By Paul Roehrig




Marketing is at the front line of the AI revolution (surprise!)

Marketers know artificial intelligence (AI) and digital technologies are impacting their work. The list of responsibilities is longer. The budgets are tighter. The opportunities are growing (but so are the risks). You have more data and a seemingly endless ability to target ads and optimize spend. Yet it doesn’t seem to be making things easier

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Many marketers are left thinking, “Hey, I thought AI and digital were supposed to make my life better! What the heck just happened?”

What happened is that marketers are now on the front lines of applying AI to business, making it real and offering up proof of impact: and that’s just hard.

The good news is we have learned a lot over the past few years. There are some practical, no regret” steps to take, so let’s find the on-switch.

AI is a Challenge…

Marketers have always been problem-solvers, fixers, the optimistic alchemists charged with converting supply and unrealized demand into gold. That’s not going to change.

What is changing – and fast – is the crescendo of demand for more technology, automation, scale (for less money), personalization and content, leading to and ultimately more digital-fueled growth at the top line.

It’s no coincidence that these demands are arriving at the same time nearly every marketing “constant” is being disrupted by data, processing power, algorithms and AI. Consider the following:

Marketing conglomerates are under immense pressure. In 2017, WPP, Omnicom, Publicis Groupe, IPG and others all suffered with little to no growth, according to Adexhanger.com1;

Many independent agencies are being rolled up into holding companies or acquired by consultancies and technology service providers2;

In the digital ad space, Google and Facebook already own more than 60% of the US digital ad market and all the growth3. Check out Scott Galloway at DLD 2017 where he noted on this YouTube video, “If you are not Facebook or Google, you are officially in structural decline.”4;

Data moves faster than companies. While some are just getting comfortable with mobility and modern design applied to the web5(brutalism anyone?), new channels, including chatbots, voice assistants and augmented reality (AR) are picking up speed. Marketers must begin to think – and act – based on new channels such as in-vehicle content 6 and the trillion-dollar AR consumer marketing opportunity7. If that sounds like a Black Mirror fiction, IKEA and Sephora are already bringing these experiences to market (and consider, four years ago, Alexa didn’t even exist…); and

Getting the “marketing + AI” equation wrong is having unintended consequences. Some companies are facing scrutiny, ill-will and potential liability, while others (e.g. Cambridge Analytica 8) are even bankrupt.

This puts marketers in a tough spot. The debate is over. We know we must embrace AI to win in the digital economy. But AI can also scorch the earth – and your brand, and even your job – if not properly deployed.

And AI is a solution

But, hang on. It’s not just risk and bad news. In fact, the future of AI and marketing will be fantastic; there’s just actual work to be done. Though we are really just getting started, we can apply lessons already learned as we connect AI to our own marketing practices.

Here are five ways how:

Don’t be creepy. Instead take action to avoid evil. Privacy and ethics must surround every moment of connection with consumers; they can no longer be an academic debate or required training courses. As we noted in our book Code Halos, “Just as the Hippocratic Oath emerged millennia before there was any such thing as the American or British Medical Association, people and organizations of good faith will have to step forward to do the right thing because it is the right thing—not just because a politician or a lawyer or a journalist is watching.” This won’t happen on its own. Marketing leaders must partner with technologiests and act now to hard code self-control with modernized organizational structures and investments to protect companies and customers;
Recognize that to be more digital, we need to be more human. In a world of infinite content and finite attention spans, insights derived from social science and ethnography – beyond focus groups and surveys – are more important than ever before. Anthropologists and sociologists are not doing studies just so marketers can feel reassured about their decisions. Instead they are gaining deep insights into how people want to engage with products, services and technology. Marketing without this insight is mostly guessing, and in a winner-takes-all market, no brand can afford to guess;
Demand more. Over the years, marketers have been promised that personalization and analytics will drive response, but many of those promises remain unfulfilled. Marketing will never be easy, because although human nature doesn’t change much, our wants, needs, wishes (and machines) evolve constantly. It’s time to demand more from your partners, their technology and their services. Insist that they link insight, creative, technology and marketing services like ad ops and content management to create more compelling consumer-grade experiences with AI at the center;

Use AI to bring the content economy to life. The digital economy runs on content delivered to the right person, at the right time, in the right place and via any device or channel every time. The good news is that marketers today have almost unimaginable access to new AI tools. Adobe Sensei injects machine learning into multiple platforms, reports TechCrunch9. Salesforce says its Einstein AI platform, “delivers predictions and recommendations based on your unique business processes and customer data”. With each passing day, marketers have more AI tools they can use to lower cost while helping grow the top line. It’s simply time to get moving; and

AI is your next generation marketing productivity improvement tool. Most companies do not have a bag of cash sitting in the box labeled: “In case of marketing, break glass.” To explore and deploy AI, marketers need productivity improvement to free up the cash needed to move into the digital future. Whether it is campaign management, research, or content distribution, AI systems are available today that can automate some work away and improve productivity of other workers in the marketing value chain.

AI is a challenge for marketers, but it’s also a force multiplier that can help achieve lower cost, mass personalization, and growth at a scale that was unforeseeable on the day the first iPhone shipped. Taking the right steps can set marketing on a growth trajectory and avoid a down quarter, a painful headline or even an extinction event. It’s up to marketing leaders to stay optimistic – “never short human imagination” 10 – and get moving to flip the AI “on-switch” for their companies.


Paul is a co-founder and head of strategy for Cognizant Digital Business. He is the founder and former global managing director of the Center for The Future of Work at Cognizant. He is also – along with Malcolm Frank and Ben Pring – a co-author of What To Do When Machines Do Everything: How to Get Ahead in a World of AI, Algorithms, Bots, and Big Data and Code Halos: How the Digital Lives of People, Things, and Organizations are Changing the Rules of Business

1 Weissbrot, Alison. “2017: The Year The Holding Companies Fell To Earth”, Adexchanger. com December 29, 2017.

2 Gianatasio, David. “Global Consultancies Are Buying Up Agencies and Reshaping the Brand Marketing World,” Adweek, March 12, 2017.

3Google and Facebook Tighten Grip on US Digital Ad Market Duopoly to grab more than 60% of 2017 digital ad spend, ”eMarketer, September 21, 2017.

4 Galloway, Scott. “Winners and Losers, 2017”, video, YouTube, January 16, 2017.

5 Williams, John Moore. “19 web design trends for 2018”, Webflow, blog, December 8, 2017.

6 Posky, Matt. “GM Revamps OnStar: Take a Long Look In the Mirror”, blog,, April 30, 2018.

7 Samit, Jay. “Augmented Reality: Marketing’s Trillion Dollar Opportunity”, AdAge (with Deloitte Digital), July 18, 2017.

8 Confessore, Nicholas and Rosenberg, Matthew. “Cambridge Analytica to File for Bankruptcy After Misuse of Facebook Data”, New York Times, May 2, 2018.

9 Miller, Ron “Adobe CTO leads company’s broad AI bet” TechCrunch, May 12, 2018.

10 Thach, Donna “Artificial Intelligence is the Future of Marketing”, blog, ITSMA, April 18, 2018.

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