Oh it’s a biggie this month; Casey Petersen is conspiring with Ian Truscott to chuck Marketing AI into the Rockstar CMO swimming pool. Some would say a brave choice as artificial intelligence is such a darling of the current marketing zeitgeist. Do you agree? Get in touch.

Casey Petersen has been a leader in digital marketing for over 15 years and is currently Vice President of Marketing and Analytics at content creation app Photofy. A glance at Casey’s LinkedIn profile will tell you that this member of our extended Rockstar CMO band is results-orientated, and when I interviewed him for our Backstage series, he told it to me straight. 

None more so than when I asked him about what he would like to chuck into the Rockstar CMO swimming pool:

“Marketing AI. There is no Marketing AI – and I get really irritated the more we hear about it. Just because you made some complex ‘if-then’ rules and added automation, doesn’t mean you have an artificially intelligent marketing platform. Please stop.”

Yep. He said, “There is no marketing AI.”

Put “marketing AI’ into your search engine of choice and you get hundreds of thousands of results and it seems EVERYONE is talking about it. 

Page one of my search results included big names like IBM, Adage, Salesforce and Microsoft. The top five results were sponsored ads, indicating a vibrant interest in those keywords and presumably some marketers betting valuable ad spend that the keywords “marketing AI” will convert. 

A random click into one of these sponsored links reveals a vendor website that states as a headline: “AI-driven retailers are thriving. In fact, they’re growing 30% faster than those who aren’t using AI.” The stat was unattributed and after a quick noodle around the website, I couldn’t actually find anything to support the claim, but here was an organization that is entirely devoted to the thing that Casey claims is bullshit. 

What’s being discussed as AI is just rules – and sometimes they don’t need to be that complicated.

There is a coherent, believable narrative behind this current buzz, that machine learning and artificial intelligence can feed off yesterday’s mega trend of big data and take the hard work out of sifting for insight gold, make decisions and deliver consumer engagement without any marketing hard work. 

However, against this tsunami of overwhelming noise about marketing artificial intelligence, I have to agree with Casey – specifically about his point that most of what is being discussed as AI is just rules and sometimes they don’t need to be that complicated.

A chum of mine shared a great story with me over drinks the other night. Working with the marketing team of a large B2C financial institution, he lamented that as he tried to educate them about personalization rules in his company’s software, the team, presumably giddy from sipping too much of the sugary energy drink that is this artificial intelligence bullshit, couldn’t grasp this simple concept. Staring in wonder, asking how the AI happened.

Clearly, some discussion of what AI is (when do complex rules become AI?) has to be had – but artificial intelligence is of course “artificial”; it is just leveraging the power of 21st century computing to make very fast decisions, based on complex, criterial algorithms and models that in a proper machine learning environment it can (with human input) progressively improve.

Its potential application in certain marketing applications could be very exciting, of course, but to describe a marketing rules engine, however good it is as “artificially intelligent” is selling snake oil and yet another example of how in this industry we take a perfectly good technical term and turn it into nothing more than a fancy castor sugar dusting that we sprinkle over everything to make it look better than it is. 

AI in certain marketing applications could be exciting, but to describe a marketing rules engine as ‘artificially intelligent’ is to sell snake oil.

I confess, I have a small interest in the bastardization of the term, as I am working with a company that uses an artificial intelligence engine, honed by boffins from Oxford University, it’s the real deal. However, they now play in a muddy pond, full of this noise and bullshit.

But, you know what – who cares? 

Do we as marketers need a semantic debate over what is AI and what isn’t?

Should we be making buying decisions based on whether a tool claims to be artificially intelligent? 

Should we be working for CEOs that are impressed by the snake oil?

No.

We should focus on what the tool does, the results it can achieve for us. Let other people spend time arguing if it’s a rules engine or AI. Let the vendor believe that this shit makes them cool. I really don’t care if it’s a man in a robot suit.

Like anything we should focus on what we want – I say it’s ART (Awareness, Revenue and Trust) and invest in tools not for the buzzwords, but against our scenarios, use cases, a hands-on proof of concept and what will help move our marketing forward. 

So, yes Casey, we are chucking “Marketing AI” into the Rockstar CMO swimming pool – but only the bullshit that surrounds it, after all, how are we going to get Jeaniey Mullen her cobots?

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