September 19, 2022

Benefits of AI in Marketing: How do the views about artificial intelligence in marketing differ between leaders and practitioners? [chart]


If you saw the marketing experiment results shared in the recent “Marketer Vs Machine” video from MECLABS Institute (parent organization of MarketingSherpa), you may be surprised to see how leaders view the main benefits of AI in marketing.

In this article, we share an exclusive, never-before seen chart we crafted from raw data provided to us by Lytics.

Read on to see the results from 202 Marketing and IT professionals, along with an analysis of the data.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

Benefits of AI in Marketing: How do the views about artificial intelligence in marketing differ between leaders and practitioners? [chart]

This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

“Can the algorithm outperform the experienced marketer?” Flint McGlaughlin asks in Marketer Vs Machine: We need to train the marketer to train the machine.

In that video, Flint shares the results of a marketing experiment to gauge the maturity of artificial intelligence (AI) for digital advertising.

The experiment raised another question in me – how do the views about AI in marketing differ between leaders and practitioners? Take the digital advertising experiment mentioned above, for example. From conversations I’ve had recently, I see a gulf in views. Business leaders are happy to find a more efficient way to get in front of potential customers. But PPC (pay-per-click) and SEM (search engine marketing) advertising practitioners wonder if they’ll soon be out of a job.

To help answer this question for you, I appreciate Lytics giving me access to data to create an exclusive, never-before-published chart. You can scroll down to see the chart if you like, but first I’ll provide some background for how it was created.

Research methodology

To inform its “Marketing and IT: The strategic partnership” research report, Lytics commissioned Sapio Research to survey 202 Marketing and IT (Information Technology) professionals from the US and Canada, using an online survey shared via email. At the time of the survey (July 2022), all respondents worked in companies with a minimum of 500 employees. So you understand the limitation of the data – at an overall level, results are accurate to ± 6.9% at 95% confidence limits.

Implementing AI in your organization

Lytics overall study found that Marketing and IT is largely aligned about artificial intelligence – two-thirds of both marketing leaders (66%) and IT leaders (67%) plan to integrate AI into the marketing stack.

“The application of AI in marketing is a path to utilize advancements in technology to drive scale in our programs. It’s also the right kind of initiative to pull your IT and Marketing teams together. More specifically AI will help inform better targeting and segmentation, increase the efficiency of our spending, create more scale in our personalization capabilities, and automate more tasks,” said Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, President, Lytics

He continued, “That all sounds great right? So, what’s the point and the relationship between Marketing and IT? As Marketers we can’t just go buy new software and services from different vendors to gain these benefits absent a view into our corporate infrastructure. That’s a recipe for disaster. As an IT team, buying and building AI without a first and best application like Marketing becomes a science project.”

However, the study found that many are still unsure as to what role AI will play in marketing. So let’s take a look at some data to see how the opinions of leaders and experienced practitioners compare.

This specific slice of data

When Lytics gave me access to the raw data, I focused on the question “What are the main benefits of AI in marketing (select up to two)?” I then created two groups of respondents based on their titles, decided that those with title Director and above would best represent the views, and those with the title of Senior Manager and above would best represent the views of experienced practitioners. Here are the specific titles that make up each group:

  • Director and above – VP/SVP of Marketing, Director of Marketing, Head of Marketing, VP/SVP of IT, Director of IT, Head of IT
  • Senior Manager and below – Senior Marketing Manager/Executive, Mid Marketing Manager/Executive, Senior IT Manager, Mid IT Manager  

One caveat – of course, title isn’t everything. What one organization calls a senior manager; another organization may call a VP. But all of these companies are of a decent size (500+ employees), that they hopefully provide a rough proxy of the two groups (leaders and experienced practitioners).

You can see the data for yourself below, followed by an in-depth analysis.

Chart: What are the main benefits of AI in marketing? (select up to two)

Chart: What are the main benefits of AI in marketing? (select up to two)

Are the machines here to replace us?

