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Generative AI has brought into focus what makes a great marketer

Generative AI can be a skill leveller, even a force multiplier, and marketers need training to understand it. But what it can’t do is replicate core capabilities like creativity, curiosity and communication.

At Econsultancy’s second quarterly Marketing Capability Leaders Forum, senior marketers gathered to discuss the ongoing challenge and opportunity presented by generative AI.

In the event’s opening presentation, Econsultancy’s SVP Learning, Stefan Tornquist, drew attention to the gap between marketers’ use of generative AI in their day-to-day lives and the amount of training they are offered.

One survey of 1,100 US marketing professionals found that 56% of them use generative AI tools every day, while a Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) study found that 47% of European marketing teams and agencies are using AI on a regular basis.

However, according to Econsultancy’s 2024 Digital Trends research with Adobe, only 25% of marketing enterprises already have skill-building programs centred on AI (although an additional 44% say that this is a work in progress).

“This continuum is very interesting … we’ve got about twice as many people actively using ‘desktop AI’ than are getting learning around it,” Tornquist observed.

The use of generative AI by marketers (and business professionals more generally) has been shown to raise the ‘floor’ of marketing ability, giving marketers a higher baseline level of aptitude across the board. But how can enterprises succeed in raising the ‘ceiling’ – the highest quality of work that can be produced with the assistance of generative AI?

Generative AI as ‘force multiplier’

A landmark study conducted by Boston Consulting Group with support from Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan School of Management, The Wharton School and the University of Warwick, set out to quantify the impact of using generative AI (GPT-4) in knowledge work.

Of the 758 consultants involved in the study, 90% of participants improved their performance when generative AI assisted them with a creative product innovation task, performing on average 40% better than the control group who didn’t use generative AI.

Those knowledge workers with a higher level of aptitude benefited less, only seeing a 17% improvement in quality on average (compared with 43% for lower-level performers). This shows how generative AI can have a ‘skill levelling’ effect among professionals.

However, when using generative AI for a business problem-solving task – which is deemed to be outside generative AI’s “current frontier of competence” – participants performed 23% worse on average than those not using generative AI.

Tornquist summarised the role that can be played by generative AI along two axes: mastery of generative AI itself, and mastery of the discipline it’s being applied to.

When mastery of generative AI is high but mastery of the discipline is low, genAI can be a ‘skill leveller’.

When mastery of the discipline is high but mastery of generative AI is low, generative AI acts as an assistant. “It’s a compression algorithm for the mundane,” as Tornquist put it.

When both mastery of both generative AI and the discipline are high: that’s when generative AI becomes a ‘force multiplier’.

How can marketers be exceptional in a world of generative AI?

Beyond mastery of generative AI as a tool, what makes an exceptional marketer in an era where the ‘floor’ is raised for everyone?

Tornquist divided capability into three key areas:

  1. Core capability: what are often deemed ‘soft skills’ – critical thinking, curiosity, creativity, mindset, communication
  2. Knowledge: understanding context and the deeper underpinnings of the marketing discipline
  3. Skills: everything from SEO to writing subject lines.

Skills is the area currently being eroded by generative AI: “the closer we get to the screen … that’s what AI is already able to do,” Tornquist summarised. Generative AI can save marketers time spent learning how to build pivot tables by simply building a pivot table.

What generative AI can’t replicate is the core skills – which is why Tornquist prefers to use this term over ‘soft skills’. “If you were going to build a marketer, you’d start here,” he said. “They have to have critical thinking – because things move so quickly [that] the more we have smart automation doing some of the job, the more important it is that we are critical thinkers [who] know what questions to ask.

“…What I think has already started to happen post-Covid … as a result of AI, and will accelerate, is an increasing focus on knowledge and core [capabilities],” said Tornquist.

How to build core capabilities that stick

Learning is now available to marketers in more forms than ever before, but how can organisations make sure that it has a lasting impact? Tornquist outlined three key steps to take:

Learn together, at the same time

While on-demand learning can be valuable when a marketer has a specific question, it’s less useful for building an underlying foundation for those core capabilities. Additionally, retention of that knowledge can be poor once the question is answered.

By making significant parts of the learning (such as the kick-off) time-dependent and synchronised – whether in person or virtual – organisations can make sure employees are making time for learning and engaging with it.

Build an emotional connection to the learning

This can be accomplished by creating a social dynamic around learning – again, through learning alongside colleagues – and also through incorporating an applied learning component, to set learning in context.

“It’s much more inspiring to see what might happen when it’s your own data and your own problems,” said Tornquist. “And it’s a way that we’re actually going to remember what we learn.”

Implement ‘appointment learning’

Whether it’s time set aside for a week-long training course or a virtual session lasting an hour, appointment learning gives marketers permission to learn.

“[It says] ‘This is really important to us, and it’s important to you – and we’re going to make the time for you’,” said Tornquist.

Originally Appeared Here

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