This article is adapted from Bryan and Ericka's appearance on the CMO Convo podcast.
The fusion of human creativity and advanced technology has always been a catalyst for groundbreaking innovations.
As we navigate the digital age, blending the personal touch of human intuition with the precision of artificial intelligence (AI) becomes crucial. In industries saturated with competitors, the seamless integration of AI can offer the competitive edge that sets a company apart.
I'm Bryan Gernert, CEO of Resonate, and along with Ericka McCoy, our CMO, in this article, we explore how the synergy of human brilliance and AI can redefine the landscape of modern operations, and why it's essential for CMOs and CEOs to be aligned on the use of AI in marketing.
Leveraging big data and AI at Resonate
Having been deeply immersed in the world of startups, particularly those grounded in technology, I've had a unique vantage point in the evolution of data. I spent much of my career focusing on big data, internet infrastructure, and what one might term as neural networks, long before the advent of what we recognize today as artificial intelligence or AI.
Resonate is a culmination of this journey. As one of its co-founders, our vision stemmed from a genuine curiosity and passion: to dive deep into the intricacies of consumer behavior.
We sought to answer the intricate questions:Why do consumers make certain decisions? What drives their preference for one brand over another? How do brands instill loyalty in their customers? And importantly, how can businesses retain these customers by fostering genuine, deep-rooted connections?
Over the last 15 years, Resonate's mission has always been clear - to move beyond superficial engagement and truly understand the underlying motivations of consumers. This has propelled us into becoming a significant player in the data landscape. Through our innovative approach, we've combined the power of technology and AI to understand consumer preferences and behaviors in a way that's distinct from the approaches historically taken by many other companies.
Charting the white collar industrial revolution
At Resonate, we are unequivocally committed to the power and potential of AI. As I often tell our team and investors, we're all in on AI. Our belief in its transformative capacity is unwavering.
The term "Industrial Revolution" undoubtedly evokes images of monumental shifts in human history, of groundbreaking innovations that forever changed how we lived and worked. When I refer to AI as the "White Collar Industrial Revolution," I do so with a keen awareness of the historical weight behind the term.
AI promises to be an even more significant shift than the Industrial Revolution. It's poised to redefine our understanding of what's possible, particularly in the realm of knowledge-driven, white-collar work. The essence of such work has always been expertise - a deep, specific understanding of a particular domain. But the sheer volume of information available today surpasses human capacity to comprehend and leverage it.
Take, for instance, the legal profession. Today, with AI like ChatGPT, we see a capability to score in the top 10% on bar exams without any formal legal training. Consider the role of radiologists who analyze countless scans in their quest to diagnose conditions such as cancer. While their training equips them with substantial knowledge, it remains inherently limited. But with AI that has access to every scan and its outcomes, the accuracy and precision levels are bound to surge.
In our domain, marketing, AI finds applications across various functions. It enhances our efficiency, opens avenues for new ideas, and provides insights on positioning, understanding competitors, and so much more. The magnitude of data available is something a human mind simply cannot encompass.
This transformative shift that AI brings, especially in the knowledge-driven sectors, is precisely what I mean by the "White Collar Industrial Revolution." It's not just the next step; it's a giant leap into the future.
Unleashing AI's potential in marketing
It's evident that we're only scratching the surface of what AI can offer. As we delve deeper into its potential, particularly within the realm of marketing, the landscape's transformation becomes more palpable.
Our CMO, Ericka Podesta McCoy, had this to say about the topic, "People often forget that AI has actually been used in marketing for quite some time. Think about companies like Netflix or Starbucks; we've been experiencing and using AI from a marketing and customer experience perspective for a while now. It's become an integral part of our daily interactions."
The recent advances in generative AI have opened up newer applications that work behind the curtains. While I've previously pointed to the potential of AI in tasks like copywriting, Ericka brings a nuanced perspective: "Copywriting with the aid of AI can spark intriguing ideas and might push marketers out of their comfort zones. However, it's essential to recognize that AI doesn't replace human logic applied in the creative process."
