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Microsoft Tech Artificial Intelligence

Microsoft 365 GM on ‘rethinking what’s possible’ in marketing with AI


By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

March 29, 2024 | 8 min read

Ahead of Possible Miami 2024, The Drum is producing a special five-part series spotlighting key marketers – and how their roles are evolving. In this installation, Colette Stallbaumer, general manager of Microsoft 365 and Future of Work marketing at Microsoft, urges marketers to embrace AI with a bold test-and-learn approach.

Colette Stallbaumer

Microsoft’s Colette Stallbaumer says that the marketers who will rise to the top are experimenting aggressively with AI now / Microsoft

Colette Stallbaumer is an AI evangelist.

The head of marketing for Microsoft’s Future of Work initiative – which aims to develop solutions for an era of work that is both productive and equitable – Stallbaumer leads a team that produces wide-ranging research designed to empower businesses as they evolve. She also helms the suite of software services known as Microsoft 365, which last year incorporated Copilot, Microsoft's AI-powered chatbot (originally released under the name Bing Chat, but rebranded after a series of well-documented hallucinations and strange interactions with users).

Stallbaumer herself has been experimenting with generative AI programs for a bit over a year – a timeline that aligns roughly with the release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, the tool that skyrocketed generative AI into the mainstream (and the development of which Microsoft has supported with a 49% noncontrolling interest in OpenAI). Now, she says, she “can’t imagine ever going back.”

As she puts it: “It makes my day-to-day so much easier.” For example, she says, “if I missed a comment in a meeting in real time, I could ask AI instead of asking someone to repeat themselves.” And when it comes to creativity, Stallbaumer says she relies on AI tools “as a brainstorming partner and source of inspiration.”

Looking forward, Stallbaumer, who’s held various marketing roles within Microsoft and started her career at top ad agencies including J. Walter Thompson and DDB, sees a future of work – and of marketing in particular – that puts AI at the center.

A habit-focused approach to AI adoption

For marketing professionals, Stallbaumer sees key opportunities for AI in both unlocking new efficiencies across workflows and supercharging creative work.

On the efficiencies side, she points to research that indicates most marketers today spend 60% of their time at work communicating and only around 40% actually creating. There’s a valuable opportunity to change these numbers with the help of AI, in Stallbaumer’s telling.

“No one ever told me they got into marketing to triage emails,” she says. “People get into marketing because they’re strategic and creative thinkers – they want to understand what customers need and connect them to the products or services that can make their work or life better. AI can free us from ‘digital debt’ – all those notifications that come in faster than we can keep up.”

But marketing will increasingly incorporate AI on the creative side of the equation, too, she predicts. “The more people understand AI, the more they see its promise to help with the most meaningful parts of their work. For example, 87% of workers in creative roles who are extremely familiar with AI said they’d be comfortable using AI for creative aspects of their job.”

In essence, she believes that AI will “help us get back to what drew each of us to marketing in the first place” – the love of strategic and creative thinking.

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Of course, integrating AI effectively across various functions within an organization is easier said than done.

Stallbaumer encourages a test-and-learn approach. For marketing teams in particular, she recommends “[building] a daily habit with the technology in order to see and feel AI’s productivity and creativity gains.” She compares the idea to exercising or learning a new language, and says that effective and efficient AI integration will require “intentional, everyday practice.”

In Stallbaumer’s perspective, the marketing teams that will pull ahead of the pack are those who work tirelessly today to determine how AI tools can work in harmony with human productivity and creativity, sorting out the most effective applications early.

In her words: “It’s not enough to consider individual productivity alone. In the next few years, AI will totally transform the marketing function. Marketing leaders need to consider which tasks to delegate to AI, and which work is uniquely human and allocate talent and resources accordingly.”

AI and the shifting role of the CMO

At the leadership level, the marketer’s job is transforming at speed (an idea The Drum is exploring in depth this year). CMOs are increasingly expected to contribute to the broader strategic goals of the business.

It’s a reality that Stallbaumer sees in her daily work at Microsoft. In 2024, she says, “every CMO will need to help drive the evolution of their company and business. How are customer expectations changing? How will your products or services evolve to meet them?”

AI will help CMOs address both of these priorities, Stallbaumer says, “from uncovering customer insights from across data silos and enabling personalization at scale, to inspiring new out of the box thinking and innovation.”

It’s no wonder then, that nearly 80% of CMOs plan to increase their organization’s spending on AI and data this year – up from 57% in 2023, according to recent research from Accenture.

And the CMO – who Stallbaumer sees as someone usually customer- and creativity-obsessed – is uniquely positioned to make the most of AI, she says. Successful marketing leaders, in her view, will “bring [their] creativity to AI adoption.”

One CMO she knows is requiring their entire team to upskill and prepare for new responsibilities within their roles as AI changes key marketing functions, an approach Stallbaumer applauds. “That willingness to rethink and reinvent what’s possible is make or break [for today’s CMOs].”

Stallbaumer encourages marketing leaders to think big. Developing AI applications in the world of marketing isn’t just about automating tedious tasks or brainstorming in creative sessions. It’s going to be much broader and more significant than that, she says.

“As marketers, we already know the importance of thinking outside the box – you need to do the same for AI at work. Don’t just use it for more of the same, faster,” she urges. “Work with your teams to reimagine what’s possible.”

Colette Stallbaumer, general manager, Microsoft 365 & Future of Work at Microsoft will be speaking at Possible Miami Wed. April 17th at 9:45am to share her thoughts on ‘Seizing the AI Opportunity at Work’ with the VIP academy. To find out more and to book tickets to the event, click here.

The Drum is a Media partner of Possible 2024. Have something to say? Join the conversation. To meet up or get involved with our content plan, learn more here.

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