The Artificial Intelligence Impact: Friend or Foe to Marketing?

The era of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is upon us. More and more, computer systems will become able to perform tasks that previously required human intelligence, such as decision making, visual perception, and speech and language recognition.

Marketing, like most other fields, will feel AI’s impact in several areas, including database marketing techniques, search queries and search engine optimization (SEO), personalization, predictive customer service, sales forecasting, customer segmentation, pricing, and many others.

Act-On recently asked several marketing experts and analysts for their assessments of the pros and cons of using Artificial Intelligence in marketing and what they foresee for the future.

Question: Will Artificial Intelligence (AI) be marketing’s friend or foe? How do you see the two co-existing as AI becomes more mainstream?

Jim Ward (Act-On customer)


As AI learns and develops, I can foresee buying behaviors and automated nurture- or real time- programs tied together as an example. Literally with any data that impacts behavior, AI will be able to quickly make assessments and guide a process. Think about the weather in a target region and how that might impact a buyer, or a decision process which, connected with marketing automation, will likely enhance results.

David Raab

Industry Analyst
Raab Associates

If AI takes over our jobs and relentlessly seeks to eliminate all vestiges of human involvement, Terminator-style, I guess that would qualify as “foe”.

But it’s much more likely that AI will augment human capabilities, in particular by making individual- or micro-segment-level decisions with much more specificity than humans can do. In other words, AI can easily monitor individual behaviors and find appropriate responses in millions of different situations, whereas human marketers can only deal with segments and create rules or workflows that deal with dozens or hundreds of situations.

Similarly, AI can closely watch results to find new patterns as they emerge, something that humans can only do sporadically and with less attention to detail. For example, it’s wholly conceivable that AI could write individually tailored catalog content for tens of thousands of items, taking the tone and pitching the features that will most appeal to every person based on their psychological profile.

What AI won’t be able to do for a long time is to come up with radically new ideas, or to judge which random possibilities are actually promising enough to be worth testing. So we’ve already seen AI take over some more routine marketing tasks, such as certain kinds of reporting and analysis, and even climb a bit up the value chain to making suggestions based on those reports. That will be more widespread.

And, AI will take over much of the actual message selection, replacing human-built rules with AI-based recommendations: something that’s also already in place. One thing I do expect is that AIs will broaden their scope, so instead of a lot of separate AIs, each handling a particular task (chatbot here, recommendation engine there, etc.), we’ll see a single AI or several tightly connected AIs working together.

Michael Krigsman

Industry Analyst
CXO Talk

AI is a tool; it’s neither the next great hope for marketers nor something to fear and avoid. If we remember that AI is really advanced pattern matching based on lots of compute power crunching through large data sets, the whole conundrum becomes easier to manage.

AI tools can find correlations between customer digital activity and likely subsequent behavior. For example, AI will help us personalize and tailor messages specifically for individual customers. If a woman on your site is looking at shoes, historical data patterns may suggest that sending an offer late in the evening will be more effective than during the workday. Or maybe the patterns will show that men buying black shoes in wide sizes on the weekend are six times more likely to buy blue socks within three days. AI can help us find these patterns in ways never before possible.

Despite the obvious benefits, there are also real concerns, especially around privacy. With great power comes the ability to become annoying — and even creepy. Marketers must temper their enthusiasm for personalization with the caution not to be overly intrusive. Remember the story of a teen whose father found out she was pregnant because her shopping patterns at Target triggered advertisements for pregnancy items? That’s beyond creepy and it’s all based on data and analysis.

The lessons for marketers are clear: Use AI to personalize messages your customers will welcome and want. Think about campaigns through the eyes of your customer; if it’s helpful and useful to customers, they’ll respond positively. If the personalization becomes too personal or frequent, you’ll just alienate valuable customers. As with many things, finding the right balance is critical.

Douglas Karr

DK New Media

As with any tool in marketing, AI can be either [friend or foe]. Email, for instance, gets amazing results when utilized effectively. When it’s not, you’re a spammer who is doing more harm than good. AI is no different; it’s a tool that will have tremendous results when applied to situations where the marketing strategy is on a solid foundation.

Bots, for example, may hold great conversations for a company that has too many site visitors to respond to each independently. They can both help or route the conversation based on the interaction learned. A/B and multivariate testing with AI will help marketers automatically improve their site copy or even personalize it for maximum input. AI can streamline and reduce the workload on the marketer, enabling them to build strategies instead of handling mundane tasks or efforts they lack the resources for.