Arguably, one of the most transformative impacts of AI lies in its ability to harness and make sense of vast data troves. As a CMO, Ericka navigates a universe of siloed data spread across various organizational verticals, from website metrics to mobile app analytics and customer experience feedback. The task of cohesively analyzing this scattered data is daunting.
Ericka elaborates, "For many CMOs, there's a struggle to process and derive meaningful insights from this vast, segregated data. But AI presents a leap forward. While we're currently harnessing AI for basic applications like summarizing or rewriting, its potential to process and decipher the extensive data a CMO interacts with remains largely untapped. And that's where the real excitement lies."
Harnessing the full potential of AI in marketing isn't just about automating tasks. It's about reimagining how we comprehend, engage with, and leverage data, bringing transformative insights to the fore and steering organizations towards a future brimming with possibilities.
AI in steering business goals
The vast expanse of data, stretching across multiple channels from brick-and-mortar stores to e-commerce platforms, has long posed a challenge for marketers.
Being able to seamlessly weave together these fragments to craft a comprehensive narrative of the customer's journey is no small feat. The potential of AI here is undeniable, not just in streamlining marketing operations but also in societal contributions. As Ericka points out, the rapid diagnostic capabilities, like early detection of life-threatening diseases such as lung cancer, is where AI can truly make a mark.
Reflecting on my journey in the tech world, the evolution of data stands out. I recall a time, roughly a decade ago, when 'big data' was the talk of the town. However, the focus gradually transitioned from merely amassing vast datasets to discerning valuable insights from it.
In the grand scheme of marketing, it's the scale of data that often feels overwhelming. Here's where I believe AI flexes its muscles, delving deep into this ocean of information and fishing out the most intricate nuances. These AI-derived insights, as I've observed, can sometimes stand in stark contrast to human intuition. It's these unexpected patterns and segments, which may seem counter-intuitive, that AI unfurls.
I often cite an exaggerated example to illustrate this: "Moms concerned about safety who wouldn't buy a certain car but love skydiving." While this is an extreme and not directly from our clientele, it underscores the potential of AI in pinpointing such unique intersections.
While AI doesn't supplant human intuition or creativity, it undoubtedly amplifies it. It equips us with richer, more refined data interpretations, setting the stage for more insightful decision-making in the ever-evolving marketing landscape.
Dismantling the 'average' with AI-powered insights
The 'jaggedness principle', which, while intriguing, is a testament to the limitations of conventional data interpretation. It's a principle suggesting that when we create an average or a persona based on varied data points, the end result often doesn't reflect any actual entity from the original set. With all the complexities and unique traits humans possess, creating a true 'average' is nearly an impossible task.
However, this is where AI starts to redefine the boundaries. Its ability to delve deeper and process multitudinous aspects of data can capture the intricacies that typical metrics might overlook. It's not just about a more comprehensive comparison; it's about recognizing those latent connections and patterns that make individuals, or groups, unique.
Traditional methods often compel marketers to start with demographics, which, while essential, can also be restricting. These approaches might inadvertently box individuals into broad categories, missing the nuanced interplay of factors that define them.
With AI, the starting point itself can be transformed. For instance, focusing on people's sentiments about the economy or their health, especially given the tumultuous events of recent years, can present a refreshingly different segmentation. What's revealing is that these segments often defy conventional wisdom. It's not just the baby boomers worried about the state of the world, but individuals from varied age groups and ethnic backgrounds. These insights, gleaned from AI's expansive analysis, can fundamentally transform how companies approach and market to their audience.
This new paradigm isn't just about data analytics; it's about a more profound understanding of the consumer. By transcending the traditional starting points, businesses can uncover segments they never knew existed. More than just a tool, AI becomes a gateway to unseen opportunities, challenging age-old conventions and setting the stage for more informed, nuanced marketing strategies. It's not about replacing human intuition but amplifying it, navigating the intricate web of human behavior with unmatched precision.
