In the final instalment of ANA Masters of Marketing insights from MediaLink, SVP Diana Naguib explores how the influence of AI will affect the industry in the year ahead, and observes how direct brand ownership of data will become more important than ever before.

Get ready – AI will change everything

AI (Artificial Intelligence), our industry’s hottest acronym, was featured heavily across this year’s ANA Masters of Marketing programming. Universally regarded to be the key to unlocking growth, it seemed perfectly fitting given the theme of the conference was driving growth.

And what better way to testify AI as a key growth driver for business and marketing? Constant references to the mighty DTC brands throughout content sessions, serving as both a scare tactic and source of inspiration to a majority Fortune 500 brand audience!

The message was clear from many of the speakers - AI is here, it’s a game-changer, a radical disrupter and ignoring it will be detrimental to your company’s survival. The applications spoken about AI were broad: it will enable marketers to get much smarter about their customers (Lou Paskalis, Senior Vice President, Customer Engagement and Media Investment, Bank of America); it will power and personalize everything in marketing – from search, the consumer journey and personalization of content to customer service, lead generation and attribution (Geoff Ramsey, Chief Content Officer and Co-Founder, eMarketer); and it will change the way we operate and do business (Michelle Peluso, SVP and CMO, IBM).

Over lunch, Google also got in on the AI buzz, with Allan Thygesen, President of the Americas, stating that “leading organizations are investing in automation and machine learning to drive their marketing goals.” One such marketer leading the path to AI within her organization is IBM’s Peluso, who showed the promise of AI in a simple slide for her fellow marketers – changing what we know about our customers, changing how we interact with our customers and changing how we work.

So, when should marketers really start taking AI seriously? With 5G a near-reality, Rachel Tipograph, Founder of Mik Mak, believes it will accelerate the need for AI even more. Further, in a dynamic Emerging Trends session, Geoff Ramsey of eMarketer proclaimed that “we will move from a mobile-first world to an AI-first world” in the not-too-distant future.

Implications for marketers:

Recognize that AI isn’t a fleeting trend, it is here to stay and is imperative not just for your marketing competitive advantage, but as a critical futureproofing strategy to driving business growth. The first step is to ensure you understand what building blocks must be laid first before you can truly move your organization into the machine age. Then investigate what AI-powered solutions are able to be developed in-house versus what technology and AI providers you need help from.

Taking ownership to win

The notion of marketers taking more control and ownership was the rallying cry heard in ANA CEO Bob Liodice’s opening remarks, “It’s time to take our industry back!”

Mik Mak’s Rachel Tipograph and Steven Wolfe Pereira, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Quantcast, further punctuated this in one of the conference’s opening sessions, declaring “ the moment you give up your first party data, you give up your brand,” clearly a reference to the hotly debated in-housing vs. outsourcing topic.

A common theme heard across many presentations was that in order to get closer to the customer as a critical path to driving growth, it means taking ownership – predominantly of data – but others went as far as saying that taking ownership of media and creative was important, too. In fact, in an early morning keynote (which coincidentally ended in the audience singing Belinda Carlisle – don’ t ask!), Jeff Charney, CMO of Progressive, jumped up and down on stage when he heard that 78% of marketers have some sort of in-house agency/function – the latest stat from the ANA’s study on in-housing. He was quick to give praise to agencies, but drawing from his brand’s own success of taking both media and creative in-house, he was passionate that brands taking control was the way forward.

Two other major brands echoed the sentiment of taking ownership: Unilever’s Rob Master, and Lou Paskalis from Bank of America, who together claimed that marketers have a responsibility to deliver a “quality digital ecosystem” in order to put the consumer first and deliver quality consumer experiences. Paskalis stated this means “cleaning up the ecosystem” - think brand safety, ad blocking, viewability and ad fraud. Having all these components under control is a major step forward and can be viewed as a blueprint for other marketers to replicate. However, a notable difference in Master’s and Paskalis’ presentations was their overt commendation to their respective agency partners for helping them on their ongoing journey to success.

In a prelude to hearing from Warren Marenco, Chief Operating Officer, 140, Verizon’s in-house agency, the audience was given a taste of the ANA’s The Continued Rise of The In-House Agency report. Cost efficiencies and better knowledge of brands as key benefits to in-housing were cited; managing workflow and resources were shown as the biggest challenges; and collateral, search marketing and social media were indicated as the top functions for in-house agencies. As Marenco went on to debunk the core myths of in-house agencies, rotating in snippets of creative his team developed, it was evident that marketers can win when they take control and ownership, but just how much will likely be the debate for many years to come.

Implications for marketers:

If you do not already have a first-party data strategy and are not owning this data, you are in danger of never really knowing your customers and being able to drive growth for your brand. This is the first step. At the same time, cleaning up your brand’s digital ecosystem is foundational to taking ownership and control of where, when and to who your brand shows up. Lastly, while there are clear advantages to in-housing, be clear of the role, responsibility and ultimately, the value that agency partners can provide you in harmony with your internal teams. Take the time to assess your value chain and make strategic decisions about exactly what to in-house and where collaboration will serve you better.

For more on what leading CMOs shared at ANA Masters of Marketing 2018, read WARC's series of reports here