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What Will Happen to Marketing in the Age of AI? | Jessica Apotheker | TED

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Key Findings and Concerns

Reduction in Idea Divergence: The overuse of generative AI leads to a 40% decrease in the collective divergence of ideas. This suggests that reliance on AI for creativity limits the spectrum of new ideas being developed, essentially homogenizing thought processes and outputs. Stifling of Innovation: The homogenization effect directly impacts the capacity for true innovation, as the pool of ideas becomes narrower and less varied, making it harder for genuinely novel concepts to emerge.

Solutions and Strategies

Identifying and Cultivating Talent: The solution proposed involves recognizing and nurturing the inherently creative and innovative individuals within a team or organization. These are often the people who challenge norms and bring diverse perspectives to the table. Reskilling for AI Integration: It’s suggested that these creative talents be strategically reskilled to utilize AI tools effectively, not for idea generation but to enhance their creative process. This includes using AI for inspiration, trend analysis, and rapid prototyping to amplify the impact of their ideas. Protecting Human Creativity: A crucial aspect of integrating AI into creative workflows is ensuring it doesn’t replace human creativity but rather augments it. Protecting the unique human ability to generate original ideas is essential for maintaining brand identity and market differentiation.

Advice for Marketers

The concluding advice emphasizes the importance of self-awareness among marketers regarding their strengths and inclinations. Those with a creative edge are encouraged to further cultivate their innovation skills, which are deemed invaluable in the AI-augmented future. Conversely, those inclined towards data and analytics are advised to deepen their technical expertise, particularly in predictive AI, to thrive in the evolving marketing landscape.


The insights from this study and the strategies proposed underscore a broader theme in the AI transformation journey: the indispensable value of human creativity and innovation. While AI offers unprecedented opportunities for efficiency and personalization, it cannot replicate the nuanced, divergent thinking that humans bring to creative endeavors. Balancing AI’s capabilities with human creativity is essential for fostering true innovation and maintaining the vibrancy of brands and their messages in the market.


So let me start by bringing you back in time. We are 30 years ago, and the first word processors and spreadsheets are about to hit the market. And the whole economic world is bracing for the next big productivity revolution. Their promise at the time was we’d all spend so much less time writing, drawing slides, computing numbers on a calculator. And here we are, 30 years later, and the promise has come true. We all have so much leisure time on our hands, and personally, I only work two days a week. Of course, I’m just kidding. The reality of what has happened 30 years later is we don’t work less. We just write much longer word documents. And our PowerPoint decks have gone from six slides to 50 slides. And I say that as a consultant. Also, we engage in much more complex decision-making because the amount of data that we have to process has just exploded. And why is that important today? Well, generative AI is coming, and it’s coming to be embedded in the core of our organizations and the way we work. And that will be the next big productivity revolution. So the question becomes: how do we set ourselves up to actually seize this productivity opportunity?

I’m a marketer. I spent all my career in marketing and also advising marketing professionals. Now, some say marketing is the number one impacted function out there. Some say the productivity impact in marketing is as high as 50 percent. So that question of how can I seize that productivity opportunity is super high on my mind right now, and I want to make the case it should be super important to you all as well, as business leaders but also as consumers.

So what will happen to marketing? Well, marketing has traditionally been a super right-brained, creative type of function. That means what? Means we have excelled as marketers by tapping into the emotional needs of our consumers, coming up with that perfect product, that perfect innovation to meet that need, and also then cracking that great message that will convert the consumer at the right place in the right time. Already in the past 15 years, with digital marketing and analytics, marketing has evolved from being only right-brain type of general skills to a few more specialized skill sets, for example, digital marketing or marketing technology. But now the difference with generative AI, it is transforming the core of marketing activities. Now, in a recent study that the Boston Consulting Group conducted with Harvard, we found that ChatGPT, in its current form, already improves the right-brain performance of marketers by 40 percent. Imagine what that number will be in a year or two from now. So what do you think marketers would do with a day and a half of free time a week? More yoga? More family time? Do you think companies would allow that? Or do you think companies will just let large chunks of the marketing function go? Well, I believe none of this is going to happen. I think if we don’t steer that productivity revolution very actively, marketers will invest this time in what they do best: more content and more ideas.