Challenging assumptions with data-driven empathy
Navigating through the dense forest of consumer behavior can sometimes feel like relying on intuition to find the right path. But with AI and its transformative powers, there’s no more assumptions. Instead, clear, objective paths are laid out by the precision of AI. It’s not about us trying to find connections based on our inherent biases. AI just shows the patterns, plain and clear.
Ericka highlights the depth and complexity of human nature and knows just how easy it is to fall into the trap of generalizations. It’s tempting to categorize people as ‘Republicans’ or ‘Democrats’, especially given today's political climate. But AI pushes us to think beyond. It allows us to see common threads that bind even the most seemingly divergent groups. As marketers, we've been prone to limiting our consumers to a few attributes. But with AI, we're learning there's so much more beneath the surface.
I’ve always believed in the power of human values. When we founded Resonate, our ethos was to approach consumers not as demographics, but as individuals with unique beliefs and principles. Traditional segmentation, though practical, often felt restrictive. Like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
I recall a conversation with a CMO a few years ago. She was proud of their 26 consumer segments. But when I suggested the possibility of these segments evolving or even multiplying within a short span, there was visible apprehension. This challenge of managing ever-changing segments was real and pressing.
That’s the beauty of AI. It simplifies the complex, making it possible to understand and respond dynamically to people's changing preferences. While many associate AI with chatbots or language models, its role has been pivotal across industries for over a decade. Today, more people are interacting and recognizing its capabilities, and that excites me.
The future? It’s not just bright; it’s revolutionary. The paths AI is carving out are leading us to not just better business strategies but deeper, more genuine human connections.
Blending human touch with AI: A vision for future operations
It’s intriguing how generative AI has moved into the public domain and how it’s influencing so many aspects of our daily lives, from writing speeches to generating recipes. It’s no longer confined to specialized domains but has seeped into our common routines.
But fundamentally, AI is a tool, not a replacement. Yes, you might get the base content from an AI, but there’s always that human touch, the personalization, which completes it.
For the past six years, Ericka and I consistently aligned our visions, especially when it comes to leveraging technology in marketing. I deeply respect Ericka’s forward-thinking mindset and her ability to harness the latest capabilities. With AI being a cornerstone of our company's infrastructure, it's paramount that we embed it into every layer of our operations. Ericka has always been proactive in this regard, staying abreast of the latest advancements and ensuring we stay ahead of the curve.
From people using AI to craft wedding vows to understanding its potential in marketing, it’s clear that the world is starting to recognize and interact with AI more intimately. The challenges, like analyzing vast amounts of data or creating specific imagery without massive budgets, highlighted the invaluable role of AI in today’s business landscape.
My vision has always been clear - we need to integrate AI across all departments, be it marketing, finance, HR, or any other. This isn’t just about staying updated with technology; it's about optimizing our operations and ensuring efficiency. I’ve set the tone for this at our organization, and it’s heartening to see everyone, from top leadership to ground teams, embracing this directive. After all, if we claim to champion AI, we should live and breathe it in every aspect of our operations.
Reaching consensus on AI usage in marketing for CMOs
When it comes to aligning your CEOs and CMOs about the role of AI, change your conversation to be about revenue, and you're headed in the right direction.
While the last decade has seen shifts in the CMO role, becoming more data-driven and technological, the core principle remains: focus on revenue and growth. Embrace the changes and opportunities AI brings, and understand its potential to drive efficiencies, cut costs, and optimize team performance.
There's been significant change in the CMO role over the past ten years. Today, a CMO must be a technologist, a data scientist, and much more. While it's easy to feel overwhelmed by headlines of job losses due to AI or concerns about technology replacing teams, it's essential not to be afraid. Instead, become an expert on the technology and figure out how it can be leveraged to make teams more efficient and effective.
One of the realities of being a CEO is being a generalist. I rely on my CMO to be the expert. It's essential for the CMO to understand how to create value through AI and bring those insights forward. Don't wait for the conversation to come to you; be proactive. Focus on efficiency and better performance, not just cost-cutting. Remember, efficiency means achieving better results.
