"Be prepared" is more than just the Boy Scout’s solemn creed, or a fun-but-obscure song by Tom Lehrer, the great singer-songwriter-satirist and retired Harvard math professor. It’s what marketers should do right now to get ready for the post-modern age of artificial intelligence hurtling toward them.
Near the top of the list of things to do now to prepare for “AI-mediated” marketing tomorrow is to better articulate your brand purpose and personality. That was among my big takeaways from the Association of National Advertisers’ (ANA’s) Business Marketing Association conference in Chicago earlier this summer. Let me invite you to listen in on the conversation that yielded this epiphany.
“One of the promises of AI is around the ability to create more personalized experiences for customers at every touch point, in context, at scale. But you can’t do that level of personalization, at scale, human-to-human. It needs to be human-to-machine-to-human,” John Ellet, CEO of marketing consultancy nFusion and author of the “CMO Manifesto,” told me in a side conversation between sessions.
In other words, human marketers training intelligent machines so they can dynamically customize brand messaging, in real time, for each and every individual target (and that target’s mood at that moment).
Of course, even with AI-mediated marketing seemingly rushing toward you, it’s still very early days. To paraphrase something Eric Schmidt said about the internet in the 1990s, it’s not only the first inning, it’s the first pitch to the first batter in the first inning. We don’t yet have marketers trained to teach AI machines, but that’s a different column.
The thing is, before you can train your marketing teams to train the machines, you must be able to articulate your brand at a greater level of precision than you’re likely to be doing right now. So that’s something you can get to work on today.
As Michael Ruby, Stein IAS’ chief content and experience officer, said when he joined the conversation: “How many times have you seen a big, thick brand guideline book that talks about ‘our company’s purpose, our brand’s purpose, what our brand personality is, and our tone of voice.’
“And it sits in those pages. Brand managers point to it and say, ‘This is what we’re supposed to be’ — but it doesn’t become actualized. AI is going to force you to do that because it will mediate the customer experience — and the customer experience is the brand.”
At this point the agency’s chairman and chief client officer, Tom Stein, who was inducted into the ANA’s B2B Hall of Fame at that conference, chimed in. “Even the good companies and agencies leave a little layer of abstraction between the brand and messaging we define and what really happens on the ground, in the sales organization, in sales interactions with the customer, and what customers are really doing and thinking about. There can no longer be that abstraction. You have to think it all the way through.”
In a human-to-human world, though, that little layer left open to interpretation is OK. With sufficient brand insight and training, human brains are perfectly capable of closing the gap by intuiting the right thing to do in most circumstances.
But, “if AI systems, going forward, are going to be dynamic brand ambassadors, and customers’ point of contact, marketers will need to think about how to articulate their brand at a level of codification that today is intuitive,” added Stein. “Where we say, ‘No, that’s off brand,’ or ‘This just doesn’t feel right.’ It’s still very much an emotional judgement. How do you get marketers to codify that in way that machines can understand?”
This challenge is closer than you think, because AI-mediated channels are emerging fast. And it is a critical challenge, because, as Stein put it, “The AI is going to carry the brand’s message to all of your prospects and customers. The AI will cut across all of your use cases, all of those buyer journeys, all of your personas, and deliver versions of your messaging custom-tailored to each individual. If that’s not real — if you don’t pull it all the way through — then people are going to have a bad brand experience. Think about what we have to do to get it even close to right!
“But by doing it, we’re going to be much better marketers. Much, much better marketers.”