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Artificial Intelligence

How Artificial Intelligence Is Changing Marketing

Artificial Intelligence is no longer a buzzword – it has become an indispensable necessity for businesses, and perhaps even more so for marketers. As Marketing, Technology and Data officers integrate AI as part of their tech stack, several considerations and questions remain regarding how to leverage its benefits smartly. 

I had the opportunity to chat with Aby Varma, CMO at the Shapiro Negotiations Institute, Strategic Marketing AI Consultant & Podcaster at Spark Novus,  and former SVP Marketing at Hexagon AB, Das Dasgupta, Chief Data Officer of Saatchi & Saatchi, and Shiv Singh, board member, advisor, investor, former CMO and marketer at LendingTree, Visa and PepsiCo and author—his latest book being the upcoming “Marketing with AI for Dummies”—to gauge insights on how Marketing leaders are embracing AI as part of their marketing strategies. 

Read on for main takeaways from these conversations. 

AI Integration: Prioritizing Outcomes Over Tools

The first challenge marketers face on AI is to invest time upfront. As Shiv states “the biggest challenge is that people give up too soon,” adding that learning AI can be similar to dating: “You have to enjoy the first date, and if it goes well, you proceed to a second date. The difference with AI is that the first date is guaranteed to be a bad one, but if you persist you will have a lifetime partner."

Next, comes the challenge of adoption. As Aby asserts, "Marketing is one of the fastest-growing use case from an AI standpoint." But a common pitfall occurs when leaders choose the tool before assessing its fit within the business. "Don’t chase after the tool, but chase after the business outcomes and work your way backwards," he advises. Das reinforces this principle: "It's easy to get caught up in the allure of AI technologies, but we must start with a clear understanding of the value we aim to deliver along the way," he says.

Acknowledging that genuine concerns still linger among leaders, Das positively points out that having a grasp of the immense impact looming ahead as AI and Gen AI evolve is important. "Let's assess the developments thus far and capitalize on them, utilizing better tools and capabilities for businesses to comprehend the impact effectively," he notes.

As part of the learning curve, the experimentation phase is key for marketing teams to tailor AI applications to their specific business needs—and derive maximum value. "Play with it, get your hands dirty. Like any other tech, aim at what business outcomes you'd want, and AI could help you achieve in a better, faster, cheaper way," Aby advises.

How AI Can Supercharge the Marketing Function

AI can truly provide "superpowers" to the CMO role if leveraged strategically. It doesn't mean that human skill and marketing prowess will be eliminated, but rather elevated. Businesses are increasingly exploring innovative AI applications, from predictive analytics to advanced personalization, for sustainable competitive advantage. 

At the same time, Das highlights, "left and right brain thinking" will always be imperative for impactful contributions. "Transitioning from manual and repetitive tasks to robotic process automations, accounts receivable, and accounts payable isn't a simple feat.” While these areas aren't directly tied to revenue, the impact is clear: they become 10 times faster and more efficient. He adds that the transformation doesn't stop there: "The second wave of impact emerges with generative ideas, generating images, videos, and problem-solving."

Shiv shares that sentiment, saying: “The CMOs who succeed will be those who bring more of the humaneness that human ingenuity offers to the table compared to those who don't. It will be about the sharpest consumer insights, having empathy, and thoroughly considering numerous breakthrough creative ideas that are not based on anything that has come before. Because if you're basing your actions on history, the AI will have a comprehensive chain of all the history that exists in the world.” 

To empower Marketing departments through AI, Aby suggests an approach centered on enabling team performance and goals around practical applications: "The low-hanging fruit for most marketing teams tends to be the content generation use case. The widespread use of ChatGPT, Google Gemini and other LLMs for ideation, content research, or initial drafts exemplifies how prevalently marketing teams are adopting AI when tied to that use case." 

Another exciting use case for marketers was shared by Shiv: "Marketers can create an entirely artificial focus group," he suggests. "For example, by uploading thousands of TikTok comments into AI to create brand personas, they can then establish an AI panel and ask questions from it. It's significantly more cost-effective, as it doesn't require hiring and paying a panel; instead, employees drive the process, saving time and delivering better results."

At the same time, Das maintains the value of human skills, especially in influencing, an area where bots struggle to compete. "The potential for AI to handle negotiating, influencing, selling, and debating remains a challenge for the future." 

The Data-Driven CMO

Not every leader is inherently data oriented, and some individuals may even doubt their capacity to make data-informed decisions. However, Das dispels the myth that data is not for everyone: "When you go out for a run in the morning, how do you decide what to wear? If you chose a thicker shirt because it’s cold outside, you used data to inform your decision-making. When you feel ill, how do you know? You look at the thermometer." Data shapes our daily experiences. In marketing, this also holds true. "Data-informed CMOs will be the new brand of CMOs," Das argues. 

With the data capabilities AI brings, marketing teams can redefine their roles and deliver even greater value to customers. And these efforts must be fueled by data-informed decisions. “A data informed CMO will understand the analytics foundation of what's working versus what's not working,” Das asserts. Aby echoes this sentiment, noting, "Humans aren't very quick in processing vast sums of data and extracting cohesive insights with traditional BI tools. AI can achieve this much better and at a lower threshold."