From my perspective, companies primarily make decisions around three things: increasing revenue, decreasing costs, and risk. Among these, revenue has the highest multiplier effect. If you can frame the AI conversation around improving business performance and driving better results, you're in a strong position. As a CEO, I expect my CMO to be the best marketer and to bring forward the potential of AI proactively. We've gone all-in on AI, and its potential cannot be understated.
The CEO and CMO perspective on AI adoption
While I aim to steer clear of the doomsday conversations about AI, I can share insights from my extensive network of CEOs.
I'm a part of an organization comprising around 800 CEOs, and our interactions span various channels. Earlier in the year, AI emerged as a dominant topic of conversation. Initially, around 30 to 40% seemed to embrace AI, citing influences like ChatGPT. Now, two-thirds of the conversation seems to lean in favor of AI adoption.
Although some remain hesitant, citing concerns about trust and potential legislative impacts, the majority are now more inclined to integrate AI into their businesses. However, what remains unclear for many is the 'how' - the best way to go about this integration.
There's an undeniable veil of uncertainty when we discuss potential governmental regulations surrounding AI. While we're still trying to predict the trajectory, it remains a topic worthy of more in-depth exploration in the future.
Ericka has had similar discussions with other CMOs, and found that it's not so much about resistance but rather a matter of prioritization. The overarching question is, "How do I prioritize AI in the grand scheme of things?" While AI is undoubtedly a prominent topic, many other priorities compete for attention.
There's a genuine curiosity about how and where to apply AI, especially since it plays a significant role in agencies and B2C sectors. Although some headlines might suggest panic, Ericka perceives a more practical approach: figuring out AI's placement in their priorities and understanding its application.
AI and it’s risks: Layoffs and legislation
There are, of course, concerns about AI supposedly causing mass layoffs. However, in my perspective, these layoffs aren't precisely due to AI replacing jobs.
Tech companies saw unprecedented growth during the pandemic, mostly because the world transitioned to a virtual mode of operation. And as a result, the tech sphere expanded while other industries shrank.
Now, is AI taking over some roles that were previously managed by humans? Maybe, but not at the scale that is being touted. These layoffs are economic decisions stemming from rapid growth and an assessment of costs. It's not just about AI being a cheaper alternative.
The future landscape of AI, especially regarding its legislation in major regions like the US, UK, or EU, remains uncertain. The crucial question here is: should companies tread cautiously because of potential legislative repercussions, or should they dive right in?
Every company grapples with three primary concerns: risk, reward, and legislation. And AI is no exception. While there are potential risks, such as lawsuits concerning intellectual properties of AI models, I don't believe these threats will overshadow the immense value AI offers.
Legislative conversations today predominantly surround generative AI. However, even with legislation potentially affecting the volume of data feeding these models, the sheer scale still promises unprecedented value. Waiting might mean missing out.
AI can bring monumental advancements for businesses, and if a company misses this wave, they might not get another shot. Of course, there's always a need to ensure ethical practices in AI, but the opportunity is vast and the momentum unstoppable. My perspective? Don't miss out on this massive wave of progress. Dive in, but do so responsibly.
Guardrails for humanity in the age of AI
AI's transformational impact on society is colossal. Ericka equates the changes due to AI to those brought about by the internet and social media. And I wholeheartedly agree. We are witnessing a paradigm shift, one that will reshape humanity for decades to come.
Most upcoming regulations are about setting up guardrails, ensuring that as we leverage AI, humanity's best interests are protected. It's not about stifling innovation but rather providing a framework to avoid potential pitfalls.
One significant concern is the protection of intellectual property and brand identity. Especially in this rapidly evolving landscape, companies need to be vigilant about what data they input into AI models, ensuring they don't inadvertently lose domain over their valuable assets. There were cases like Samsung's, where they had to reassess their strategy after realizing that their code wasn't safeguarded. However, as quickly as such issues emerge, solutions appear too.
