The ways and means in which brands can engage customers have evolved hugely in just the recent past, even more so when we look back to when I first started working in the marketing sector a decade ago. Even post-GDPR the sheer range of data available to marketing teams gives them the ability to learn, personalise and target like never before. The spectre of artificial/augmented intelligence (AI) and machine learning signals the next step in this process, but it also points to one of the biggest challenges businesses must address if they’re to truly capitalise on this increasingly data-driven future.
Technology is nice, but can you use it?
As data continues to transform the way businesses go to market, the demand for marketers who are driven to develop their own skill sets and organisations that embrace a learning culture will only grow. Marketers of the future will need to be equally proficient in analytics, creative thinking and AI integration. Put simply, we will need marketers that can think like data analysts and data analysts who can think like marketers.
It is hard to imagine any marketing role that will not be driven by a need to use data to develop the customer insights that inform every aspect of the customer journey. Getting the right message to the right customer at the right time and in the right format for the context will be a key business driver. The next step in this journey will be imbuing AI with these techniques, with the customer-first principles that marketers must always be sure to retain too.
The rise of the data-driven economy has already seen a substantial increase in technological investment. But the key skills and competencies to utilise this technology – whether AI or martech – is a critical business challenge. Innovation and shiny new technology for its own sake is not the answer. Marketers must be able to use technology to make them more productive.
Critical to business’ futures
Our most recent research into the key skills businesses need to succeed today and into tomorrow will be released in the coming months as part of the ‘Business Skills Census 2019’ report. What I can reveal now is that AI and machine learning has been identified as the most important area organisations must develop staff skills in.
The research asked marketers to identify the skills and challenges facing their organisations today and their importance in the future. Skills in AI & machine learning were found to be available within 45% of organisations, according to marketers. 64% stated that these skills would be important to the future success of their respective organisations, revealing a substantial skills gap (19%) within this survey.
Furthermore, 87% state that developing skills in AI & machine learning is vital to their organisation’s current success. This highlights the urgency with which businesses will have to address this knowledge gap if they hope to succeed.
Critical to professional development
In fact, when we asked marketers about their own abilities and the areas they need to develop to progress in their career – as part of the ‘Professional Skills Census 2018’ – they again highlighted AI & machine learning as key. This burgeoning set of skills had the biggest gap of all 33 we analysed, with a 25% difference between perceived importance between marketers’ current roles and for future career progression.
Highlighting how AI & machine learning are already driving intelligent marketing and data analytics, which is resulting in a rise in jobs requiring these skills. According to a 2017 analysis from jobs site Indeed, the number of roles in AI has risen by 485% in the UK since 2014, and there are twice as many jobs requiring AI & machine learning skills as there are applicants.
More than a marketer
Technical skills are a key part of being a marketing professional. For example, marketers need to be able to analyse, segment and interpret vast amounts of consumer data, to better understand consumer preferences and trends. They then need to devise marketing strategies, often using a range of software and social media platforms etc. to engage with them.
However, there are many other attributes that marketers require to succeed. Creativity, innovation and ethics will be essential in an age where businesses need to stand out from the competition and build consumer trust. Additionally, the ability to communicate with different audiences, including internal stakeholders, for example, will be critical to success in complex businesses. It is obvious that marketers will need to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances through continuous training on new tools and platforms, but critical thinking and the ability to surface valuable insights will be equally important.
AI and machine learning systems will only increase the availability and scope of data, and so marketers will need to be able to interpret this information effectively and understand how to communicate this back to management teams and adapt their marketing approach accordingly. In this era of augmented intelligence and machine learning the technology at our disposal and at the disposal of customers is more powerful than ever. But with powerful technology comes great responsibility.
Marketers will, therefore, be responsible for training the AI that will work on their behalf to create great experiences for customers. A key part of this will be the ability to create the ethical frameworks in which these new technologies operate. Marketers will no longer be responsible for just their company’s short-term sales and long-term brand loyalty, but to the actions of the AI’s that we create too. We must ensure that the people feel safe in the new data-driven economy and that they understand the benefits – as well as the exchange in value that’s taking place.
Setting the standard
Future-proofing you and your business requires a commitment to supporting the development of knowledge. Ensuring your teams are up to speed and have the ability to take advantage of technology like AI will not just be key to businesses, but continuing to acquire the best talent too. A commitment to learning and professional development becomes a differentiator for many in the data and marketing industry.
As data continues to fuel ever more intelligent marketing practices and transform the way businesses communicate with customers, the demand for marketers that are qualified will increase. Accredited training and best practice will help the data and marketing industry establish a professional standard within the sector.
Ultimately, data has many creative applications and requires a range of skills to be used efficiently and effectively. AI and machine learning offer an exciting opportunity for businesses to better use that data in creative ways. However, to do that they must have the skills available to their organisations to build, cultivate and maintain these technologies. Organisations and professionals that are able to succeed in this environment will be those that cultivate a culture of learning and development. Allowing the industry to expand its range of cross-discipline and specialist skills, to apply them – with new technologies – in a way that makes us all more intelligent marketers.