Michelle Huff

Marketer vs. Machine: The Next Frontier

It’s often easy to think of artificial intelligence (AI) in only the most fantastic terms - to imagine something closer to Rosie, The Jetsons’ robot maid, than, say, the hardware in your phone. But the truth of it is far simpler, and indeed, far closer to home; AI has already colored our lives in all kinds of ways, creeping into the apps we use, the devices we own, and for some (in the case of Teslas, certainly) even the cars we drive. It’s how we know what to watch (Netflix), and where to turn when we’ve lost our way (Siri). But what might it mean for the everyday marketer? Should marketers see AI as a windfall (an opportunity, helping them meet their objectives and revenue goals?), or their eventual downfall (what replaces them down the line)?

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"I don’t think the situation is about “man vs. machine” or essentially “marketer vs. machine.” But I do think that the marketers that best use technology and AI will ultimately have the competitive edge."

Michelle Huff  ACT-ON

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For me, I don’t think the situation is about “man vs. machine” or essentially “marketer vs. machine.” But I do think that the marketers that best use technology and AI will ultimately have the competitive edge. What leads me to believe this? I read an interesting story in Clive Thompson’s book, Smarter Than You Think, where he discusses the fateful chess match in 1997 that saw Garry Kasparov, a world champion, bested by the likes of Deep Blue, the IBM supercomputer. Maybe you remember it: a moment that shouldn’t have been - Deep Blue’s calculations surely too different, too clinical, for a game so reliant on human intuition.

ChessHowever, the event would inspire one of Kasparov’s greatest breakthroughs, and bring about the most extraordinary collaboration. He changed the game -- pairing chess grandmaster with computer, and combining the computer’s ultimate processing power and speed with human intuition insight and the ability to read the competition. This in turn inspired a whole new way of playing, a Freestyle chess tournament: chess made up of any number of humans plus any number of machines.

The result? In freestyle tournaments, even the most powerful chess computer couldn’t beat human+machine teams. There was just something about the combination that worked. Even more interesting: these winning human+machine teams didn’t have any chess grandmasters – most human members were relative amateurs! To win the game, they just had to be the ones that worked with the computers the best and knew when to rely on the computer’s recommendations vs. their intuition

Which leads me to believe: AI and machine learning may need us just as much as we need them. Think about it. We marketers have more channels to manage than ever before - more buyers to reach, more ways to engage them, more programs to manage and more data to comb through and analyze. Wouldn’t we benefit from an extra set of hands to see to the work we did, to optimize processes, recommend next best steps, and remind us of mistakes we’ve made previously? As channels grow, expectations change, and our challenges multiply, wouldn’t we all want to do more with less? Wouldn’t we want the competitive edge that helps us beat the “grandmasters” in our competitive landscape?

Why it matters:

"When applied correctly, AI can help bring more intelligence to the online journeys our customers travel, and enable us to deliver smarter, responsive, and more adaptive customer experiences; much more of a friend to us than a foe. It’s an ally worth calling on in these ever more complicated times, and if Garry Kasparov was right, maybe an ally we can’t do without. Leave the door open."

Michelle Huff

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AI and machine learning can be an amazing breakthrough for marketers - optimizing next best actions, streamlining workflows, strengthening marketing organizations, enabling us to adapt in real time to the journeys our customers travel. However, at the end of the day, B2B selling and marketing is ultimately a human-to-human interaction - we must connect and engage with people, establish relationships, surface pains and demonstrate value in solving those issues. Machines cannot replace the human insights we bring to those interactions. They cannot read a competitive landscape or create proper messaging that connects with the reader, and to that end, machine learning is perhaps best thought of as a recommendation engine: suggesting to us the prospects to pursue, predicting the next best message to send, identifying the right channels to use or optimal engagement times. Maybe even the thing that frees up more time for us to have authentic, face-to-face, person-to-person communications.

When applied correctly, AI can help bring more intelligence to the online journeys our customers travel, and enable us to deliver smarter, responsive, and more adaptive customer experiences; much more of a friend to us than a foe. It’s an ally worth calling on in these ever more complicated times, and if Kasparov was right, maybe an ally we can’t do without. Leave the door open.

Michelle Huff is the chief marketing officer of Act-On Software.

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