Don't Fear the Machine: What Marketers Need to Know About Artificial Intelligence
- by Alyson Shane
Lately there's been a lot of wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth around the boom in artificial intelligence (AI), and fears that it may replace the role of marketing experts in the future.
At the surface, this seems like a legitimate worry. Recently McKinsley Quarterly stated that “while automation will eliminate very few occupations entirely in the next decade, it will affect portions of almost all jobs to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the type of work they entail."
In fact, Gartner predicts "by 2018, 20% of all business content will be authored by machines.”
If this sounds scary, we understand. But take a page out of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and DON'T PANIC. We're here to explain what you need to know about AI, marketing, and how marketers can look at this emerging technology as a friend rather than an enemy:
AI is Still in It's Early Stages
When most people think of 'AI' they don't get into the nitty-gritty of what artificial intelligence actually is, and the differences between the different kinds of emerging AI. There are actually a lot of different things that fall into the "AI" category, including:
This type of AI allows computers to learn without being explicitly programmed to do so. Machine learning is similar to data mining, and focuses on the development of programs which can change when exposed to new data.
This type of AI uses artificial neural networks which are equipped with multiple layers. These layers use output from the previous layer as input, and as a result can learn multiple levels of representations which can then be abstracted into hierarchical layers of concepts.
Natural language generation (NGL)
NGL systems are like AI translators which can take data into a natural language representation (aka text). For example, you can feed your data into an NGL AI and it can provide a text summary of all the information you fed it.
Not only are these types of AI tasked with solving different problems, but they're also at varying levels of maturity. So, yes, while these technologies are being developed and applied in various areas, they're not going to be replacing you anytime soon.
What Marketers Need to Know
The best way to feel better about AI is to start to experiment with how you can start using it to make your job easier. After all, that's what the tools are designed to do.
Whether it's sourcing new content ideas for your social media calendar; automating and optimizing your content so it's seen by the widest possible audience; perform A/B testing on content to see which your audience likes best; or reviewing analytics and producing recommendations and suggestions based on the data, there's lots of ways that us marketers can start thinking of ways to incorporate AI to make our lives easier.
AI Depends on Data
Regardless of the kind of AI you're worried about, one common factor is this: AI requires both structured and unstructured data in order to create customized solutions for your clients. This means that larger, enterprise businesses will be the first to start seeing any benefits from AI, since they tend to have larger data sets to pull information from.
Lots of marketers are worried about NLG AI taking away their content generation, but AI created for this purpose still can't create prose by itself. It requires a formatted template and data sources in order to generate content that makes sense, let alone feels as though it was written by a (very stiff) human.
This is especially important since so many brands and businesses now rely on savvy, provocative content and copy that stands out, so until AI can accurately generate a snappy tweet or add some tszuj to a blog post you're in the clear.
What Marketers Need to Know
Instead of worrying about what AI can take away from you, why not re-frame the idea and look at the ways that AI can start to make your job easier?
Start by assessing the data you have, and how you can use AI to take all of that information and start to generate things like insights and analysis, predictable outcomes, improving content, and more. Just ask yourself a few questions to get started:
- What kind of data do I have on-hand?
- Is it structured (columns and rows) or unstructured (documents and social media posts)?
- What kinds of stories could NGL AI tell using this data?
- Are there any tasks I can automate using AI technology?
Conclusion: AI Isn't Coming For You... Yet
Currently AI is still very much in its infancy, which means that marketers can breathe a sigh of relief - for now.
However, instead of sticking your head in the sand and hoping the future never comes, we suggest looking critically at the ways that you can start to work AI into your workflow and actually make your job easier.
Sure, your future self may not be writing every single Tweet or generating ever report, but is that really so bad? Just think of all the research, learning, strategizing, and analysis you'll be able to do your newly-freed-up time, and the added value that it will give to your clients.
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