Now, if you think of more content, there is a super productive outcome for all of us as consumers. More content actually means much more personalized content. Now think of that email that you’re getting from your favorite brand every week. Imagine if that email was 100 percent tailored to you, means only images of people your age and gender, even people wearing T-shirts of your favorite rock band, every product relevant for you, and even a human-like experience powered by a bot. That is certainly a productive outcome. But there is also a very negative outcome for us consumers here, and that is content overload. How many of you already feel chased by the same content over and over again online? Now imagine if that content chasing you, if that amount of content chasing you just explodes. And imagine if that content chasing you also all sounds the same. Now why is that a risk? Generative AI has been trained on existing content and data. Because of that, it reduces divergence of outcomes. And that great equalization of marketing is certainly not a productive outcome.

So what is the solve here? Well, I believe marketing, but also every function out there that is being impacted by this productivity revolution, needs to grow a left-AI brain, grow one fast, and also identify and protect its top right-brained talent. You’re going to ask me, “What do you mean by growing a left-AI brain?” Well, I mean, the function needs to strategically reskill and reorganize to embed people that can build, use and diffuse predictive AI tools in the heart of decision-making. I mean, for marketing, building teams of marketing data scientists, marketing data engineers that build solutions that can be distributed to all marketers to, for example, unpack performance and predict outcomes. Imagine in marketing being able to understand what audience creative couples are really hitting it off in the market, or what product is working with which consumer and why or how is the marketing funnel evolving. I recently partnered with a consumer goods company that did exactly that. They decided to grow a left-AI brain advantage. We helped them build tools that were diffused in the entire organization, that helped every marketer predict for every marketing initiative what was going to be the sales outcome, how a consumer behavior is going to be impacted on every channel and every touchpoint, and go deep in unpacking execution insights to understand what creative was working and why. That created a super virtuous feedback loop in the entire organization. It also took building a team of 30-plus left-AI brain marketers that build these tools, customize them, but also in turn upskill the entire organization to use them. But the team’s only a part of the puzzle. I see too many companies out there embarking on this journey, just training their algorithms and models only on their current content and data. Now, if you do that, the risk for a brand is to be trapped in your current territory. Concretely, imagine you are a brand that is super strong with millennials. There is nothing in data and content existing on millennials that will help you to be successful with Gen Z. And in turn, if you’re never successful with Gen Z, you will miss out on important innovations and trends that will make you stronger with millennials. So I advise every company out there: think outside of the box, think outside your direct ecosystem on who could be super relevant data and content partners for you. Imagine you’re a construction company and you decide to market to architects for the first time. You have zero data on architects. What do you do? Who has data on architects? Other construction companies, but they’re direct competitors. So where do you go? Well, you go outside your ecosystem, potentially, for example, with financial institutions, insurances. You can set up a federated model with them, train algos on that, that will in turn make you much stronger to market to a new consumer segment. And so are you done? If you have that, if you have that data, if you have those skills are you done, you have that left-AI brain advantage? Well, no, actually you are not. If you do that, there is a risk you give all of your right brain to generative AI and in turn run a real risk of losing that divergence, losing that super strong brand identity, being trapped in that grand equalization of marketing I was talking about a minute ago.

In the Harvard study we conducted with the Boston Consulting Group and Harvard, we found that when people over-rely on generative AI, the collective divergence of ideas drops by 40 percent. Concretely, that means that new ideas don’t come to the surface. It means that true innovation is being stifled. So what is a solve here? Well, you need to identify the true artists, the true differentiators, the true innovators of your function. Now, if you’ve ever worked in marketing, you know who these people are. They are the ones that always disagree with you. Now you take these people and you need to strategically reskill them to use AI well, for example, to be inspired by new ideas, to be inspired by new trends, to also crack fast prototypes, to multiply their impact once they’ve cracked a great idea. But you need to protect them and teach them from using the AI to generate and originate original ideas. For that, they have to use their human brain. To keep those human juices flowing, and that, in turn, will protect the identity of your brand and your differentiation in the market. So I want to close with an advice for any marketer out there. What are you good at? Are you super creative? Are you the true innovator in the room? Well, if you are, cultivate that. That will be your superpower. Do you like data? Are you super rational, are you super fact-based? Then you should specialize. You should grow tech skills. You should be investing in predictive AI competencies. But right now, every marketer out there needs to choose their brain. Thank you. (Applause)