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This Expert Empowers Marketers With Practical Applications of AI

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This post is part of our AI Experts Series, which profiles leaders whose insights can help expand your understanding of artificial intelligence and how to apply it.
Today's spotlight features Katie Robbert, CEO of   Trust Insights


AI + You

In a single sentence or statement, tell us what you do.

I help clients light up dark data, and I am the Chief Cat Herder.

How do you define AI? (Or, what’s your favorite definition of AI?)

AI is math. It’s a series of math equations and programming code. While it’s more complex than the quadratic equation that we all learned in high school, it’s not a black box or magic or “technowizardy”—which is a term I heard recently. Yikes.

Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, has stated that, “AI is probably the most profound thing humanity has ever worked on.” Do you agree? Why, or why not?

I don’t. Given that AI is a series of math equations, AI would not exist without math—and math is the same in every language. That is more profound. AI is just a new application of math. I think the applications and potential of AI are more profound than the technology itself.

How did you get started in AI?

Accidentally. I’ve always been interested in technology but never studied it in a focused way. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve been able to see where I had a voice in helping other marketers understand how AI can enhance what they do on a regular basis.

"'You might also like' is such a powerful tool, and I’m obsessed with how a company decides the 'DNA' markers of a piece of content or a product and how it gets served up to someone."

What’s your favorite example of AI in your daily life that most consumers take for granted, or don't even realize is made possible by AI?

Recommendation engines. Think Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon. “You might also like” is such a powerful tool, and I’m obsessed with how a company decides the “DNA” markers of a piece of content or a product and how it gets served up to someone. We all want something custom to us—and this is how it’s done.

What excites you most about AI?

The possibility that we can get to important answers faster. Being able to get to a medical diagnosis or predict natural disasters are valuable uses of AI. There are strides being made in these areas, but we’ve only just scratched the surface.

What worries you most about AI? How could it go wrong?

Lack of training and misuse. I’ve been researching company cultures and the readiness to bring in AI. Most companies are not invested in upskilling their employees to learn how to use the new tech, and schools are not equipping students to have a blend of skills. This will lead to a lot of poor implementation and disgruntled employees.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about AI?

Right now, that it saves time. In some respects, it does—but because of the steep learning curve and oversight that it requires, there is a large investment with AI. It will save you time eventually, but you have to train it to do what you need it to do. It’s very much like onboarding a new staff member.

Also, that it will suddenly become self-aware.

What skill or trait do you believe has the greatest chance to remain uniquely human for the foreseeable future?

Relationship/people management. Humans are complex and emotional. Even if all of your tasks are repetitive and a machine gives you a to-do list, you still think and feel things that go off script.

People are predictably unpredictable and a machine cannot emote or demonstrate empathy when someone is having a bad day or in need of some kind words.

Who has the greatest influence on how you think about AI and the future?

My co-founder, Christopher S. Penn. He’s the futurist and does a great job of helping me understand what’s going to happen. I’m the pragmatist and figure out how we can use the tech and roll it out to our customers.

What is a recent advance in AI that blew your mind?

Nothing specifically. The potential of AI is very exciting, but we haven’t yet figured out how far we can (and should) take it.

"Make sure that your foundation is strong. This means you need to have confidence in the data that you’re collecting and the ability to take action with it. If those two things are not in place, you’re not ready to introduce AI."

If you were entering college, knowing what you know now, what would you study?

I’ve always dabbled in programming and I know enough to be dangerous. I would take my math and engineering courses more seriously this time around.

If you were the dean of a business school, what is one thing you would do right now to start better preparing students for the intelligently automated future?

Psychology, ethics, and conflict resolution would be mandatory tracks. At the end of the day, AI is still powered by humans, and humans need to do a better job of listening to and understanding each other.


Marketing + AI

What advice would you give to marketers looking to pilot AI in their organizations?

Make sure that your foundation is strong. This means you need to have confidence in the data that you’re collecting and the ability to take action with it. If those two things are not in place, you’re not ready to introduce AI.

What is the biggest challenge marketers should plan for as they scale AI?

Upskilling the staff.

Because AI is intended to reduce repetitive tasks, organizations should be prepared to train staff to a) manage the process of AI, and b) be responsible for more high value tasks. 

What question(s) would you advise marketers ask vendors who claim to have AI-powered technology?

This might seem counterintuitive, but whether tech has AI built in should not be a priority when vetting a vendor.

Marketers first need to ask themselves, "Do I need this and does it align with the business goals?" Because AI is the hot thing, people feel that it’s going to solve all of their problems.

I’d start with, “What is the problem I’m trying to solve with this tech?” and then pose that question to the vendor: “Does this solve X problem?”

Next, ask about privacy and data collection/storage. I recently spoke to a vendor and asked how they handle the PII (Personally Identifiable Information) that the software collects and they stated that they didn’t; the onus was on the customer to figure out how to protect the data—which is a huge misstep and can be a big headache for a company if something goes sideways.

