Standing on the Shoulders of Giant

This may be the quintessential Isaac Newton quote. Progress over the course of human history underpinned Newton’s discoveries. We are beginning to unleash a technology that could propel human knowledge forward exponentially: AI. Newton had millennia of human toil, countless large figures who comprised his “giants” – our giant may be artificial intelligence.

I was asked to comment on what I think the impact of AI will be on marketing. Well, I’d like to separate that into two aspects: 1) application of AI in the purest sense possible and 2) response to AI publicly and how that may impact it.

AI will consolidate marketers and where in the past one could specialize, it appears to me that AI will do a lot of the heavy lifting to empower marketers to administer an overall marketing program with maybe a smaller team, but also the ability to go so much further with the marketing efforts. When we think about 2% conversion rates being good, that also says that 98% are not converting. As marketers, AI will be able to crunch big data and develop ever-more-personalized efforts to the individual level. In the future, we may think of a 98% conversion rate as being low. However, in order for this future to be realized, part two of my thought comes into play.

Our digital economy has been built on proliferation of mining of free data that we have – often unwittingly – given. The public is becoming aware of this and questions are rising. Competitors to the tech titans are beginning to gain traction with government regulators to seek anti-trust lawsuits. It goes much deeper, but I won’t address many other factors at play. However, if the lubricant of this digital engine – data – dries up due to regulation, changing public preferences, etc. the positive that AI could engender will likely be held back from reaching its apex.

I don’t look at this possible outcome wistfully – I believe that necessary change of some form will come. I also believe that consumers need to come to terms with the following reality: there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Free content has proliferated online, and much of it has surely been for good. But, what about the impact on society of an eroded press, where countless newspapers across the country are shells of their former selves? With journalism being replaced by click-bait.

We did this to ourselves. Until we begin to take accountability for it, we should not be surprised when corporations do what corporations do. Believing that companies like Facebook, Google, etc. were benevolent entities was naïve, at best.

I believe the way we can take control of our digital presence is to pay a commensurate amount to own our information. That way, we can choose what we do with it, who we share it with, etc. Giving it away for free as we have for all these years seems to have made us think it had no value. With a robust 3rd-party data market, there’s no doubt tech companies won’t be giving it away for free.

So, what is AI’s impact going to be on marketing in the future? A lot remains to be seen, but the potential can be earth-shaking – that’s if challenges to its ascendance don’t pull the plug first.