The benefits of AI extend beyond imagination. As Das wrote in a recent article, “Consider product leadership, for example. Generative AI can come up with millions of combinations of product features and ideas, resulting in huge efficiencies, along with ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas that have a clear impact on revenue growth and high efficiencies.”

Another example is advertising. Today, personalized ads tailored to our tastes and online behavior are commonplace. And Das predicts that Gen AI will take a step further and usher in a hyper-personalization wave in marketing—going beyond algorithms to avatars with real faces delivering messages and reminders using almost perfect human emotions. He illustrates: “Imagine walking down the street with your child, and your device alerts you to consider purchasing a new set of toys tailored to your baby's age and preferences. This personalized recommendation integrates various data points such as location, device ID, online activities, and personal preferences to curate a seamless and personalized experience.”

During these conversations, we also delved into the nuances between B2B and B2C marketing approaches. Aby emphasizes the significance of understanding the audience dynamics in both domains. In B2B engagements, establishing trust through personalized outreach and thought leadership content takes precedence. Conversely, in B2C, emotions wield significant influence, which demands the creation of deeply resonant and memorable experiences. 

By harnessing data, AI has the potential to propel marketing to unprecedented heights. This underscores the growing significance of customer experience and emphasizes the critical need for CMOs to harness AI and data analytics. Doing so enables them to offer personalized interactions that not only enhance customer satisfaction but also foster brand loyalty.

Navigating AI Adoption

As my Egon Zehnder colleagues wrote in a recent report, titled ‘Leading in the age of AI,’ most executives see AI as a significant opportunity both for their role and the broader organization. And while most understand that AI is critical, the lack of resources is the biggest stumbling block for them to feel fully prepared to navigate these changes. 

Das asserts that organizations are still in a learning phase. “Everyone's thinking, ‘how will my job be impacted, how do I reskill myself to be able to have control of this, and make sure I am at the right place right time to make those right decisions?”

For Shiv, marketers range from enthusiasts actively experimenting with AI tools, experiencing enhanced performance, to those firmly convinced in human skill superiority. In between are individuals cautiously navigating various vendors, unsure of what to prioritize. As for the CMO role in addressing this, leadership skills come in handy. “The CMO is increasingly unsure where to look and which use cases to tackle most urgently, partly because they see the opportunity, but also because they have the CFO closing monitoring their actions and some employees running to them all excited, while others are in apprehension mode,” he explains.

To scale AI efforts, Aby offered a flexible framework as a starting point for marketing teams. While not strictly linear, these phases can be integrated as needed within Marketing departments:

  • Strategy: The effectiveness of AI adoption hinges on its capacity to solve business challenges or capitalize on business opportunities. CMOs should focus on the value proposition AI offers, rather than viewing it as a standalone solution. Define prioritized strategic pillars to serve as a north star to guide efforts—like operational efficiency, customer centricity, or actionable insights. While these are not mutually exclusive, an order of priority can help guide subsequent efforts.

  • Education: Stay updated by listening to relevant shows, podcasts, and engaging with influencers in the field to ensure a comprehensive understanding of AI's capabilities and implications. Aby hosts a podcast, "The Marketing AI SparkCast," for marketing leaders looking to adopt AI. It is available on Spotify, Apple, and YouTube. Shiv’s newsletter, Savvy AI, is another resource available to those interested. In addition, investing in formal training ensures the team is equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to navigate AI integration effectively.

  • Governance: Establish a dedicated marketing council or committee to define guidelines and governance protocols in collaboration with other stakeholders like IT, legal, and compliance. Document these guidelines, tailored to the specific needs and regulations of the industry.

  • Experimentation & Adoption: Like learning to ride a bike or swing, mastering AI requires hands-on experience. CMOs must encourage experimentation within their teams and not deem it as a waste of time. Experiments can eventually lead to real adoption in alignment with strategic objectives and governance framework.

  • Evaluation & Iteration: Measure the impact of AI adoption and iterate on strategies to maximize its value to the business. Embrace a mindset of continuous improvement, leveraging AI to expand opportunities and drive business growth.


Incorporating AI isn't just about tackling technical challenges. What struck me most in conversations with these marketing leaders is the human aspect at the heart of the AI journey. 

CMOs need to prioritize collaboration, experimentation, and influencing skills to achieve their business objectives—these are the essential human traits at play. AI, if anything, amplifies human capabilities by handling repetitive tasks. It calls for experimentation, adaptability, business acumen, and the knack for effective persuasion. These skills will empower CMOs to skillfully harness artificial intelligence, thus reinforcing their crucial role as the link between the business and the consumer.

The Kellogg Marketing Leadership Summit 2024, hosted by The Kellogg School of Management's Center for Marketing Leadership in partnership with Egon Zehnder and McKinsey & Company, will delve into how senior marketing executives are navigating Artificial Intelligence on May 8-9. If you are interested in learning more, please click here.

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