The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) in a company is supposed to know people. To know people in the sense of knowing what turns them on and off a product, brand or service. Although this role does require more and more understanding of tech, marketing tech is developed outside the marketing department. The Chief Technology Officer or Chief Information Officer will arguably (but not always) more qualified and knowledgable of the software and style. Todays CMOs fear the automation of their job and the subsumption of their department into a larger one of which they may have little to no understanding or experience.
A survey from Spencer Stuart of 171 CMOs suggests that most marketing departments are using data and data analytics. The tools in question though may be as commonplace as Google Analytics though. The amount of data to be collected and analysed cannot be ignored by those watching the bottom line. For a company to do so would be like choosing a musket over a M14. Marketing won’t be aimed at people any more but at collections of data points and our digital assistants.
The Conversational UI
We currently engage with the internet via websites and social media. The user interface (UI) is navigated by our clicks and taps. All the while, AI assistants are growing in sophistication and usage. This is known as the conversational UI. Instead of a GUI demanding our attention in the future our AI assistants will be searching for information and presenting it to us. Marketing, now aimed at humans, will in the era of the Conversational UI will be aimed at these assistants. They’ll be hyperrational judges of what we may or may not want. Marketing will rely less on an understanding of psychology and more on how to beat the algorithms. SEO is an early part of this shift we’re all familiar with. Artificial Intelligence Optimisation will be the next iteration of this gaming-the-system industry.
AI is the process of turning mental processes into computational processes. Paul Davis, Microsoft’s CMO, imagines in the future data pulled in through an increasing multitude of methods. Think about what data wearables are collecting now and what they may be able to collect in 10 years time. Companies will use these new data sources to forge new experiences for consumers. Davis says these experiences will be invisible to the user. This seems like a step backwards from consumer awareness and conscietiousness. If people are being guided by marketing departments, in turn guided by AI, in the pursuit of profit what will our experiences look like? I shudder to think.
I enjoy sharing music I like with my friends. My friends like sharing music with me. We have however discovered that YouTube considers us very, very similar despite the multitude of ways we’re different. What this means is when YouTube suggests an album to me, chances are it has also been suggested to my friends. Big deal you might think, however the echo chamber effect was significant in electing Donald Trump and it will be instrumental in the evolution of culture.
Max Weber was a German sociologist, political thinker and sometime lawyer in the late 19th and early 20th century. Weber is considered, along wtih Durkheim and Marx, one of the founders of sociology. Sociology is non-profit marketing and marketing is for-profit social science. Weber saw the development of life in Western liberal democracies as one of increased rationality. We can see this in all the cool technology we’re using. Science blossoms in a rational environment. It can however be blunt and reductionist.
CMOs may be afraid of AI as it could put them out of a job. I’m afraid of AI as it might suppress individuality. Marketing tech is intended to understand and ultimately control (in subtle and not so subtle ways) consumers.