Daniel Newman

Principal Analyst, Futurum Research
CEO, Broadsuite Media Group

Artificial Intelligence will be the best thing to ever happen to marketers. With all of the data being created every second, there is almost no way for marketers to access and process all of the useful data in real time. This is where AI will be able to augment the role of the marketer. By rapidly processing and synthesizing an unprecedented amount of data from across the web and from our structured data systems, marketers will be able to get closer to not just real time, but also to right time marketing that puts the right information in front of the right consumer in as close to their “Zero Moment” as possible.

Christine Crandall


Our love/hate relationship with AI has its roots in science fiction movies like Her, Transcendence, and Star Wars. In these stories, AI thinks for itself, creative problem solves, and mostly tries to keep humans from getting into more trouble. Fiction is great, as it fuels dreams of innovation. The reality of AI is quite different. Software programs, created and managed by humans, perform predefined micro-tasks following pre-set decision trees designed to automate routine, repeatable tasks.

Augmenting marketers’ skills, akin to being their wingman, AI will have more impact on the discipline than any martech product to date. The ability to quickly conduct data analysis to spot and evaluate trends and then develop risk/return-based actions to a host of routine activities and decisions such as ad networks, keywords, CTAs, personas, journeys, budget and ROI reports, competitive intelligence, etc., will enable marketing to focus on higher value-add activities better suited for humans such as strategy, cross-functional collaboration, new business/markets, customer alignment, etc.

How each organization, however, leverages AI depends on its own market, business model, and core competencies. It won’t be “one size fits all” but rather an ecosystem of interlocking frameworks that will require marketers and CIOs to closely partner in order to reap the potential benefits. Marketing will need to prepare for AI and carry forward the lessons learned from predictive analytics and today’s patchwork of martech solutions — automation can only offer recommendations that are as good as the underlying data sources. In the end, the human is still the pilot.

Blake Morgan

Customer Experience Futurist, Author, and Keynote Speaker
Columnist at Forbes

Artificial intelligence makes marketers better listeners. Machine learning can help determine what a customer needs. That said, being a good listener is an important piece of being a good communicator. It’s marketing’s job to learn how to communicate to prospects and customers. Marketing will rely increasingly on AI in the future to determine what customers need, what they want, and what kinds of experiences they are looking for.

Morgan’s book More Is More: How the Best Companies Go Farther and Work Harder to Create Knock-Your-Socks-Off Customer Experiences can be found here.

John Koetsier

Journalist, Analyst, Futurist, and Dreamer

AI is most definitely going to be a marketer’s friend. Marketers spend far too much time right now gathering, merging, cleansing, and normalizing data, and AI is going to make that simple. (In fact, it already is.) In addition, the customer journey is far too complex — one company mapped 500 points on their customers’ journeys — to really understand, never mind react to in real-time with appropriate messages, resources, or services. AI will also help here, delivering on the promise of technology by enabling one-to-one communication with prospects and customers at scale.

Ankush Gupta

COO & Editor-in-Chief
MarTech Advisor

Marketing is driven by consumer behavior and needs. And, consumers today expect marketers to be clued into their expectations, actions, and needs in real time. Of course, they want this without marketers being the least bit intrusive or creepy. And, marketers on their part want to seem like they knew all of this somehow magically, making the entire delightful experience as seamless as possible.

So, I think yes, AI can and will be marketing’s friend, because there is no other way for marketers to provide personalized delightful experiences at scale. Whether it’s with customer experience or business decisions, AI is going to propel marketing into the future, which is all about data and intelligence.

Not only do I believe AI and marketing will co-exist, AI will be the driver for marketing to keep pace with customer dynamics and evolution. Whether you’re talking B2C or B2B, buying behavior is changing dramatically and at great speed. There is no way to keep pace with it manually. But, AI can do the heavy lifting at scale. Whether it’s tracking the millions of customer-generated data points and variables, running analytics on seemingly disjointed pieces of data and turning it into intel, answering (millions of) customer queries intelligently in real time, or recommending micro-segmented campaign strategy based on predictive models, AI can be the strongest ally for marketing yet.

The only catch is getting the balance between machine-generated intelligence and human instinct and discretion right. Building in cultural nuances, for example, is a critical area for technology and marketing to get right before entrusting customer experience to AI.

Dom Nicastro

Staff Reporter

Poor customer experience is an epidemic. It’s going to bring down the largest companies in the next few years. The only ones left standing will be the ones that provide exceptional experiences.

