The Economist just published an excellent analysis of the state of today’s artificial intelligence market—and it contains important lessons for marketing executives.
The article estimates that $21.3 billion in mergers and acquisitions have taken place related to AI in 2017 alone. (We’ve written about a few of them in marketing and sales, covering investments by HubSpot and Salesforce.) That was 26 times the number in 2015, indicating that you can expect a lot of your favorite products and services to start incorporating artificial intelligence.
Says The Economist:
“One way to understand AI’s potential impact is to look at databases. From the 1980s these made it cheap to store information, pull out insights and handle cognitive tasks such as inventory management. Databases powered the first generation of software; AI will make the next far more predictive and responsive, says Frank Chen of Andreessen Horowitz, a venture-capital firm. An application such as Google’s Gmail, which scans the content of e-mails and suggests quick, one-touch replies on mobile devices, is an early example of what could be coming.”
The velocity of AI will transform how marketers do business in the coming years. One-on-one personalization at scale will be possible. Strategic decisions will be made by consulting AI that sifts through volumes of customer data to recommend actions. And marketers’ productivity and performance have the potential to grow massively thanks to AI “co-workers” who will augment their daily activities.
In short, the AI race is in full swing. And it’s driven largely by a few major tech companies and some key trends. We pulled three major takeaways from the article that marketers need to pay attention to.
1. Scarcity of AI talent.
You’re going to need help implementing artificial intelligence. Says The Economist:
“Today AI systems are like ‘idiot savants,’ says Gurdeep Singh Pall of Microsoft. ‘They are great at what they do, but if you don’t use them correctly, it’s a disaster.’ Hiring the right people can be critical to a firm’s survival (some startups fail for lack of the right AI skills) which has set off a trend of firms plundering academic departments to hire professors and graduate students before they finish their degrees.”
Marketers at modest-sized businesses who have dreams of building AI solutions might need to think twice. If Google and Facebook are having trouble finding the talent they need, it’s unlikely you have the appeal or budget to attract AI and machine learning experts to build these systems for you. However, assessing how AI can impact your business is crucial—the biggest losers in the coming machine age will be businesses that face AI-armed competitors, but lack AI themselves.
Savvy marketers need to begin building relationships with existing vendors of AI solutions now.
2. Expansion of AI branding and terminology.
Some of the big tech giants are secretive about their AI operations. That could change as they struggle to attract talent, since top pros are reluctant to go work on projects they’re not allowed to talk about. This won’t directly affect marketers, but it could very well affect what you see in the market.
Expect to hear a lot more about artificial intelligence initiatives from companies in their advertising and messaging. And expect to encounter AI even more than you already do. Yes, AI in fact powers voice assistants like Siri and Alexa and recommends movies for you on Nexflix and helps UPS efficiently get Amazon deliveries to your house. (Among other things.)
There is a danger here. As more and more companies implement AI, they’re going to be prone to slapping the term on everything. In fact, some already are, creating confusion in the marketplace. To a non-technical marketer, calling something “artificial intelligence” sounds impressively technical. But in some cases, the product or service might not be real AI, but just some automation (which sounds way less impressive).
Marketers will need to cultivate a skeptical approach to vendors, ask tough questions, and do their homework to determine how artificially intelligent solutions really are.
3. Need for education and implementation partners.
The Economist describes how AI will spread to even non-technical firms:
“Many firms in other industries, from retailing to media, stand to benefit from what those in the cloud business tout as the ‘democratisation’ of AI. Providing AI to companies that do not have the skills or scale to build up sophisticated capabilities independently could be a money-spinner in the $250bn cloud market. But providers often must customise APIs for clients’ complex needs, which is time-consuming. Microsoft, with its history of selling software to clients and offering them support, seems likely to do well in this area. It is only a matter of time before AI offerings become ‘more and more self-help’, counters Diane Greene, who runs Google Cloud.”
As AI becomes more prevalent, marketers must educate themselves on artificial intelligence and related technologies, so they can start planning AI implementations now. They’ll also need expert educational partners, such as contacts at consultancies or marketing automation companies, who they can turn to for knowledgeable guidance on implementation and growth.
Even when AI becomes more “self-help,” marketers will also need to train themselves on how to use these systems.
Marketers, pay attention. The next phase of your career might need to include significant education into the application and practice of artificial intelligence.
As Chief Content Officer, Mike Kaput uses content marketing, marketing strategy, and marketing technology to grow and scale traffic, leads, and revenue for Marketing AI Institute. Mike is the co-author of Marketing Artificial Intelligence: AI, Marketing and the Future of Business (Matt Holt Books, 2022). See Mike's full bio.