A lot has been said about the promise of how AI will revolutionize marketing. What's real?
Let’s be honest: While useful, the first year of generative AI has been underwhelming for marketers compared to the promised hype. Still, here are five significant sea changes I see developing that would change our business forever.
These observations are fueled by five years of AI writing, three years of full-time work in the AI section, and the past year as a company's founder dedicated to supporting marketing departments. Add that to almost three decades of marketing experience and 18 years of blogging, and you might say this post is long overdue. :)
The following trends are listed based on time to impact, from near-term to long-term.
1) Agency Disruption
Many billable by-hour tasks — rote tasks performed by junior staffers in most instances — will likely be replaced by more functional and precise AI task rabbits. These AI apps are making what seems tedious and beyond the capabilities of corporate marketing staff easy to execute.
The current AI point solutions that are out there — from writers to video editors — aren't good enough yet to facilitate widespread disruption. Still, they are already saving time, creating new efficiencies, and increasing productivity. What happens when they become more functional with each passing season?
It’s a serious question, and the only defense these 19 agency experts could offer in a Forbes round-up article was the human-in-the-loop creative quotient. While creative and strategic thinking is the true saving grace for keeping agencies around in some fashion, the business is in for a shake-up.
In the next two years, corporate marketers will come to understand how AI apps can help generate measurable outputs. It will become harder and harder to demand ambiguous 5 figure retainers for a general quota of social media posts, advertisements, GTM campaigns, press releases, video clips, and more.
Agency work will become commoditized by AI. To survive, agencies must embrace AI to become more productive per hour with better results and perhaps offer performance-based pricing.
Agencies that fail to embrace AI will be out of business within three to five years. Client and project reduction may begin in earnest by Q3 2024. During the next five years, I expect the agency market and corresponding employee pool will shrink by 20-30% overall. Those that remain will be the most strategic, creative, and/or operations and AI systems managers.
There's good reason to be concerned if you own an agency or are an employee of one. Turbulent times are ahead. As an agency owner, think about using AI to scale, produce more, and/or offer outcome certainty.
2) Original Marketing Content Becomes More Valuable
Much has been said about AI lowering the quality of content on the Internet. That trend will continue, but it will make original marketing content much more valuable. Companies and organizations that have original data, research, and thought leadership content will command more information value on the Internet. Why?
Thanks to the rise of LLMs, we now see that content is data. Original content becomes increasingly valuable now as a source of data, as demonstrated by legal enforcement of paywalls and individual content creators suing LLM owners for stealing their intellectual property.
In a world where "me, too" content is accessible everywhere, regurgitated frequently, and for all intents and purposes, valueless, paying customers and, yes, AI providers will seek out original data and thinking, including unique content. That value will come with a price, too. WIRED recently claimed, “Once controlled appropriately, data can yield the insights that make it more valuable than black gold.”
In the words of Pete Townsend on the Broken Record podcast (yes, that old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame buzzard), AI can only look backward. It cannot originate the genuine new creation. AI must become sentient to create, and I don't see that happening anytime soon (sorry, Sam Altman).
This more significant macro value trend of AI-generated versus original content will eliminate much of the lower-end content creation we see. For example, content aggregation and rewriting will have significantly lower value than original creative content and unique data. That’s the rub.
It costs money to hire people capable of generating original insights and informationm, and to build the very necessary governance processes needed to harness that data. Dr. Suzanne Weller, head of research at Privitar, thinks “unstructured data will need the same degree of governance and privacy protection as has been achieved for structured and semi-structured data sources.”
Unique content will make winners out of companies investing in original research, data, idea sharing, and solid brand journalism. Preventing AI and bot crawling, firewalling, and protecting content will become paramount. Expect many more gates and paywalls over the next three years.
3) Goodbye, Vanity Metrics
A common complaint among companies is the lack of marketing accountability. It is amazing how many so-called data-centric CMOs and marketers have no clue about which of their programs work. Yet, they survive in their jobs, sometimes for many years, because of vanity metrics.
The time for hiding behind BS metrics like page rank, click-throughs, and, God, impressions is coming to an end. So is the time for disaggregated analytics that provide glimpses into the funnel but fail to illustrate full impact.
ML and generative AI models built to identify, unify, predict, and analyze the entire customer journey are about to increase the value of marketing metrics. The faster data sources like Google, social networks, CRMs, etc., are integrated to provide the full data source picture, the better.
