This week I went to Stirling to attend the Academy of Marketing conference. I took part in a workshop that looked at the intersection between AI and Marketing. My interest in AI derives from my innate interest in technology. Almost 8 years ago, when I decided I wanted to do a PhD in something related to social media, it was the time when brands started to experiment in this environment, and since then it has led to a reshaping of marketing academic research, but also the emergence of new roles in marketing practice. I can see a similar trend emerging now about AI, and I’m convinced that this will lead to some exciting changes in the field of marketing.
The workshop was chaired by Ana Canhoto, from Brunel University, and unlike other formats in academic conferences where people present their research followed by a Q&A section at the end, this workshop had a different dynamic. Even though you had to submit a working paper to attend the workshop (here’s our on AI applications to manage customer relationships), the dynamic of the workshop was structured around small group discussions, as well as some presentations from practitioners.
What stroke me the most from the discussions that we had, was that AI use in marketing opens new challenges to those working and researching in the field. Here are a few themes that emerged from these discussions:
- AI and consumers. In the group where I was the discussion around AI and consumers had streams that related to the use of AI technologies, the ethical aspects, as well as the mechanisms that currently exist to manage the relationships with customers using AI tools. An interesting element that was mentioned was that for many, AI looks a lot like robots in Will Smith’s film with the same title. However, AI is already invisibly present in many of the algorithm that applications and devices that we frequently use (some examples included recommendation systems in platforms like Netflix or Booking.com).
- AI and marketers. Interestingly, our group reach to the agreement that the tides were changing regarding the flow of information from academia to practice. Traditionally, marketing academics have taken up the endeavour of generating theories and frameworks that are taught at Business Schools for marketing practitioners to learn and apply in their own practice. However, we discussed how the revolution of AI in marketing seems to be driven by marketing practice, as they leverage in the technology advancements to enhance customer experience and use more evidence to support marketing decisions (or even leave algorithms to take the decisions based on their learning). Everyone agreed that more close collaboration and industry is imperative. To some extent, I find the research priorities set by the Marketing Science Institute every 3 years to reflect quite accurately the needs of the sector.
- AI and marketing academia. In our group, the discussion about AI and marketing academia had two streams: methods and teaching. On one side, we discussed how with the availability of different big data sources from consumers, traditional methods commonly used to gather information from consumers like surveys might be redundant. Some of the members argued that despite the strong predictive power derived from machine learning, there would always be the need for other types of qualitative research that can help us understand the underlying mechanism of consumer behaviour. Another element that was raised by the attendees was the knowledge and skills that are needed to be taught to marketing students at universities to prepare them for the roles that industry is currently craving for. The need for more interdisciplinary teaching emerged as a possible solution to the current skills gap that recent graduates can have after finishing their degrees.
I’m glad to have attended this workshop and to be able to discuss some of my ideas on the implications of AI in the field of marketing. Looking forward to starting a couple of new research projects in this field in the coming months.