I know this personally because I went through a terrible experience where I was bounced around several different channels in an ordeal that took weeks to resolve. No matter how great the product and technology is, no matter how many great offers and discounts I get, I associate this brand with that experience. And I tell people about it.

How does this relate to AI? I do think machine learning engines could have been used in my experience to at least learn more about me — which channels do I go to in order to resolve problems, what’s my tone and sentiment toward the brand? “Dom, we understand you’ve interacted with us several times recently. Let us help you now.”

Still, though, AI will not eliminate the need for the marketer to do the foundational work for knowing its customers. In other words, marketers will mostly always be the ones creating content, delivering content, and managing content.

AI can be a great friend. It won’t matter, though, if brands aren’t committed to exceptional experiences ― in marketing and beyond.

Barb Mosher Zinck

CEO, Content/Product Marketer, Marketing Technology Analyst
BMZ Content Strategies
Digital Tech Diary

The discussions around AI and marketing are heating up, and there’s good reason for this. Marketing is under great pressure to deliver more personalized targeted experiences ― and to do that at scale is just not possible using manual techniques. AI is the answer to personalization at scale, but it needs to be done well, and how it’s working needs to be transparent to the marketer.

The biggest concern is a technology vendor will wrap artificial intelligence in a black box and expect marketing to just “know it works.” That’s a bad idea. Marketing needs to see the data that drives AI decisions; they need to understand how AI is implemented. Maybe they don’t understand the details of the algorithms, but they have to understand the strategy and approach. And, depending on the purpose of the AI, marketing may need to influence how it works by configuring some key aspects.

I don’t think we’ll ever be in the position of looking to technology to do everything for marketing automatically, but there are certainly areas where AI can take the load off the marketing team. Marketing can then focus on aspects that technology can’t do or that we don’t want it to do on its own, like creative, like strategizing messaging, designing campaigns, and key customer interactions.

Ann Handley

Head of Content

The editor in me wants to edit your question: It’s not future tense (“Will AI be…?”); it’s present tense (“Is AI…?)

Artificial intelligence is already here. And it’s already our friend.

It might seem that AI will render some marketing jobs obsolete. We could argue that machines that do the gathering and interpreting and optimizing better than people will forever alter the jobs of those marketers who are focused on interpreting data, doing testing, and optimizing campaigns.

But we could also argue that those same marketing technologists and data scientists are also perfectly situated to in turn manage and leverage those AI systems and technologies.

I come out of the creative side of marketing (like most marketers have). So, should we artsy-fartsy creative types be freaking out at the rise of AI?

Nope. Because writers, designers, videographers, and storytellers are more valuable than ever. A world steeped in AI means we have the data and processes in place to get to know our customers better. We can use the brilliant gold that AI beautifully spins for us to craft more effective marketing — to create brighter, more creative, and more winning programs. We can also zig while the machines zag. Because sometimes breakthrough marketing is doing exactly what your customers don’t expect.

At least, that’s how I see things.

To quote Noam Chomsky: “Thinking is a human feature. Will AI someday really think? That’s like asking if submarines swim. If you call it swimming then robots will think, yes.”

Kerry Cunningham

Senior Research Director
Sirius Decisions

AI will be a great friend to organizations that market. AI will be a great friend to marketing leaders and the marketers who learn to incorporate AI into their skillset. Without a doubt, artificial intelligence is going to help organizations and the leaders that implement AI effectively become more effective and more competitive. From automating some prospect communications altogether, to automating various aspects of prospect nurture, prioritizing and sourcing prospects, and even improving pipeline and revenue forecasting, there are a variety of ways AI will improve marketing effectiveness.

As with all processes that automate what would otherwise be human actions and decisions, there may be displacement. At the same time, many of the actions and decisions AI can improve and automate are actions and decisions that don’t even occur today. For example, marketing organizations have automated, programmatic nurture programs, but these can also be enhanced with AI to react in real time to prospect behavior and market conditions. Such an enhancement should improve nurture performance (possibly leading to growth and new opportunity), but doesn’t involve displacing existing people and processes.

AI can also be inserted into very human-centric processes, such as teleprospecting, to optimize the intensity, timing, and even content of teleprospector calls, helping revive a challenged B2B function.

Back to you:

What are your thoughts on AI in modern marketing? Is your firm taking advantage of any of these technology advancements? Tell us your thoughts, experiences, and predictions in the comments!