When I was younger, the news was filled stories of factory workers being laid off and being replaced by machines. I need to choose a machine-proof profession, I thought. And so, I chose to become a writer.

Imagine my chagrin when I served as a judge at The Innovations Awards at DMA2014. The winner for digital technology was a company that provided “marketing language engineering.” In other words, the machines aren’t just focused on automobile assembly and chemical manufacturing anymore – they’re writing now, too?

I chose this segmentation of the data because I was curious if other experienced practitioners felt the same.

And indeed, the top marketing benefit of AI cited by leaders was “automation of marketing tasks,” chosen by half (49%). However, this was the second-most frequently cited benefit by the experienced practitioners.

Not a drastic difference. And in fairness, the limitation of this data is that all of these responses fall within the margin of error so there likely isn’t a radical difference of opinion in the two groups. Maybe not enough confidence to provide a definitive answer. But certainly enough direction to raise a tantalizing question – when it’s your job being replaced, do you have an unconscious bias against the technology?

But maybe you’re thinking – oh, only menial tasks will be automated. Like triggered emails.

If you’re a skeptic about the possibility of management tasks being automated, let me share this insight Devin Fidler made after conducting an automation management experiment, “In the debate around automation, several voices have argued that management tasks are so creative that they’re unlikely to be automated any time soon. During the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, a similar argument was made about detailed craft work. However, by breaking such work down into discrete steps, automated craftsmanship quickly became possible. Assembly lines transformed the world in 50 years. We believe modern management today is on the brink of a similar transformation.”

And he said this seven years ago (see Here’s How Managers Can Be Replaced by Software in Harvard Business Review). If you’re in the “Director and above” category, you may think you’re immune from this type of automation. Don’t grow complacent. Fidler also cautioned, “Executives tend to assume that their underlings will bear the main brunt of changes to the future of work, while their own positions are immune. They are incorrect…It will not be possible to hide in the C-Suite for much longer.”

Or are the machines here to help us?

While our culture often views the machine as a hostile force in a post-apocalyptic future (“The Terminator,” “The Matrix,” etc.), there are also positive views of how machines can assist humans, like “Star Wars” or “WALL-E” (perhaps assisting a little too much).

Experienced practitioners seem to take the latter view – AI is best used to assist (not replace) humans. The most frequent response from experienced practitioners was “increase efficiency of advertising spend.” Almost half (45%) of experienced practitioners chose this option as the main benefit of AI in marketing, while this was only the fourth most frequently chosen option (out of five total) by the leaders, with about a third (36%) choosing this option.

Leaders would be well served by watching the video referenced at the opening of this article…they may be surprised to see the results of the digital advertising experimented conducted by MECLABS Institute (parent organization of MarketingSherpa).

Practitioners were 25% more likely than leaders to select “increase efficiency of advertising spend” as a main benefit of AI in marketing. Is this because they usually outsource this task to vendors and don’t perform it themselves? Thus, again, it’s not their job being replaced.

But perhaps practitioners are simply hoping to get better counsel for their advertising spend. While as humans we tend to travel in packs and buy into conventional wisdom, the hope and promise of AI is to supersede these human frailties. For example, while conventional wisdom among media buyers is to shift to digital, MarketingSherpa research has found that print ads in newspapers and magazines are the most trusted advertising channels when customers are making a purchase decision.

What advertising assumptions could AI help marketers challenge? Here’s an example from Kaykas-Wolff, “In a marketer’s world, they may be taking women’s perfume to market and choose to target women in a certain age bracket at a certain income level, but that excludes a large cohort. What about the group that is shopping for women’s perfume as a gift, or simply because they like the scent?”

He continued, “AI can eliminate those assumptions and instead build a better, broader audience with a higher level of interest in the product as the segmentation is based on behavior, not what a marketer thinks is right. That’s the kind of benefit you should expect when you collaborate with your partners in IT and deploy AI in your marketing stack.”

AI couldn’t write an article as good as this (yet?)

