Tamara McCleary, CEO Thulium.co
I work with millennials. Call them what you will, but in my experience, the millennials I work with are some of the most brave, creative and intelligent people I know. Recently, while in a text conversation with one of my assistants, (a millennial), regarding this article I was writing, he responded with this sentiment, "I wonder if one of the mechanics building the first fleet of Model-Ts felt like this. It's a strange, out of body feeling of 'after we do this, a lot of life as we know it is going to change.'" We started riffing on how many people might have been freaking out about the replacement of horses, and all that comes with horseback being the primary vehicle for transportation, (such a loss of jobs for the blacksmith, the farriers, the growers of alfalfa, etc., etc.)
AI Powered Marketing and Sales...in Exchange for What?
I've talked a lot about how artificial intelligence, (AI), and machine learning is revolutionary for our world as a whole, however in this article, I wanted to open the discussion around one very specific application of the machines, (algorithms), that learn with very wide-ranging applications: AI powered marketing and sales. What my millennial assistant and I began to discuss, (all via back-and-forth text messaging), is that, in order to create value-adding autonomous systems, we have to feed those systems with massive amounts of data about ourselves. So much information about us that they can begin to predict what we will want before we actually realize we want it. To say it a different way, we are creating artificially intelligent algorithms, (AI), to predict our needs, each and every one of us, before we realize what those need are. So, you getting that horseless carriage feeling now?
Class is in session: Teaching Artificial Intelligence Systems to Know What We Want.
What has led the marketing world to this point of adopting machine learning systems? It seems like just a year or two ago, we were writing automated emails and running market segments through rule based user experiences with all the thinking and ideas coming from the sales/marketing team. Oh wait… that was the strategy a year of two ago… Well, innovation is at it again. We've identified that rule sets, segmentations and engagement content is time consuming to make when marketing and sales requires constant flexibility.AI systems and machine learning are taking over the reactive (and proactive) user experience world...
Due to this, our marketing teams need to be worrying about strategy and bigger picture. AI has been moving in to help with this shift. There are plenty of articles detailing out what AI is doing for the marketing world, but to paraphrase, AI systems and machine learning are taking over the reactive (and proactive) user experience world, where companies feed these machines data points about their market base and the machine begins segmenting out the company's users, offering personalized customer interactions. They work around the clock, reacting in real time to users and constantly reinterpreting said data points using new data. After enough of this machine learning, these AI systems can drill down user by user, crafting sales narratives for each and every one of us.
It's that last part that is so interesting to me. Forget about market segments. AI systems are beginning to be so on-point that they are using their massive dataset as well as an individual user's past behavior to create a marketing story for that user. WOW. I mean, guys, I don't know how I can say this anymore plainly: We are teaching machines how to cater to each of our individual needs and wants.
Upping the ante on the singularity: moving boldly forward into AI driven marketing.
So here's the kicker. Do we really want this? I mean, from a cost benefit perspective, this is great! Machines can learn to do all our marketing and sales grunt work better than us, we just have to feed them data (something that we're getting better at automating as well) and give them products and services to sell. In turn, we can focus on running our businesses. In some extreme cases, AI marketing systems can even deliver basic market tactics for companies as well! CMOs can again focus on strategy while AI optimizes campaigns.
Now, I've already heard from several of my colleagues saying that this total takeover of their marketing work is not totally doable for AI. But All I can say in response is "Remember 2 years ago when you weren't doing automated customer interactions because you wanted to maintain a personalized feel to your marketing process?" This isn't an "if", situation, AI is quickly becoming capable of taking in our customer data, that we collect, seeing the bigger picture, and reporting on what customers respond to.
So why does my assistant still use incognito mode when he shops? Why are CMOs resistant to handing over the keys to their marketing process?
Why didn't those first adopters of the horseless carriage not want to give up their horses? This is a huge change, both on a physical layer and an intuitive layer. Since the first cave man offered his neighbor a stone axe for shells because he saw that his neighbor had a need, our sales process have been "Human customer has need, human marketer sees need, human marketer crafts a story to sell to human customer, human marketer sells to human customer." Now robots are squeezing their shiny metal butts into a time tested model, and it's uncomfortable.
Even, dare I say, disruptive?
I'm speaking in generalities a bit here, I know, but in all these conversations regarding AI taking over tasks from overworked marketing teams, I'm not seeing this bigger picture being talked about. Again, we are teaching robots to understand how we think! If that doesn't move us closer to Neumann's Singularity, I don't know what will.
So I go back to one of my earlier questions: do we really want this? Do we want robots to know when we are most likely to be receptive to a customer interaction? Do we want companies with products and services that will greatly enrich our lives to find us through the noise of this interconnected world with machine efficiency? Do we want machines to be able to predict our behavior and needs?
What do you guys think? I'm very keen on having this conversation around the globe. It's imperative your voice is heard in this discussion, and leave nothing off the table...the good, the bad, and the ugly, lest we awaken at some future date unhappy with what we have created through our silence or inaction. Let's co-create our future together. What do you want? Please leave your comments below, I'm listening.