‘CMOs have 5 years to adapt’: how brands are navigating AI in a changing content landscape

Cannes 2023 highlights the pivotal role of AI in modern marketing.

Artificial Intelligence

Marketers have the potential to lead the way in AI, but the countdown is on for them to embrace the new tech, say brand leaders from Microsoft, EY, Shell Mobility and BENlabs.

Cannes 2023 will go down in history as the year of AI. The buzzword of the week, there were few presentations, panels, or pitches that didn’t touch on the topic of whether it’s here to destroy the industry or save it. For Ricky Ray Butler, chief executive officer at BENlabs, there is no debate.

“This is a bold opinion, but I do believe that in the next five years, marketing leaders will be the leaders of AI in organizations,” he says. That belief comes down to the vast amounts of untapped data at their disposal. “ChatGPT, Dalle-2, Midjourney – they’ve all become huge but what do they have in common? They’ve all had breakthroughs in using unstructured data.”

Examples of unstructured data include video, images and large groups of text, he says. In short, it’s “the data outside of a spreadsheet.”

BENlabs has found that, in general, 80% of the data in most companies is unstructured. But in the world of media and marketing that figure is 90%. “Organizations have been very blind. They only see 10% of the picture. But with all this and AI we can be more empowered to see the whole picture and make more solid predictions,” he continues.

“We’re ushering it in and working out how to apply these technologies. There’s never been a more interesting time, but we must get educated and push through and do things that are impactful to audiences, communities and consumers.”

Brand leaders from Microsoft, EY, Shell Mobility and BENlabs

From hesitancy to curiosity

Butler believes brand leaders will be the torchbearers for how AI is used in content creation and development, there remains a hesitancy that can’t be ignored.

This reluctance to fully commit has not evaded the attention of Pierre Beaufils, global business consulting and business transformation leader at EY, which counts a number of the FTSE (Financial Times Stock Exchange) 100 among its clients. “The client view is really about what to do,” he says. “They are individually trying and enjoying it and collectively unsure of what it means for their corporations. They’re looking for a use case that shows scale, safe, compliant.”

As for its own operations EY, on the other hand, is in the thick of working out exactly how AI can reshape its business. It’s “embracing it”, says Beaufils, believing the knowledge, insights and productivity AI will bring will give it a serious competitive advantage. The company has 400,000 global employees that span everything from client management to legal and accountancy services. “What we did in three weeks will take two minutes. We’ll need to provide more knowledge, more insights, and make it happen faster. We’re running experiments all over.”

As a global organization with multiple divisions, Shell has not been slow to realize the impact AI will have on its business. Offering an example on how it’s approaching the potential, Carol Chen, global CMO at Shell Mobility, says one of its main objectives this year is how it can “take it to the next level.”

Specifically, she thinks there is huge potential in what machine learning will be able to do in helping it better understand and act on the myriad of ways its customers interact with the brand.

“We have roughly 20 million real-time inputs of customer feedback,” she says. “The human brain can only analyze so much. But with those 20 million inputs every year – like feedback after a retail visit, complaints, what you liked about a service – when you really think about what the next level possibilities could be for that, there’s huge possibilities for how AI can be used.”

That spans everything from creative and strategy within marketing to pricing models, she adds. “We’re starting work on a machine learning being used to incorporate weather data and traffic data, for example, to create a more sophisticated pricing model. The possibilities are endless. The initial learnings have been fascinating.”

Microsoft is, unsurprisingly, at the cutting edge of how AI can be implemented across its business. After a multibillion-dollar investment into OpenAI – the company behind ChatGPT – the tech giant has deployed AI across its suite of products including search engine Bing and software such as Word, PowerPoint and Outlook.

It’s also infiltrating the marketing department. “We are using AI and it’s been a whirlwind of change in the past six months,” says Sunita Richardson, senior director of brand strategy and operations at Microsoft. “We’re a brand, advertising, media and research team and the pace of change that has happened [is phenomenal]. We can do something in weeks rather than months. Our research team, for example, can now use AI to map social insights visually. In the past that would have taken a quarter, now they can do it in three weeks. It’s rapidly transforming our business. The biggest challenge is that there’s both excitement and fear around AI so we need to invite people in.”

BENlabs logo

Brands embracing entertainment

There are few areas in which BENlabs hasn’t embraced AI. Butler says there is an increasing desire from brands to connect with audiences within entertainment, rather than to disrupt audiences with traditional advertising. They are seeing a reduced impact year over year through traditional ad campaigns, and instead are looking to be integrated with hit shows and work more with creators and influencers. Take Unilever, for example, which has stressed that influencer marketing is becoming the single most important part of their marketing mix.

But navigating this space has become increasingly complex in recent years due to the proliferation of channels and sheer volume of content and creators out there. BENlabs has been working on several AI-backed solutions to this increasing challenge. Since developing algorithms that trains AI on what’s engaging audiences, the company has been able navigate the huge amount of entertainment content it comes across to predict what TV shows and films will be hits.

That wasn’t the case just a few years ago. When the script for Stranger Things season one landed on BENlabs desks, for example, the company knew it would be a blockbuster. But its own execs couldn’t sell it to brands and networks didn’t understand the show. Today, Butler says, with the kind of AI models it has analyzing scripts and synopses, as well as the ability to compare with the most popular shows in recent history, it would have been able to use data and science rather than human intuition to make the recommendations.

BENlabs says this is the perfect example of how AI will help brands, allowing a CMO to work out exactly which groups of creators will speak to which audiences and support in the development of more personalized and impactful content for each.

“We want to take that model of an individual working with 10 creators, and leverage AI technology to scale that to hundreds to thousands. Ten million videos are uploaded every hour. There are three hundred million content creators that exist. So, it can be so hard to navigate and prioritize, but it’s a dream come true for leveraging AI. You can truly take the guesswork out of it,” says Butler.

There are a myriad of other ways Butler sees AI as benefiting brands in content creation and entertainment. But there’s only so far BENlabs can take a marketer. It’s Butler’s view that in time, every CMO will have an AI arm, specifically a machine learning arm, within their own organizations.

“They need it in the next five years to be relevant or they’ll drown in this new world. I believe to remain successful in this evolving media landscape, they’ll need their own machine learning operations platform where they can deploy models every day.”

This piece was originally published by The Drum and was written by Jenni Baker.

What's Trending?

See all Trending

The latest and greatest product placement news and industry insights in one place.