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What does AI mean for marketers?

Friday 26 October 2018 AIData Insight & AnalyticsData-Led Marketing

Matt Jarman's picture
By Matt Jarman

Artificial intelligence is growing, and fast. According to research by IDC, £46 billion will be spent on AI by 2020i, and PWC believes it will create 7.2 million new jobs UK aloneii.

That adds up to a whole lot of change all round. With AI being hailed as a fourth industrial revolution, it’s only natural for marketers to wonder what this means for their jobs.

Let’s try and separate the truth from the (science) fiction.


AI isn’t new (but it is accelerating)

Don’t let the new consumer technology fool you – artificial intelligence (AI) as a term has been around since the 1950s and has been a cornerstone of computing for decades.

AI is actually a broad area of computer science that describes the development of machines that appear to mimic human intelligence, and it’s the broader goal of autonomous machine intelligence.

But while all machine learning is AI, not all AI is machine learning.

If a human could not distinguish between responses from a machine and a human, the machine could be considered intelligent.

Alan Turing - 1950

AI is a broad spectrum

There are three broad types of AI, each at their own stages of development and usability:

  1. Narrow AI – the kind of AI that’s native to some software and consumer products you’ll find now, such as Alexa or Siri. It can perform single tasks pretty well.
  2. General AI – the next development of narrow AI, this describes machines that can think and function exactly like humans. And they’re expected to be developed within the next decade.
  3. Super AI – an enhancement of general AI, these machines will be smarter than humans. They’re expected to take up to two decades to develop.

So you’d be forgiven for thinking the most advanced forms of AI are still a long way off. But it was supposed to take decades for a machine to beat a human at chess, and Google’s AlphaGo deepmind machine managed this feat in just two years.

And that’s not the most astonishing thing. AlphaGo was then able to teach its successor, AlphaGo Zero, how to play in a matter of days. And taught it so well that the new machine could beat its teacher – and went on to easily defeat the top chess programme in the world.


AI is already firmly embedded

Already, AI is helping countless organisations around the world to make better, quicker decisions – where they really count.

Take the judicial system for example. AI can provide judges with unbiased advice and judgements based on hard facts. In the US, a judge recently took AI recommendations into account when sentencing.

And it doesn’t stop there. AI can also be used to extract keywords and anomalies from legal text – which in one instance, saved a legal firm 85% of its time when reviewing a document.


What it means for marketers

Does that mean marketers should be worried about arriving at work one Monday morning, to find a robot in their chair?

Not exactly. But we have identified seven key areas where there’s the biggest immediate potential for change:

  1. Recommendations/intelligent searches – personalised user content such as Netflix’s recommendation algorithm
  2. Website design – AI programmes that can write code, enabling simple ‘drag and drop’ design
  3. Dynamic product pricing – optimising prices, based on algorithms
  4. Speech recognition – moving beyond voice commands to include real-time translation, enabling people to converse in different languages
  5. Content generation – summarising, based on pre-written data and reports
  6. Data analysis – creating quick, intelligent insights from data sets
  7. Smart digital advertising – tailoring adverts based on search history, profiles, and online data

Importantly, instead of replacing marketing functions, all of these activities involve AI taking on the drudgery and heavy lifting, saving time, and hopefully enabling marketers to focus on what really matters.

So we don’t envisage AI replacing marketing jobs – just making them more interesting. Which gives scope to grow.


Start from the use case

Of course, AI is only one tool at your disposal. It’s never a good idea to adopt something new just because it’s futuristic, or because your competitors have.

Before even considering AI as an option, you need to have a clear sense of “why”. Build a use and business case, fed by the right data.

But given the right data and use case, AI holds limitless possibilities for marketers. You can optimise customers’ experiences, enhance your own role, and focus more time and effort on developing imaginative, effective campaigns.

There’s nothing to be scared of, just yet.


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iIDC update on cognitive and AI system spending, 2017

iiPwC research into AI and related technology job displacement in China, 2018

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