Some brands have already implemented full customer journey analytics. Most implement Google Analytics, create a few dashboards in Hubspot, and pray they can make sense of it all. Data hygiene? What's that? This won't fly once advanced AI analytics apps put the pieces together.
Duke University in its vaunted 2023 CMO study noted the impact AI is having on basic content, but says there is room to grow on analytics to inform decisions. “Marketers can increase use of AI to improve marketing ROI by optimizing the content and timing of digital marketing, for programmatic advertising and media buying, for predictive analytics for customer insights, and for targeting decisions,” Duke University Fuqua School of Business Marketing Professor Christine Moorman noted.
For some marketers, more accountability will lead to better decision-making and more robust program executions. For others, however, it will become painful- and in the worst cases, lead to firing- once their actions are illuminated in a way that only clean data and strong analysis can provide.
Integration amongst analytics providers and sources has been challenging to date, and it is the most significant barrier to advanced marketing metrics. This trend should start slowly and then pick up steam once AI analytics becomes easy.
It will take three to five years to see the full impact of AI analytics on the entire customer journey.
4) The "Data-First" CMO Loses Value
This one is counterintuitive when considered in the context of trend number three. Nevertheless, in a linear timeline, it makes sense.
If everything is based on probability from past data, then the best decision-making they offer will be on par with their strongest AI solutions. This trend depends on how long until marketing AI advances to the point that a good strategic query produces the same answers.
If trend three is any indicator, then once such AI takes hold, it will only be a matter of months before the human serves as a check against the AI. A senior data analyst can execute that task.
A data-first CMO will need other skills to retain their position, including strategic savoir faire, operations strength, EQ, and creativity. As time progresses and the ability to see and seize opportunities with productive impactful marketing will differentiate one company from another.
A recent Forbes article on the transformations coming to the CMO suite said, “Almost everything about marketing will need to be reimagined over the next few years, including how AI and other technologies are used and explored. While the CMO job may not become extinct, the role we know today will vastly differ.”
That doesn't mean graphic designers and other creatives will suddenly take over the world. Instead, those who can build and manage systems of people and AI-infused tech stacks and tools to produce original stand-out marketing will rise to the top. In the traditional sense, excellent business management skills will win out, including harnessing and supporting creative talent.
The CMO will need a vastly different skillset by 2029 or in five years.
5) Creativity Becomes the Most Valuable Marketing Skill
One clear takeaway from the Open AI GPTs announcement last week was the rise of low-code, no-code marketing apps. GPTs are primitive examples of no-code AI apps, but this capability will improve. That means analytics will become more accessible, and so will marketing tech development.
Less capable developers will start building websites, integrating apps and CRMs, and creating brand-specific apps in the next few years without coding. New powerful Copilot-like apps will arise to serve marketing developers, suddenly making them less in need.
This article has discussed junior tasks like social media and ad versioning, analytics, and tech stack development. Other duties in marketing operations and sales content development will also be replaced.
As AI becomes better and more able to take on rote tasks across the marketing department, the only thing it cannot fully simulate is creative originality. Sure, original thinking or creativity could be simulated by an AI randomizing the production of outliers. Still, even then, you would need a human who can see the diamonds in the AI rough and then work with an AI to take them to complete execution.
An IBM study of 1,500 executives ranked the ability to be creative as their most desirable skill — even above management skills, integrity, and vision. In citing the study, F@st Company noted, “Creativity is the literal birthplace of innovation.”
This ability to innovate will stand out in a world of AI managers. Not only will these team members achieve the mean, but they will also rise above with originality.
Again, I am not saying the team writer suddenly becomes CMO. Instead of the traditional creative, the new strength is strategic creativity or the ability to innovate from tactic through corporate strategy.
Operations strength and project management matter here. Depending on the job level, they require original vision and the ability to see tasks, projects, campaigns, and strategies through to completion.
Creativity will become a primary skill set for any new marketing job by the end of 2030 or within seven years.
The marketing landscape is poised to undergo major upheavals in the coming years as AI and machine learning advance rapidly. While the technology still has limitations in truly matching human creativity and innovation, the inroads being made are substantial enough to disrupt established norms around content, metrics, roles, and skills.
While there is still much uncertainty in how exactly AI will redefine marketing in the 2020s, the overarching trends point to this period being one of the most transformative ever. Marketers who can adapt to emerging technologies while doubling down on what makes human intelligence so unique will be well-positioned to drive strategy in modern organizations.
l hope this article has inspired some thinking about the macro impacts of AI on marketing. All of this is opinion. I would like to hear yours in the comments, on social media, or privately.