do more creative work with, but then they have to double-check and make sure that base content is accurate and isn't accidentally sounding a lot like what another competitor says.

Ames agreed, but said that the concerns were more about copyright in the huddle session. For example, what percentage must be edited by the company to qualify as their work? 

Another big concern is the lack of regulations and company policies around generative AI use. Ames said data privacy was a huge topic of concern for marketers at the event (and in the survey). She said people don't know enough, and it's stirring up fear. 

Regarding policies, Ames was surprised so few organizations had some in place. But she also acknowledged that marketers aren't responsible for policy development and that many didn't know if there were plans in progress. 

I would argue that while policy development isn't the marketer's purview, when policies affect how they work they should have a say in what's developed, making it their responsibility. Ames said she attended another session with marketers at a portfolio company, and several said they did have policies in place. The ones that did were larger companies. 

That raises the question of whether there is different thinking based on company size or type. Ames said the themes were consistent across all respondents, for the most part. However, there were noticeable differences around policy development and bans on AI use. Again, these were more reflective of larger companies.

Convincing the CEO of the best path forward

So if generative AI is not a replacement for marketing people, including content writers,  how do you convince the CEO it is not a replacement for people. Ames argued: 

Show them the use cases. You know, how this is what you know, this is what I put in, this is what I got out from a prompt, and then this is what I put into it to get it over the finish line. And so I think the more people can see examples of how you're using it, what its limitations are, and what its opportunities are, then I think it grounds it a bit more it makes it more real.

As CEOs and other members of the C-suite use ChatGPT and other generative AI tools, Ames believes they will see that while it can do many great things, it can't do everything. 

My take

I did not use generative AI to write this article (see also diginomica’s policy statement here!). However, I used my faithful Grammarly to make sure my grammar was correct (although I don't always accept the ‘corrected’ version). But I have tested a few generative AI tools. I see the advantages of using it to help with ideation and even creating rough drafts of sections of text that I can then edit and improve (sometimes even completely rewriting). 

I don't believe we can ignore this technology. It's here, and it does bring benefits. But marketers must use it wisely to improve productivity and efficiency. Getting the right processes understood and in place will help convince the CEO and the rest of the executive team that it's not a replacement for people, and Ames's suggestion of showing them and even getting them to use it makes a lot of sense. 

A grey colored placeholder image