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What’s Going on With AI in Marketing? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 351)

Team working on techology project to demonstrate AI in marketing

Google’s Marketing Live event last week offered some fascinating insights into how Google plans to shape the marketing environment in the next year. And core to its message was the importance of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing to its vision. What’s more interesting though, is that Google isn’t alone in how it plans to use AI in marketing. The entire AGFAM—Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft—depend on artificial intelligence to make their services hum. And, if you plan to win, so will you.

So, what’s going on with AI in marketing? Where are the AGFAM trying to take us? Why does this matter for your business? And how you can you be ready? The latest episode of the Thinks Out Loud podcast takes a look.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.

Thinks Out Loud Episode 351: "What’s Going on With AI in Marketing?" Headlines and Show Notes

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Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

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Recorded using a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Mic and a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface into Logic Pro X for the Mac.

Running time: 22m 40s

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Transcript: What’s Going on With AI in Marketing?

Well, hello again, everyone. Welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 351 of the big show. And thank you so much for tuning in. I think we’ve got a really, really cool show for you.

The AGFAM and AI in Marketing

Now, I know that just a few weeks back, I talked about the AGFAM, the Frightful Five—Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft—their quarterly earnings. And I will again, probably in about, oh, I don’t know, two months time when they come out with their next batch of quarterly earnings. But there’s a reason that I do. We know that these folks are shaping the digital ecosystem, the digital environment in which our customers live.

And I’m a big believer that when people tell you who they are, we should believe them, right? So this is when they talk to the market, to wall street and they say, "Here’s what’s going on and here’s everything you need to know."

There are other times during the year where they do the same thing. Facebook has its annual developers conference F8. Microsoft has a developer’s conference. Apple’s going to have its WWDC in just about a week or so. And the other day, Google had its Marketing Live event where it talked to marketers, advertisers, the people who pay them money about where they are, where they’re going and what their products and services to advertisers will look like here in the not too distant future. And where they’re going is amazing.

Google Plans to Make the Future

And by amazing, I don’t just mean the products, though they’re cool, there’s some neat stuff there. I need more in terms of how they think about digital and how they think about what digital is going to look like over the course of the next year.

I’ve used this quote a million times on the show, but there’s a famous Winston Churchill quote that says, "History shall be kind to me because I intend to write it." And clearly that’s what the AGFAM—Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft—do all the time. Google is telling us this is the future they intend to write.

Google’s Future is All About Artificial Intelligence

And the future that they intend to write is all about artificial intelligence. It is all about using AI in marketing and using AI and machine learning and natural language processing in their products to make those products smarter, to make them more intelligent, to make them more productive—and to build a moat around what they do that makes it harder for their competitors to compete.

All of that is great, except that sometimes their competitor is you. I don’t just mean when they offer a product or service that you offer, though, that happens. I mean, they compete for your customer’s attention and they increasingly, as we’ve talked about many times on the show, are gatekeepers that want to charge you for access to customers. You want to pay them less. So that’s a competitive environment as well.

AI in Marketing: Automated Campaign Execution and Automated Content Creation

Now, the reason I think this is so important is Google talked a lot about automated campaign execution and automated content creation. And I don’t intend to get into the specifics of each of these. If you want to learn more about them, I will post links in the show notes to the actual presentation that they gave as well as to some really good write-ups about it from a bunch of different people. Instead, what I want to focus on, are some of the things that Google said about the overarching trends and why these matter.

Google: "AI driven advertising is our future"

One of the most amazing acknowledgements in anything anybody said… Jerry Dischler, who’s the vice president and general manager of ads at Google said, "AI driven advertising is our future."

Google: "Ads are the largest use case for machine learning at Google"

Vidhya Srinivasan, who’s the VP/general manager of ads on Google properties buying and measurement said, "Ads are the largest use case for machine learning at Google." Think about that. Think about all the ways that Google is using artificial intelligence, all the ways that they’re using machine learning, all the ways that they’re using natural language processing. And they’re saying ads are the single largest use case for that technology. They want this technology to be the future of this company.

AI in Marketing: Why It Matters

Now, why does this matter? What matters to you for a bunch of reasons? One is whatever comes next down the road, whether it’s augmented reality or virtual reality, extended reality, crypto, something else, whatever it is that replaces mobile, whatever it is that replaces social or let’s be fair takes its place alongside those. Ultimately we’ll have artificial intelligence machine learning or natural language processing at its core. By the way, I recognize all of those have a lot of overlaps and all of those are subsets of the other and all that kind of thing. Again, you can look up the Wikipedia articles or read some great people on Twitter or people on LinkedIn who can get into the specifics of the differences.

It’s Not Just Google

My point is they are clearly building on top of artificial intelligence and not just Google. Facebook is, Microsoft is, Amazon is, Apple is, because they have to. So do you, right? It’s a key component of what we do.

When Google says that "AI driven advertising is our future," they’re not saying it because it’s a pipe dream. They’re saying it because of reality. They’re talking about how you automate the creation and the execution of campaigns.