In the end, while there's a need to protect brands and assets, the overarching objective of AI regulations should be to safeguard humanity. Ericka believes it will be intriguing to see how governments, which have previously grappled with regulating big tech companies, will approach AI's unique challenges. It is indeed an extensive conversation to have.
The evolution of marketing teams in the age of AI
AI is also prompting an organic evolution of roles within a business setup. Drawing from my own experience, just a year ago, the term 'prompt engineer' wasn't a position in our team. Now, we have specialists who focus solely on working with generative models, because the way you interact and query these models matters greatly for obtaining actionable insights.
But, technological advancements have always given birth to new roles in the marketing domain. Remember, there was a time before marketing automation or even before the need for dedicated marketing operations roles. Similarly, while prompt engineers or similar roles might be distinct now, as the technology becomes more pervasive, the skills required to work with it will become fundamental for many.
While AI and technology will evolve and reshape many job functions, certain core skills will remain invaluable. Ericka emphasizes the enduring importance of analytical skills. It's one thing to have AI generate a report or a summary, but understanding, interpreting, and strategically acting upon that data is a human endeavor. As technology takes over more repetitive tasks, it will free up time for strategic, higher-level work, which in turn necessitates a stronger analytical acumen.
The marketing world is heading towards an era where continuous learning and adaptability will be key. With the rapid pace of technological advancements, professionals will need to evolve and acquire new skills regularly. Just as we now list proficiency in certain software or platforms on our resumes, soon, the ability to work seamlessly with AI models and tools will become a standard expectation.
While technology will change the landscape, the essence remains: to extract meaning, apply strategy, and drive value.
The next generation of marketers in an AI-dominant era
In the current age of digital interaction, performance metrics already play a central role in shaping content. Today's youth are naturally adept at discerning which posts or content pieces gain the most engagement and traction. Hence, even if AI takes over the creation aspect, metrics and performance data will still offer invaluable lessons.
Our experiences differ from that of the younger generation. Many of us have seen the world both before and after significant technological innovations like the iPhone. This transition provided a unique practical learning experience, helping us understand the 'why' behind technological solutions. But for the generation growing up with these tools readily available, will they lose the foundational understanding of certain concepts? For instance, the importance of knowing how to read a map versus merely relying on a GPS.
It reminds me of how the narrative around marketing has shifted over the decades. Not so long ago, analytics wasn't the dominant force in marketing as it is today. While manual content creation offers its own set of learnings, the future might revolve more around interpreting data, strategizing based on metrics, and understanding audience behavior. The field is evolving, and the role of creativity, while still important, might look different in an AI-driven landscape.
Drawing from my experience as a CEO, I've observed firsthand the waves of change that sweep through various departments. Topics like marketing operations, which weren't widely discussed decades ago, are now fundamental to many companies' success. Adapting to change, embracing new technologies, and continuously learning will be the hallmarks of successful marketers in the future.
The world is in a state of flux, and clinging to the 'way things were' isn't a strategy for success. We're on the cusp of many exciting developments, and while there are valid concerns about the future of learning and the human touch in marketing, the prospects are invigorating.
Essential skills for CMOs in the AI era
Ericka believes that a comprehensive understanding of AI is crucial for any CMO. This doesn't mean delving deep into the technicalities, but understanding its implications and transformative power.
Becoming a student of AI, embracing its potential, and recognizing its applicability within one's organization can be instrumental. She likens this to the gradual embrace of the MarTech stack that many in the industry underwent.
Gone are the days when a CMO could operate in isolation from technology. Today's CMO needs to don two primary hats: that of a technologist and an analyst. It's not just about understanding the marketing aspect; it's about understanding the tools, technologies, and data that drive it.
Ultimately, Ericka recommends the way forward is to embrace the changes, lean into the technological advancements, and recognize the potential they bring. Fear of the unknown or reluctance to adapt can be detrimental. In contrast, a proactive approach can unlock untold efficiencies and improvements in the quality of marketing efforts.
Are you and your CEO aligned on the use of AI? Whether you are or not, join the conversation with a global network of CMOs and marketing leaders on the CMO Alliance Community Slack channel. Join for free.