AI in marketing: 7 areas where it shines and struggles

Marketing needs to reckon with the role of AI in its world. Here are a few guidelines for thinking about AI in 2023 and beyond.

AI is changing our world even if we can’t see it. It’s helping us navigate to places faster, get products into our hands and even diagnose diseases. In this article, though, I want to explore the role AI can have in marketing. It may not be as grandiose as helping cure cancer but marketing needs to reckon with the role of AI in its world.

This is a timely article, especially since ChatGPT went viral. If you haven’t been following the news, ChatGPT is a project by OpenAI, a company working on driving making AI tangible in the business world. It functions like any kind of chatbot where you can ask all kinds of questions and get answers back in seconds.

The “cool” factor is that you can ask highly specific questions and get back answers that could have been written by a human. For example, I asked ChatGPT to tell me the three most important elements in marketing but to give me the answer in the form of a haiku.

Here’s what I got back.

AI in marketing: 7 areas where it shines and struggles

The trouble with AI is sorting through the hype. Parlor tricks like my haiku question are cool, especially on Linkedin. But we need to get to the essence of the value AI can provide while being clear on what it cannot do. Here are a few guidelines for thinking about AI in 2023 and beyond. 

Dig deeper: Why we care about AI in marketing

Where AI shines right now

AI is still in its early stages. Despite what you may see and hear in conferences and Linkedin posts, AI still has a long way to go. It can do several things quite well but it still struggles with others.

If you read or follow certain people, you would think we are just a few months away from living in a Black Mirror episode where AI rules everything.

Keep in mind that some use cases of AI — such as self-driving cars — have been “10 years away” for more than 50 years. I don’t doubt that we will accomplish certain feats but it will take longer than expected. 

In the meantime, here are the areas where AI can legitimately help marketing teams. 

1. Cleaning data

Marketers have a love-hate relationship with Google Sheets. It’s common to encounter dirty data that needs to be cleaned before it can be used.

I recently helped a team clean an Excel file with hundreds of contact requests structured in the worst way possible. AI — and even ChatGPT — can help you here.

There are now Google Sheets extensions that sort through your data and apply transformations. You even see the beginning of this kind of shortcut built into Google Sheets directly by suggesting formulas you can use.

2. Transcribing videos

Video captions are huge in today’s world — just look at any TikTok video. Luckily transcribing is becoming easier with AI, and it’s surprisingly accurate. 

You can do it after the video is recorded or even in real time. The addition of subtitles provides all kinds of benefits and you no longer need a human to give you great captions. 

3. Creating assets

The days of Getty images might be over. AI can create images or assets of all kinds. I saw a project that creates human avatars to be used in marketing. The assets look realistic and don’t carry complex usage licenses.

There will still be demand for pictures of real places and events but other artistic work will be slowly replaced by AI-generated images.

4. Surfacing insights

Tools like Google Analytics are using AI to surface insights from your data. Some insights are pointless, while others are worth exploring. Expect to see more of this kind of data analysis as a way to sort through the increasing amount of data that marketing teams collect.

Marketers do not lack data, but insights. AI might finally be the breakthrough that allows us to dig through their never-ending pile of data points. 


Where AI struggles

We are not being replaced by AI — yet. Maybe poem writers might struggle to find work but AI can’t match certain human skills. The debate on whether this will always be true is a topic for another article.

AI should be viewed as support for marketing. You will still need real humans for several tasks, but thanks to AI, you can free up your time to tackle the three areas below. 

5. Creativity

AI can surface insights but creativity is still the realm of humans. Deciding what campaigns to run, how to appeal to human desires and how to bring it all together is something only humans can do.

Kayak recently ran ads — the Kayak Deniers — that were brainstormed by AI. They looked at the language and topics that were popular in social media and then created ads around them. 

They are clever but will be less impressive once everyone starts doing them. If everyone is using the same algorithms, you will end up with the same answers. Hence, the value of human creativity.

6. Uniqueness

While AI text may be factual, it is missing the unique voice of humans. We all know authors we could recognize by simply reading a few sentences of their writing. You can still infuse the concept of a voice into all your content.

AI will kill boring content that simply states facts. That’s probably for the best. If someone wants the facts about B2B marketing, they should go to Wikipedia. If they want to solve their problems, they need humans to help them.

7. Strategy

Humans still need to figure out the strategy. Making these decisions isn’t just about looking at the data but taking into account a variety of factors. Sometimes marketing teams have to make choices that don’t match the data because their experience (a.k.a., gut) says so.

We can see this play out in the chess world. World-class players like Magnus Carlsen rely heavily on AI to prepare for matches and run through different positions. However, during games, Carlsen is known to make the opposite move a computer would recommend. He knows that his opponents are looking at the same data creating an opportunity to make unexpected decisions.

Expect to see more companies rely on AI and then be surprised when competitors make seemingly “wrong” moves that work. Strategy will simply evolve to take into account what kinds of algorithms other companies might be using and how they can be defeated. 


AI is here to stay

The rise of AI will continue. You would be surprised at how much this innovation touches today, but most of it happens behind the scenes. AI is freeing us from mundane tasks so we can focus on those things that truly matter.

We must embrace AI and use it to drive revenue and growth within our teams. In an era of decreasing budgets and higher expectations, marketing needs to pour more resources into creativity with fewer people. AI will help bridge that by becoming one of your most effective unpaid assistants.

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About the author

Ruben Ugarte

Ruben Ugarte is the global expert in Decisions, Strategy, and Data and author of the Data Mirage and Bulletproof Decisions. He helps executives at the most innovative medium and large enterprises find their hidden treasures and use them to dramatically boost performance, increase profitability, and make their teams world-class. He has done this across five continents and in three languages. His ideas have helped hundreds of thousands of people make better decisions.