Today’s marketers are challenged to adapt to new technologies, consumer habits and practices, channels, and methods of engagement arguably faster than any other generation. One of the hottest areas of interest is artificial intelligence. How can AI be leveraged to understand, interact with, and generate loyalty with consumers? Raj Venkatesan (Darden Business School), co-author of “The AI Marketing Canvas: A Five-Stage Road Map to Implementing Artificial Intelligence in Marketing” with Jim Lecinski (Kellogg Business School), shares insight on how marketers must upskill to address the changing marketing landscape.
Kimberly Whitler: How has marketing evolved?
Raj Venkatesan: “The art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art.” I think this quote from Jon Lasseter is very appropriate to consider the evolution of marketing. Like art, marketing also has a symbiotic relationship with technology. In the old days, one had Mass marketing via radio. Then when the new technology of TV came about, we saw the golden era of Television commercials, but we still had one ad for all the customers. Then we had the advent of cable TV and we started segmentation. A brand perhaps had 3 ad versions for their different segments that aired in the appropriate cable channels. With Direct mail, we started the advent of one-to-one marketing, and started to increase our customization. Then we had digital marketing and the rise of the internet we had more customization. With AI now, we are at the stage where brands are personalizing their marketing to a segment of 1.
All through this evolution, though, the fundamentals of marketing hold true. Address customer needs, focus on benefits not features, develop emotional connections, be authentic etc.
Whitler: Given these changes, how should marketing professionals reinvent themselves?
Venkatesan: Invest in yourself, take courses online about AI, attend conferences, try experiments. The key is to focus on your strengths as a marketer, i.e., a deep understanding of customers and their needs. AI and analytics provide you with the tools to obtain customer insights, and use these insights to develop personalized marketing.
Modern marketing professionals are connectors and collaborators. They are the key executive within organizations to advocate for customers. They need the ability to provide data science professionals the right guidance and ask the right questions that can be answers by AI/analytics. We are not at a stage and perhaps never will be in the near future, where AI/Analytics can manage a marketing campaign end to end without human intervention. There is uncertainty in any predictions, and the marketer’s role is to combine the data driven predictions with their individual heuristics about the customers.
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Successful marketers will view data, and data science professionals as their allies and key collaborators.
Whitler: What skillsets should marketing organizations be looking at add?
Venkatesan: Marketers need professionals who understand AI and can work with AI or data science specialists. They also need project managers who are adept at agile product development. Using AI requires a lot of experimentation and agility. Professionals who can manage multiple projects and build flexibility in organizations are critical. There is also a need to work with IT to understand the plethora of technology solutions available to collect, and process customer data. Professionals who are good at understanding the output from analytics and developing customer stories that can provide insights to senior managers are very valuable. Finally, as marketing uses more data, there is a need for organizations to develop skills around privacy, responsible customer data management and cybersecurity.
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In full disclosure, Venkatesan is a colleague at the Darden Business School.