Automating Content Creation

So let’s talk about the automation side a bit, if you’ve ever used, Google’s responsive ads, you’ve seen this idea where you build various headlines, you build various descriptions and then Google automatically assembles the ad from these various assets, right, the headlines and the descriptions, and picks the best performing one, and then channels more of your budget towards that. That’s been around for a while.

Some of that is being powered by AI. Some of that is being powered by just code, right? Just functional code that says, "Hey, if this, then that" kind of thing.

Well, they’re taking that a step further in some of the newer products, they’re looking at your landing pages, they’re looking at other creative assets that you created, and they can pull content directly from that and test that as well to see if they can make the ads perform better. This is pretty cool. They’re using natural language processing to read the content, see if it matches the intent of a given searcher and determine whether or not that would make better ad copy for you.

Will it Work? Does it Need To?

Now let’s be fair. We don’t know if this is going to work, but the fact that they even feel comfortable suggesting that they’re going to do this says they’re probably pretty far down the line in terms of getting it more or less right. It might not be perfect, but it’s close enough.

Now we are seeing other forms of flat out content creation, not so much in advertising, but if you’ve seen OpenAI’s DALL-E model where you type in text and it will generate a photorealistic image from the thing you typed, that’s the same idea. Google actually has their own version of this or another algorithm, another model called Imagen. That’s the word "image" with an N on the end. And I’m sure they’re very much going for an "imagine" pun there, but it does exactly the same thing. We already know about things like GPT-3, which is a model for generating text based on various inputs and the like.

Where Google is Headed… Probably

So right now, Google is only taking content that you’ve already created, whether it comes from your ads or whether it comes from your landing pages and using that to generate new text for ads. But it’s probably not that far off before they will simply generate text wholesale for you. You know, I’m sure there will be approval mechanism built in. So you can say, "Yes, this is valid for my brand, this is something I’m comfortable with or no, this is something I’m not comfortable with." But it’s clearly something that is within their capabilities today.

AI in Marketing: Privacy and the Decline of Data

Now, one of the reasons that they are claiming they need to do this—not the only reason—I think one of the reasons they’re doing it is they’re genuinely trying to make it easier for advertisers.

But another factor at play here is privacy.

Let me explain this. This is going to take a second.

The Current State

If you think about the way most marketing systems work day, you, the advertiser, you, the marketer create some content. You put it in some sort of promotional tool, like Google Ads, or like Facebook Ads, or like Bing Ads. You get a report that says, "Here’s what’s working, here’s what’s not." And then you use that data to make changes to the promotion in terms of how much budget you give it or what channels you put it on. So if you think about it, the machine is telling us something which causes us to input information into another machine. So the tool analyzes the data then presents that data to a human who then inputs data to a tool. I’m going to say this again, because it’s important. The tool presents data to a human, who then presents data to a tool.

Why do we need the human in the middle there?

Automate the Human Out of the Way for Privacy and Performance

And that’s what Google is doing. That’s what Facebook is doing. They are saying, "We don’t need the human in the middle, we’ll just go ahead and let the machine do the work automatically." And that’s especially important when we talk about keeping customer information private. So our friend, Jerry Dischler, the VP of general manager of Ads, who I mentioned before said that, "By 2023, 65% of the world’s population will be covered by modern privacy regulations."

In other words, we don’t want to show you too much data. We can’t show you too much data and we can’t show you too much data that you, a human being can interpret without violating the privacy laws that are going into effect in so many other places. We need the machines to infer things or identify patterns or identify features about specific behaviors without leaving it to a person to make the decision because the person’s not able to spot those patterns… because they won’t have access to the data to say, "What’s happening here."

It’s Not Just Google

They’re also having to do this with more pooled or aggregated data. We heard the exact same thing from Sheryl Sandberg on Facebook’s quarterly earnings call. She said during the earnings call that quote, "We are evolving our ad system to do more with less data."

Privacy and Automation Help the AGFAM Win

Now, both of these realities, the ability to automate and this privacy situation favors the AGFAM. It favors the large players and it favors the large players for a couple reasons. The first is, to do some of this work you need large volumes of data. I’ve said before, actually quoting my friend Ed St.Onge, that "AI makes big data little," which is true. But the inverse is also true. If you have little data and no big data, using AI isn’t going to do much for you, right?

No AI in Marketing Without Lots of Data

We’ve all kind of looked past big data as a term lately, which is okay, because we are more concerned about the outcomes we get from it, but you can’t get those outcomes, you can’t train a natural language processing algorithm, a natural language processing model. If you don’t have data to train it on and data to test it against. So that’s one area where the AGFAM has a distinct advantage.

AGFAM Pulling Up the Ladders

The other, this one’s a little more interesting, a little more difficult to pull apart because there’s a lot of different things going on here. But the other is this idea that privacy may benefit the folks who were able to build their businesses before the privacy regulations went into effect more than the people who have yet to build those large businesses, right? You’ve heard the expression "pulling up the ladders." We may be seeing some of that here.

