Katie King on the Increasing Presence of AI in Marketing

As AI increases its presence in the marketing world, we thought it a good idea to catch up with Katie King, the CEO of AI in Business, and author of the book “Using Artificial Intelligence in Marketing: How to Harness AI and Maintain the Competitive Edge.”

Along with being well versed in the field of AI in marketing, she is also a member of the London-based All-Party Parliamentary Group on Artificial Intelligence, which was set up in 2017 to “address ethical issues and new industry norms for applying Artificial Intelligence.”

Over the course of our conversation, we talk to King about whether AI is friend or foe, brands that have effectively implemented AI into their marketing strategy, ways in which the technology is currently lacking, her advice to marketers on how to use it, and more.

What’s been keeping you busy lately?

Thankfully, my work has kept me really busy lately. My days are basically back-to-back Zoom calls with clients and prospects, participating in and hosting virtual events, and delivering training. Lockdown has accelerated the rate at which organizations are undergoing digital transformation and has business leaders rethinking how they’ve always done things.

This has been an incredible opportunity for many professionals to upskill and devise new tactics, so I’ve been helping clients get the strategy in place and educating and training staff.

On top of that, I recently launched a school initiative in partnership with the Digital Transformation EXPO that is aimed at closing the tech skills gap and providing AI education to young people. We have some excellent people from Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, PwC, the Alan Turing Institute, and University College London on board to deliver weekly training sessions on different AI topics, and at the end, the students will complete an AI-focused project. It’s been a lot of work getting it organized, but we’re on the third week of six and the feedback from both the students and the presenters has been fantastic.

Your book poses the question “AI: friend or foe of the marketer?” What’s the answer?

Friend, definitely friend. One of the biggest misconceptions people have about AI is that it’s here to replace humans. This is false and stems from media sensationalism and works of science fiction. AI will likely replace some jobs –the ones I classify in my book as the ‘dirty, dull, and dangerous’ ones— but it will also create or redefine many roles. The role of the marketer will change, but there will still be a need for human workers.

“On one hand, you have the marketers who have already adopted some of the tools, love them, and can’t imagine ever going without them again. Then on the other, you have skeptics who think AI is too costly to truly provide value, or who think adopting it is too difficult, or who simply don’t trust it.”

AI can gather masses of amazing data and analyze it in an instant, but none of it means anything without human marketers to make sense of it all, assess it in terms of business strategy, and implement any changes that may need to be made. AI can write tremendous copy or take care of the tasks that take up loads of a marketer’s time. All this means is that the marketer of the future will have more time to more strategic activities while AI handles the minutiae. Marketing and PR are demanding roles, and many professionals working in these areas experience burnout.

AI will be an ally for helping these professionals not only become more efficient and effective, but also helping them enjoy their work.

Having taken the pulse of marketers regarding the growing presence of AI, what are some insights both pro and con that you’ve gained on how they feel about it?

It’s a bit of a mixed bag at the moment. On one hand, you have the marketers who have already adopted some of the tools, love them, and can’t imagine ever going without them again. Then on the other, you have skeptics who think AI is too costly to truly provide value, or who think adopting it is too difficult, or who simply don’t trust it.

In my experience, the cost skeptics come to find that AI’s benefits often far outweigh the cost of the software, and it’s often the case that they’re getting a salary’s worth of value for a fraction of the cost. There are also a lot of tools available that are incredibly easy to figure out and very user friendly, it’s just a matter of selecting the right one and taking the time to get familiar with it.

“It’s a bit of a wild west out there right now. There are so many different tools on the market and the glue between them all is missing. There’s also a lack of standards and regulations to govern them all.”

As for the last fear, I think calming those skeptics will require international collaboration to draft some standards and policies. I’m part of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the enterprise adoption of AI which is working on doing this here in the UK. But I think until we have some sort of global rules in place, there will continue to be those who feel uneasy about adopting AI.

What are some examples of brands you’ve seen effectively using AI in their marketing?

One example is UK retailer Footasylum, who uses AI to their segment its audience into specific profiles and recommended the right moment for ad content sharing. Starbucks is one of the best at personalization, by offering its loyalty card and mobile app to collect and analyze customer data and use it to deliver personalized marketing messages to customers, including recommendations as they’re approaching their local cafe.

Image courtesy of Katie King.

I’ve also seen a few really great examples of using AI for in-store customer experience. It’s no secret that the high street has taken a hit due to e-commerce, so a lot of shops are bringing in AI to the shop floor.

For example, Alibaba opened a physical “FashionAI” store in Hong Kong, which is equipped with intelligent garment tags that detect when an item is touched to help inform the store’s stocking decisions and smart mirrors that display clothing information and suggest coordinating items.

In what areas is AI currently lacking and in need of improvement to be more effective for marketers?

It’s a bit of a wild west out there right now. There are so many different tools on the market and the glue between them all is missing. There’s also a lack of standards and regulations to govern them all. Loads of countries are working to draft ethical guidelines at the national level, such as what I mentioned about the APPG.

It’s great to have national guidelines, but since tech typically spreads globally, we need international governance of some sort to ensure that everyone is playing by the rules and producing safe, ethical technology.

On the creative side of things brands, such as Lexus, have run ads conceptualized by AI to mixed reviews. What’s your take on AI and creativity going forward?

I think we’re going to see some amazing creative works from AI going forward. In fact, the Ai-da robot springs to mind immediately. She’s the world’s first robot artist, and is powered by AI. Her artwork is incredible and has even been purchased by some of the world’s royal families. There have been a few experiments with AI in music, filmmaking, and creative writing as well.

While the attempts aren’t always perfect, even in these early forms the potential is astounding. In terms of human creativity, we need to consider the freedoms that AI can provide to workers in creative professions. As marketers, so much of our time is dedicated to routinized, often-mundane yet essential tasks such as tracking metrics. AI can take over so much of that burden, freeing up the marketer’s time and allowing them to dedicate more of their time to the creative side of the job. I think AI will breed some really amazing things.

What advice do you have for marketers who have yet to embrace AI technology to get started?

Many companies are still completing their digitization journey and don’t necessarily know what steps to take. First, there needs to be a strategic problem to solve. AI needs to serve a purpose, and the proposed solution needs to show value. The team needs to be realistic about what they can and cannot accomplish with AI.

The next step is adopting a change mindset and just generally being open to new technology. The C-Suite or upper-level managers might be the ones identifying which goals to chase or what tools will be adopted, but the marketing team needs to be clear on what those goals are and on board with the proposed initiatives.

I offer a Scorecard for Success in my book, which provides a framework for developing this mindset and measuring success. It’s crucial that progress is continuously monitored throughout the process, and the marketing team needs to remain honest with themselves and with management about what’s working and what isn’t, what’s achievable and what isn’t.

So basically, I’d boil it down to identifying problems that can realistically be solved, keeping an open mind, and communicating honestly throughout the process. It can seem daunting at first, but believe me there’s much more to be gained than lost!

This was published in collaboration with our content partner, Branding in Asia Magazine

Bobby McGill
Bobby is the founder and CEO of Think Content Asia.

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