Businesses are rushing to integrate AI into marketing and comms functions, but a majority are in danger of focusing on the tech and neglecting the human skills necessary to unlock its full potential, says Econsultancy’s Stefan Tornquist.
With the meteoric rise of ChatGPT and Bard, and a constant flow of AI-based solutions emerging just under the surface of public consciousness, businesses are opening their eyes to the opportunities and pitfalls that AI can bring to operational processes. However, while many businesses are tinkering with AI tools, fewer are giving due consideration to how they should upskill across their workforce to maintain competitive advantage. Without this holistic and strategic approach, we run the risk of widening the ever-present digital skills gap in the UK.
According to Bynder, over half (55%) of marketers at major global brands are currently using AI tools in content production in some capacity, suggesting that AI integration in the marketing, communications and creative industries is well underway. Yet, there remains a significant proportion of businesses of varying sizes across the industry that risk falling behind.
The success of AI integration and the ability to deliver best practice, exciting work heavily relies on businesses and workforces’ commitment to digital skills training as a stream of new developments unfold.
AI and machine learning applications are already in practice
Machine learning and AI have the potential to significantly boost business growth and streamline processes, if done right. For example, AI plugins are supporting marketers with time-intensive tasks such as content creation, translation and creating tone of voice documents, while predictive analytics can inform customer targeting strategies. For creatives, AI’s ability to generate supporting brand imagery on lower budgets helps them to allocate appropriate resource to more strategic elements of a brief.
While there are clear, tangible benefits to using AI, an uneven approach to learning and adoption will hinder businesses’ progress – and leave them falling short of their commercial objectives. In fact, a recent Econsultancy report found that over two-thirds of UK businesses admit to lacking the necessary digital skillset to achieve their objectives. The correlation between digital skills and growth is undeniable, with 83% of executives acknowledging its impact on their company's success, leading to 92% reporting the urgent need for skills that are new to the business.
This irregularity, even within separate marketing and communications functions, will only become more pronounced with the continuous influx of different AI applications and as ecommerce, data-driven marketing and customer centricity straddle new channels and disciplines. L&D teams are under pressure to keep up, but throughout the digital age, our emphasis on technology has sometimes obscured the human side of the growth equation.
Upskilling for business impact, improved ROI and talent retention
Professionals are aware of the need to upskill, quickly. Our research shows that 80% of digital marketing professionals see the skills necessary for their job evolving rapidly. In 2019, one-third of respondents said that most digital marketing skills required updating at least quarterly. Today, 55% say they need to add new skills and knowledge at least monthly.
If businesses are to understand, harness and deploy AI effectively, certain skills training and learning and development factors must be considered.
One major guiding factor is how businesses keep abreast of the most interesting developments in this rapidly changing space. Generative AI is the current buzzword with good reason, and it’s valuable to understand the different ways it can be applied to marketing processes, how other brands are using it to better understand customer journeys to support financial objectives, and how it’s likely to augment team productivity and ways of working.
A multi-modal approach is more effective at helping to absorb knowledge and apply new skills over any single training method, with executives at companies investing in multi-modal L&D saying they are significantly more confident in their organisations’ ability to meet business goals (57% vs. 27%). Given the concerns that accompany any significant change, we have found that approaching training with a growth mindset is particularly effective at unlocking the potential of new technologies while reducing stress.
The success of a revitalised program will depend on buy in from senior leaders. While many are keeping an eye on AI developments, engaging senior leaders and the board on the importance of investing in the human component when implementing new tools (in essence, ongoing AI skills training) is essential to drive commitment and engagement.
It’s also imperative to bring employees along on the journey. Addressing any concerns about AI-related job loss by reinforcing the business’ commitment to skills training, in line with the current role and future career goals, is a great motivator. In fact, when development programs align with career aspirations and offer diverse learning options, our research found only 19% of employees struggle to find time for training.
As the AI landscape rapidly evolves, so too must business’ training programs. Monitoring progress and pivoting against cost and resource efficiencies, revenue growth and benchmarking AI skills adoption across the business will help your L&D strategy to move in the right direction.
As the AI landscape rapidly evolves, so too must business’ training programs. To help your L&D strategy to move in the right direction:
- use quantitative and qualitative measures to monitor progress;
- pivot against cost and resource efficiencies, and revenue growth;
- benchmark AI skills adoption across the business.
Knowledge is power
AI presents a challenge and opportunity on a scale that may eclipse the rise of the internet itself. There is no silver bullet to safe and effective adoption, but experience has shown us that to keep pace, we must keep learning.
While the marketing, communications and creative industries are already on the path to using AI in a professional context, fine-tuning existing training and development programs will ensure that individuals and teams are primed to embrace integrating AI into their every day, that businesses stay competitive, and that all reap the benefits.