The momentum and opportunity of AI for marketers

Dec 01, 2023

Being an engineer, I always appreciate practical innovation but I am also cautious and realistic of the business effort to adopt emerging technology. Businesses need to understand the basics of the tech and highlight meaningful use cases first, before they jump with both feet. Companies are strategically experimenting with Artificial Intelligence (AI) because of the potential efficiencies, impact on speed, and the risk of industry disruption by new competitors. AI represents a significant technology shift that marketers shouldn’t ignore. This article outlines some trends of AI adoption in various sectors, including marketing.

Current hype and the early adopters

Many experts believe we are experiencing an “AI Tidal Wave” moment now. The hype following the debut of ChatGPT has opened the eyes of a lot of marketers to the “art of possible”. 

AI is on the radar of businesspeople. Statistics Canada data shows that about 20% of large companies have adopted or are testing some form of software or hardware using AI. In the two-year period between 2019-2021, medium sized companies had the biggest spike in AI adoption with 6% of Canadian firms now using AI.

Momentum of AI and observations in the marketing sector

Forward-thinking companies are the early adopters of AI, and others are expected to follow. A recent CMO Survey estimated that 8.6% of major US brands currently use AI in marketing, and this will almost triple to 22.9% in the next 3 years (CMO Survey-Marketing in a Post-Covid Era). McKinsey’s AI Index indicates that 20% of leading marketers are already using AI (2022 AI Index Report). In the email space, Ascend2 Research-Based Marketing reports that AI usage in email increased from 16% in 2022 to 30% in 2023. The trends paint a clear picture: AI is gaining momentum and will continue to reshape the marketing landscape.

Despite widespread interest and excitement, we are still in the early stage of the AI maturity curve. According to the 2023 State of Marketing and Sales AI Report by the Marketing AI Institute, marketers are in one of three stages of AI transformation:

Stage of Marketing AI transformation
Source: 2023 State of Marketing AI Report, p.16

From my observations attending conferences and talking to marketers across Canada, many are in what I would call the “early experimental stage” – which I would place in between the “Understanding” and “Piloting” stage, with 2 sub-groups:

  • “The Dabblers” are experimenting, which is more advanced than just understanding. They are testing actual AI tools (mostly simple Generative AI applications and point solutions).
  • “Focused Experimenters” are a little more sophisticated and are test driving a few applications with purpose. They have a methodology and are tracking and logging results and benefits. They like learning but are driven by the goal of innovation to save time and create impact.

What’s Next?

The momentum behind AI in marketing is undeniable, and there are many opportunities to harness its potential. However, as we ride this “AI Tidal Wave”, marketers and businesses must ensure thorough understanding of the technology’s fundamentals, and identify meaningful use cases. This should be the foundation of any AI adoption strategy. The majority of marketers are still in the early stages of grasping AI’s potential, although this is likely to shift significantly in the coming years as adoption becomes more widespread. AI adoption requires careful planning and continuous learning to harness the full power of AI in the ever-evolving landscape of marketing.

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Geoff Linton





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