Google’s got to be super in favor of other people not being able to get lots and lots and lots of data that they, Google, have gotten in the past. Facebook’s got to be thrilled that the Snaps of the world and the TikToks of the world may not be able to aggregate data in the way that Facebook has done. They’re pulling up the ladders behind them now that they have succeeded in a system that used to work a completely different way.

Who’s Got a Seat at the Table?

Also, because of their size and their lobbying ability and things like that, have something of a seat at the table to shape the privacy regulations. You know who doesn’t? Smaller companies. People like you. That’s crazy. So they—the AGFAM—have a distinct advantage here in terms of being able to automate because they got larger data sets to work with, being able to automate because they’re able to attract lots of talent, and being able to manage the privacy regulations more effectively because they actually succeeded in building their businesses before those regulations went into effect.

So… yay?

AI in Marketing: What Can You Do?

So obviously I’m not just going down this rabbit hole and just rant and like be like, "Ah, go after these guys with pitch forks and torches" or anything along those lines. It’s important to look at where you are and say, "Okay, what can I do about this? How can I make this better for my organization?"

Start Where You Are Today: What is Your Vision for AI in Marketing?

And the first thing that you have to recognize, and we’ve talked about this many times before, but remember this is not something you need to be afraid of. You need to start thinking about how and where it is appropriate to use AI, to use machine learning, to use natural language processing within your business, within your marketing.

Explore Tools That Already Exist

Sometimes that’s going to be using the tools that are made available to you by the AGFAM. Whether it’s Google’s platforms, whether it’s Facebook’s platforms. And I don’t just mean their advertising platforms. I mean tools like Google BigQuery, for instance, which allows you to actually apply some machine learning to large data sets that you may have. Obviously, you should look at other tools that exist out there, competitors to the AGFAM.

What Problems Are Too Tough to Solve Today?

But you nee d to think about where can these tools help you do things you can’t do already today. The point isn’t take things that you can already do using traditional coding mechanisms and tear them out and replace them with AI. It’s what are the problems you haven’t been able to solve? What are the things that you need to be able to do going forward to better understand your customer, to develop better products and services that meet those customers need.

Assess Where You Are

Assess where you are, right? You can use the Digital and E-commerce Maturity Matrix that is available in the show notes. And look at, in terms of, are you at an Ad Hoc level? Are you at an Aware level? Are you at a Striving level? Or are you at a Driving level for your business? And what do you need to do to move up that ladder?

You have to remember that AI isn’t going to take your job away and it isn’t going to kill your business, but smart people who put AI to work, might.

Core and Explore

So you need to keep learning. You need to keep thinking about this. Test with tools like DALL-E, test with tools like Google Imagen and see if you can use these to actually improve your workflow. We’ve talked many times before on this show about a "Core and Explore" approach. Keep 80% of your time and effort, 90% of your time and effort on the things you’re already doing, but take 10% or 20% of your time and start looking for what you can do better and where AI can help you.

Conclusion: What’s Going on With AI in Marketing?

The reality is AI is part of marketing today and remember both Vidhya Srinivasan and Jerry Dischler both said that advertising AI driven automation is the future. This is where Google is going and Facebook and Amazon and Apple and Microsoft. And if you want to succeed in the future, it needs to be where you are going, too.

Show Outro

Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time. I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode, as well as an archive of all past episodes of Thinks Out Loud. By going to timpeter.com/podcast. Again, that’s timpeter.com/podcast. Just look for episode 351.

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Thinks Out Loud on Social Media

You can also find Thinks Out Loud on Facebook by going to facebook.com/timpeterassociates. You can find Thinks Out Loud on LinkedIn by going to linkedin.com/timpeterassociates. You can find me on Twitter using the Twitter handle @tcpeter. And of course you can email me by sending an email to podcast@timpeter.com. Again, that’s podcast@timpeter.com. I’ve spent this entire episode talking about ways you can use AI to grow your business and grow your marketing.

Sponsor Message: SoloSegment

And I’d like to take a moment to thank our sponsor SoloSegment, who actually makes tools to help you do that. SoloSegment offers a tool called search as a service that helps customers of large enterprises find the content they need on your website. When you think about AI, when you think about how to use it to make your business more effective, why not help? The percentage of customers who come to your website and search, find what they want even more effectively using machine learning, using natural language processing and in a way that drives both a better customer experience and better business results for you. You could learn more about SoloSegment and all of the wonderful work that they do by going to solosegment.com. Again, that’s solosegment.com.

Show Outro

Finally, I want to thank you so much for the fact that you take the time out of your day, out of your week, out of your life, frankly, to listen to the show, it means more to me than I can possibly say. I know I say it all the time, but it’s so, so true. I would not do this show without you. With that said, I hope you have a wonderful rest of the week. I hope you have a great weekend and I will look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then, please be well, be safe. And as always take care, everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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