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Exclusive Q&A: Marketing In The Age Of AI

Marketers, brace yourselves: machines are coming to take over your jobs. But fear not! A new book from authors Nancy A. Shenker and Jim D’Arcangelo — titled: Embrace The Machine: 111 Ways AI Will Change Your Marketing Job — aims to prepare modern marketers to accept AI, learn about it and embrace the change so both humans and machines can coexist in business.

Demand Gen Report spoke to D’Arcangelo about key takeaways from the book and how marketers can embrace AI in terms of necessary actions to take and the challenges that come with it. He emphasized that marketers of the future will be assisted by — and in some cases replaced by — machines. It’s not a good idea to fight or dispute it. It’s time to own it and drive it to your advantage.

Read on to learn more about what embracing the machine means for marketers.

Demand Gen Report: The book takes a humanistic approach to AI. How would you describe the traits of an accomplished B2B marketer in the age of AI? 

Jim D’Arcangelo: There is no shortage of analysis and coverage on technology and systems-based approaches to AI – but we believe that people will bear the brunt of enabling, changing and evolving to optimize AI’s impact on an organization. As has been the case since the push to marketing automation began about a decade ago, people are the most decisive and powerful enablers — or gating factors — to progress.    

Humans tend to resist change, but the speed of change in marketing is accelerating. For marketers today and over the next decade, change resistance is a likely career-ending mistake. Marketers need to drive change or be driven over by it. They literally need to “embrace the machine,” accepting the fact that sophisticated technologies will give him faster, better and more actionable insights. Rather than fighting the change or doubting the power of AI, they need to understand its capabilities and advocate for bringing it to their organizations and the marketing functions.

Marketers also must be pro-active seekers and absorbers of information, progress and change as they are related to martech. They need to be voracious in this capacity and proficient in how platforms and tech stack components work and work together, what purpose they serve and how they will evolve.

Because AI, machine learning and robotics are rapidly evolving, the B2B marketer needs to be a voracious reader and explorer but also needs to separate truly valuable technologies from AI-washing (slapping the term on an application or service just for the "cool" value). 

Chasing disparate “cool” apps that add little value results in lost time and money and will be increasingly debilitating.

DGR: What are the challenges for a business using AI? How do these challenges differ from an individual B2B marketers’ pain points with AI?

JD: Businesses must assess their fast-shifting AI capabilities and investments, and then determine what the impact will be their mission, positioning and business goals. Whether it be the CEO, CFO, CTO or CMO managing the evolution to and execution of AI, leaders will have two challenge tiers:

  • Managing the executional aspects of an evolution to AI: Working with vendors on systems integration.
  • Managing the internal people, skill sets and organization structure: This may be the larger challenge – and one the CMO will own solely.

The essence of AI gives rise to the breaking down of walls between systems and roles and output. AI will create a sea change in marketing roles.

True marketing AI is in its early infancy. Today, humans must teach machines and machines’ output is entirely reliant on the quality of the data and algorithms humans provide. Businesses and individuals need to ask themselves these questions:

  • How can AI help me better understand my customers and prospects?
  • What functions can be fully automated and performed quickly and cost-effectively than by humans?

DGR: What are the necessary steps a marketer needs to take to be ready for AI right now? 

JD: Marketers who work exclusively in their current stovepipe functions and do not cross-train across roles, need to make it their business to become tech stack proficient. They need to take ownership of their skill set diversification. Getting comfortable with discomfort and driving change, will ultimately be a successful marketer’s hallmark.

Read, attend conferences (and sit in on pre-event information sessions with AI vendors and attend multiple demos on trade show floors). Take part in webinars, experiment with AI tools, and build a peer network. Subscribe to every analyst, industry and vendor newsletter, content and report you can. Create a network of peers and share notes on successes and failures to save time and minimize mistakes.

DGR: How should a CMO approach AI, not just for himself/herself but as a leader in his/her company? 

JD: Today’s CMO must have not only a fluent understanding of systems and capabilities but a vision of how they will evolve to meet brand, sales, customer engagement and yield goals.

In the future, they will be responsible for owning and steering the timing of positive impact of AI across the entire company, including whole-company business metrics.

A CMO in the AI age will be a natural collaborator, even more than today – working fluidly between internal functions and external vendor partners to create win-wins and surpass goals.     

They also will understand and leverage AI as the means to create a completely fluid continuum between prospect awareness and customer experience and advocacy. Arbitrary lines will be erased. In this sense, AI will be a big win for the company and present/future customer.

The CMO of the future needs to think more three-dimensionally than ever as it relates to growth. Due to the speed acceleration/more fluid definition of time AI enables, the relationship between the three growth dimensions of time versus markets versus prospects/customers will change fundamentally. AI managed well enables CMOs to use speed as a critical differentiator and asset, and redefine marketing metrics…again.          

Recruiting, attracting, training and evolving the team will be as much a marketing function as an HR or IT function. The CMO will need to be a proactive communicator of his/her plan and be able to “train” and share the vision. He/she must be a solid educator, communicator and context-setter. Training needs to include:

  • Educating peer executives on capabilities and expectations, support needs and opportunities;
  • Discussing vision, approach, logic and purpose with marketing team members; and
  • Communicating with peer internal organization teams to stem fears and concerns and a lack of understanding about the impact of AI moves by marketing.