Machines + Marketers: TBWA, IBM, Google, Unilever and more on how AI will impact marketing talent

As the use of artificial intelligence moves into the realities of marketer’s lives, The Drum and TBWA\ Asia Pacific, brought together a hive mind of leading marketers in Singapore to discuss what the impact of the technology will have on talent.

The event looked at the topics across two panels; Machines + Marketers. Machines took the foundation of research by TBWA\ and Hall & Partners ‘Rise of the Machines’ to a wider discussion, while Marketers looked at where talent needed development now, asking the question – does the marketing industry have a marketing problem?

Overall, it was agreed that the marketing industry had itself already faced an “identity crisis” or had always been “wringing its hands on talent”.

Siva Ganeshanandan, APAC director at Adobe Experience Cloud noted that consumers are already using AI daily. “Every time you scroll through your Facebook newsfeed and use Google. As marketers, many use martech and adtech tools. We are using it, whether we know it or not because it is in the background helping us out,” he said.

On the subject on whether AI has changed roles of marketers in the industry, Sam Ahmed, global head of digital and retail marketing at Standard Chartered felt that AI saved marketing as an industry in 2010 because marketing was on its death bed as traditional marketing from FMCG companies was not working anymore.

“The revenue growth from their campaigns in the core markets was not just hitting the mark. Then you had 'millennial companies' like the Apple and the Starbucks, calling themselves 'experiential companies.' The brand was not owned by marketing, it was owned by the company and everybody in that company, which was the right thing to do,” he explained.

“However, marketing faced an identity crisis. Then analytics and performance marketing came in. I think that saved marketing because we could show targeting, real-time and integrate with content creators.

“So I feel very positive for AI in marketing, so the next role for us is not over-promising and over-selling AI, but explaining to the business leaders what it can do and integrating with partners because you can't do it on your own.

For Tuomas Peltoniemi, regional president and innovation director at TBWA\Digital Arts Network, he believed that brands needed to be in the moment and thinking ahead. “From a creative point of view, its brand safety. As you get more automated stories, how do you make sure that it is not serving a place where your brand just cannot be served. It takes one screenshot from a programmatic media buyer being in the wrong place for you to be in a pretty interesting crisis management and it has happened.

Susan Jain, chief marketing officer at IBM Asia Pacific, refuted claims that brands can use AI to cut out their partners. “On end-to-end, it is all about value being delivered. The bar is continuing to be raised and I think that is the exciting part about being in marketing right now because the business is asking more. You can't just rotate a seller into a marketing role and be satisfied. It needs to bring expertise and that will only increase.”

The type of marketer needed to work creatively and with automation, however, is in short demand but the panels agreed that training and offering more flexible, enticing structures would be key in retaining talent in the future.

TBWA chief operating officer Philip Brett, said: “I honestly can’t remember a time when the industry wasn’t wringing its hands-on talent. What has changed from an employer’s point of view is that it is much harder to be heard.”

He added: “Flexibility is key now. One thing that has changed are the rules of what it means to work for a company. At one point, culture was exported to people, now it is the other way around - the people that work for you shape your culture. Productivity is key measure and we can’t afford to count the hours. Are we creating an environment where people are at their most productive?”

For Google, the issue can be around finding new types of people to bring in, as needs of employers change much faster. Google Asia Pacific managing director Joanna Flint, said: “The reality is that we as an industry are changing. How can we incubate people for this environment? We are working to attract new types of talent into the industry. People struggle to get the right mindset and we need people who are comfortable with change and ready to reassess.”

Unilever looks at talent very differently now, particularly when taking in the context of Barbara Guerpillon’s role leading Foundry and its co-working space Level3 in APAC. She, said: “The landscape has dramatically changed the way to look at talent”, adding that “when you work with start-ups, you see marketing is cross-functional, but you need to keep upskilled.”

Visit The Drum’s website to see the full research by TBWA\ and follow the Marketing Problems Q&A series.

Reporting by Shawn Lim, Danielle Long and Charlotte McEleny.

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