Now to my own fears about AI use in creative marketing. As I mention above, I thought I had chosen an automation-proof career when I became a writer.

Both leaders and practitioners are fairly skeptical here.

Most leaders and experienced practitioners did not see “Informing the messaging in our ads” as a main benefit of AI in marketing. It was the dead last selection by leaders (chosen by 25%) and the second-to-last selection from practitioners (34%).

I almost dropped my everything bagel into my coffee when I read this headline in The Wall Street Journal over breakfast last month – ‘Robots Turn Creative as AI Helps Drive Ad Campaigns.’

But the key word in that headline is “helps,” a point the editors of WSJ further emphasized with he headline they chose for the online article – Did a Robot Help Create That Ad? The Answer, Increasingly, Is Yes.

I think that’s a better headline, because my view of the article is that the robots never quiet “turned creative,” they analyzed massive data sets to then help humans create the ads – drawing data from social media, marketers’ opinions, and other market research to make suggestions.

Don’t get me wrong, that is pretty impressive. But perhaps we are personifying technology when we say it is creative?

As Patrick Coffee writes in the article, “Ad industry leaders agreed that AI will supplement, not supplant, human ingenuity. ‘While [AI] can unlock the creative capacity of people by making their work more efficient and effective, sometimes we need to throw logic out the window and fall back on our intuition,’ said Rob Reilly, global chief creative officer at ad giant WPP PLC.”

How can AI shape the future of creative and content marketing?

I don’t think there is an easy answer to this question. I think it depends on a range of factors, and the answer lies on a spectrum. Think of a quadrant. On one end of the x-axis is “simple,” and on the other end is “complex.” On one end of the y-axis is “logical,” and on the other end is “emotional.”

When the information you are trying to convey skews to the simple/logical side of the quadrant, that is where AI might do a better job. After all, many companies not using AI are hiring very entry-level writers to create this type of content anyway. Those entry-level writers are probably using some sort of simple algorithm in their minds when they are writing, not too different from AI – use a certain number of keywords, a certain length, etc.

For more complex, emotional topics, it is much harder for AI to create quality content that will attract backlinks from truly authoritative websites. Frankly, it is much harder for entry-level writers as well. You should seek out an adept, advanced writer who either knows your industry well, or has a track record of learning about an industry quickly and creating value.

The other key question you have to ask is – what is your brand’s value proposition? And how does this content you publish reflect on that value proposition? Every customer touch point is valuable, and every customer touchpoint is an opportunity to either live up to a brand promise that reflects your company’s value proposition…or undermine it.

Where AI can be helpful is by supporting quality writers. Many factors influence SEO, search ranking, and backlink generation. And it is hard for a human to keep up. For example, there is a case study in this article – Marketing Funnel: Examples of how marketers try to perfect the customer journey in their SEO, printed content, and landing page – showing how a focus on journalist intent helped attract more backlinks. AI could have helped in some areas, like keyword identification, while it takes the human touch to create the valuable article that attracts links.

But the key is using AI to support the writer, and not hiring a writer who will just mindlessly follow an AI tool. In that case, you might as well just use the AI directly. That is why it is so crucial to work with a writer that advocates for the quality of the content, advocates for the audience, challenges your thinking, and challenges your strategy. Yes, this will likely cost more. Yes, it will take longer. Yes, it will be harder. However, the end result will be far superior.

Another way to use AI – brute force. Much like the Infinite Monkey Theorem. For example, AAA utilized an AI platform to run 3,998 different ad variations. You can read the case study in Copywriting: Every word matters in these marketing case studies from AAA, a consultant, and a real estate company.

Of course, I called out the potential bias of leaders and practitioners in this article, and maybe this is just my bias as a writer and advertising creative who doesn’t want to be replaced by the machines?

Related Resources

People Buy From People: Five examples of how to bring the humanity back to marketing

Website Strategy: Examples of the 3 fundamental site elements that power digital sales and marketing results

Startup Marketing: How to build a marketing program from 0 to acquisition by Intel, be BOLD, learn as you go

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