The past decade has already forced a shift in the professional skills required of workers. New technologies like collaboration apps and document and knowledge capture tools have had a wide-ranging impact on what people can do: speeding up communication, enabling faster access to and dissemination of information, and multiplying reach. Yet even among all this progress, nothing promises to be more disruptive to the future of work than the introduction of artificial intelligence.

Recent data from McKinsey suggests that almost every occupation will be touched by automation. But the firm forecasts that intelligent technology is likely to automate away just 5% of roles, meaning that most of us will live in a world where AI helps us by taking on just part of our current jobs. McKinsey thinks that most occupations will experience around 30% of their tasks being ultimately automated. Most of us will find our roles changing, and we will find ourselves working alongside virtual colleagues. Having been on the front lines of this revolution for some time now, it is my belief that for the foreseeable future, technology will continue to take on tasks, not entire jobs. Change is hard for people, but I find that getting people to see this truth and learn to trust these new kinds of intelligent machines opens the door to remarkable transformations.

Marketing is an area in organizations that is already changing due to advances in automation and AI. Unlike previous generations of rules-based technologies that improved speed or enhanced existing processes, AI brings the promise that it can actually become a collaborative team member. In a 2019 Forrester Consulting survey commissioned by my company, we found that while 88% of marketers say they are using AI, just 50% or less say “their current marketing stack supports their top objectives very well.” Why isn’t the transformative benefit of AI being realized? It turns out that of those using marketing AI, 74% are using their AI like old technology, to surface insights and recommendations that they consider and then manually take action on.

This “assistive AI” approach leaves most of the value of intelligent technology out of the equation. The beauty of an intelligent machine is its ability to be flexible and dynamic and to operate with success in mind-bogglingly complex environments. “Autonomous AI” that understands, predicts and can actually take action in real time is the answer to getting full value out of AI. But using it requires a significant shift in mindset from marketers. They need to move from operating machines to collaborating with them. 

AI To Amplify Human Capacity

When used in a truly autonomous fashion either within or across channels, AI has the power to both drive campaign execution at scale and create deeper business value. However, there are two important things to remember: AI is not a cure-all, and AI will never come up with ideas.

Consider findings recently debuted in the book Lemon. How the Advertising Brain Turned Sour, from Orlando Wood, chief innovation officer of System1. Despite the benefits that come from better adtech, including wider reach, more data and faster execution, Wood finds that “a golden age of advertising technology has not led to a golden age of advertising effectiveness.” Short-termism and media industry changes have shifted the marketer’s focus from inspiration and creativity to simply keeping up, but tools that can automate the more time-consuming, tactical parts of marketing can help.

AI is best thought of as a tool to amplify human capacity in tasks like number-crunching, identifying patterns in vast amounts of data and automating large, complicated and multivariate tasks. The optimal way to work with AI is to let it take over technological skills such as big data processing and prediction (in other words, supercharging marketing fundamentals) so that marketers have the bandwidth to devote to the social, emotional and cognitive skills needed to create inspiring, branded moments that resonate with customers. After all, only humans can bring the creativity and critical thinking needed to make meaning from data. I believe this will always remain the purview of the human workforce.  

AI + Humans = The Second Golden Age of Marketing 

Our survey with Forrester found that respondents who are already using AI solutions in an autonomous rather than assistive manner see a number of contributions to their marketing efforts beyond digital advertising. They tend to use data more effectively and engage their customers in a more personalized fashion — this alongside the improved returns on their digital advertising investments you might expect. Even marketers who have yet to embrace an autonomous AI-powered marketing solution understand the value: 95% of them find an autonomous marketing solution appealing for their organizations, according to our Forrester study.

Clearly, the future is coming. So, how do we prepare for it? Consider these steps to make sure your organization is equipped to embrace artificial intelligence:

1. Foster creativity in the workplace. There will be an increased emphasis on abilities like creativity, judgment and critical thinking that complement technology. Encouraging these skills now will set your teams up for success.

2. Define where a human and machine team can add the most value. By outlining where a machine’s role ends and a human’s role begins, you can identify organizational shifts that may need to occur or new roles that need to be defined.

3. Offer training on AI for the entire company. AI cannot be truly implemented well if your organization does not have a data-driven mindset.

4. Keep people in the loop. It’s critical for people to know what decisions the AI makes. This builds transparency and trust between technology and people while allowing those whose jobs are changing to play an important role in these human and machine teams.

5. Share AI’s insights to augment team relationships. Sharing learnings from AI with other team members can inform new strategies and plans, enhancing what people do well.

By playing to the unique strengths of humans and artificial intelligence, marketers can make better and quicker decisions, increasing productivity, revenue and outcomes.

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