What percentage of marketing tasks will be intelligently automated to some degree in the next five years?

  • 0%
  • 1 – 10%
  • 11 – 25%
  • 26 – 50%
  • 51 – 75%
  • 76 – 99%
  • 100%

Which three marketing categories will experience the greatest disruption from intelligent automation in the next five years?

  • Account-Based Marketing
  • Advertising
  • Analytics
  • Communications
  • Content Marketing
  • Conversational
  • Customer Service
  • Data Management
  • Email Marketing
  • Public Relations
  • Research
  • Sales
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Strategy
  • Other

What’s one marketing job you see AI fully automating and eliminating in the next five years?

Reporting. One of the big issues is that so many metrics are not tied to business goals or are something that marketers can make a decision on. Once that’s sorted out, you can automate the reporting and then spend your time taking action.

What’s one marketing job you see AI creating that doesn't exist today?

It’s more of an evolution. With AI automating a lot of tasks, people will have more time to connect with customers in a meaningful way. There will be more emphasis on relationship building and customer service.

So, in short, people skills. 

What can marketers do to ensure the ethical use of AI in their marketing?

Listen to each other, to start. We get so wrapped up in getting our own way and proving ourselves that we forget that there are A LOT of smart and talented folks around us.

Many hands make light work and taking the time to consider other opinions will go a long way.

Just stay open minded and listen to your peers and customers. 

How can brands achieve personalization without invading privacy?

Brands need to be more transparent about data collection and use.

Since GDPR and CCPA are not global initiatives, there are still brands that are vague about their data collection policies. Yes, people want things customized to them—they expect it. The concern from brands to keep up is that if they are 100% transparent with how data is collected, people might say “no” and then the ability to customize and stay competitive will get harder.

Brands need to say, “Hey, you want personalized content, here’s how that happens,” and let the consumer decide. If the consumer says no, the challenge is back on the brand to rethink how personalization is done.

How can brands become more human as they intelligently automate tasks and roles?


All too often I’ve seen AI implemented without a plan. There is no consideration for the impact that AI will have on the company and the customer. Do you know what this piece of tech will do for you short term? Long term? Do you have a sense of which tasks/jobs will become obsolete, and where there will be new skill gaps to fill?

Involve your teams when beginning with AI, don’t make decisions in isolation.

"We’ve only just scratched the surface with this tech. Get involved so you can help shape what it looks like."

What resource(s) would you recommend to marketers who want to understand and apply AI?

The Trust Insights newsletter and podcast are always focused around marketing and AI—so I would recommend those to start.

IBM has free courses for those who are more hardcore about AI.

Honestly, I think good stats classes and an understanding of data quality are the building blocks to understanding AI. Without having a grasp on math and proper data collection, AI is just a shiny object.


Rapid Fire

Voice assistant you use the most?

  • Alexa
  • Google Assistant
  • Siri
  • Don’t use voice assistants
  • Other

More valuable in 10 years?

  • Liberal arts degree
  • Computer science degree

First publicly traded technology company to reach $2 trillion market cap?

  • Alibaba
  • Alphabet
  • Amazon
  • Apple
  • Facebook
  • Microsoft
  • Tesla
  • Other

Preferred cloud for building AI solutions?

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS)
  • Google Cloud
  • Microsoft Azure
  • Don’t use or prefer any of them
  • Other: IBM

Best guess, how long until we achieve artificial general intelligence (AGI)?

  • 1 – 5 years
  • 6 – 10 years
  • 11 – 20 years
  • 21 – 50 years
  • 51+ years
  • Never

Net effect over the next decade?

  • More jobs eliminated by AI
  • More jobs created by AI
  • AI won’t have a meaningful impact on jobs

What does an AI agent win first (or at least share with a human)?

  • Nobel Peace Prize
  • Oscar
  • Pulitzer
  • Won’t win any of the above

Favorite AI movie?


Favorite AI book?

None at this time.

Favorite AI-powered marketing technology your company uses that regularly reduces costs and/or increases revenue?

Predictive forecasting is my favorite thing that we do. It’s the most scalable. You can generate one report and use it a variety of different ways.

The challenge to the marketer is thinking outside of what they currently do to use the analysis in new and effective ways.

Favorite piece of AI content you've created that you'd like to share with our readers? Include any relevant links.

Personally, I focus mostly on the practical applications of AI. I want to introduce marketers to it in a way that is not overwhelming. I’ve given a couple of talks on AI but I think my favorite is how to use predictive forecasting at all stages of the customer experience. It demonstrates at least seven different applications of the same AI methodology.

You can see more in these blog posts.  

>>> Katie will be exploring practical applications of AI for content marketers at MAICON this year. You can see more on her session and her workshop for healthcare marketers here


Final Thoughts

Any final thoughts on AI for our readers?

Don’t be afraid of AI. We have a long way to go in order to make AI more useful, more ethical, and more useful in everyday life.

We’ve only just scratched the surface with this tech. Get involved so you can help shape what it looks like.

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