Can AI Overtake Strategy?

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Article Takeaways:

  • AI and machine learning have and will continue to help strategists in the future
  • Machines don’t understand what is missing in the data, but maximize the impact against the existing data
  • Strategy is an art and a science, and the intuition that can make strategists successful will still be needed even when machines break down our thoughts and actions

A recent Fortune article noted that U.S. workers are increasingly worried about the potential for Artificial Intelligence (AI) to negatively impact their jobs. Forrester projects AI will wipe out 29 percent of all U.S. jobs while creating the equivalent of only 13 percent. The speed at which technology is evolving may well be faster than our ability to pivot job functions. If you aren’t thinking about how it may impact your field, do your research now or run the risk of being jobless in a few years’ time.

As a brand strategist, I have seen how AI and machine learning have inserted themselves into daily marketing functions over the past decade. I’ve had the benefit of working with multiple platforms that leverage machine learning to deliver insightful data that Fortune 500 clients can utilize in setting strategies. For example, social listening tools have gone from being able to analyze sentiment to defining the emotion associated with posts; from understanding general audience demographics to segmenting various audiences discussing a topic and detailing the personality of each segment by tapping into IBM Watson, accelerating research and discovery through the AI application. Personality insights are generated based on the psychology of language in combination with data analytics algorithms that analyzes the content of users’ posts. The technology then returns a personality profile for the author of the input based on the Big Five personality, needs, and values. This guides strategy implementation.

Machine learning can now evaluate results faster than ever, assessing whether consumers are behaving as anticipated based on the strategies employed. Right or wrong, the data lets us test, model, revise and optimize until we’re satisfied with the outcomes. There is no question that these developments have proven valuable in delivering ROI to brands, but they don’t replace the human behind the machine. There are still so many functions a strategist will continue to utilize where AI can’t act alone. An individual must still set-up a query to ensure they are “listening” to the right conversations. An individual will still need to make the determination of what strategy to select in order to best impact the set objectives and bottom line.

For example, Carnival Cruise Line applies this to their cruising experience through the Ocean Medallion, a wearable smart device that connects with sensors and machine learning to help guests get the most out of the cruise. Through a series of algorithms, the Ocean Medallion anticipates guest preferences, helping the crew deliver personalized services. Each crew member proactively makes recommendations for activities and dining based on the information provided, leading to a happier cruising experience for the guest.

As we look to the future, I expect the use of machine learning to grow exponentially. Brand strategists can set filters and allow algorithms to fill in the pieces – defining trends, identifying where a brand fits in the competitive landscape, uncovering consumer segments that make up the most likely source of business and even noting insights about those segments. And while AI can provide that array of insights, deciding which is most important to connect with a brand’s position takes human understanding. There is so much power in the subtleties and I’ve yet to be convinced that machines distinguish nuance.

When strategists look at the potential for AI-based custom research, the shortcomings become apparent. Although AI can put together the perfect research plan and deliver it to the proper audience, it will not know to conduct a study in the first place. AI will not recognize that certain necessary data doesn’t exist, and in turn, it will fail to provide insight that captures a deeper answer. As humans, we don’t always know what we’re looking for, but when we see it, we recognize the importance. Where there is a void, there is an answer.

Some of the best strategies are those based on intuition. While AI has more brainpower than any single strategist or department could have, it will never have that gut feeling that makes strategy as much an art as it is a science. When we lose art, we miss human nature at its core, and ultimately our strategies can only be partially maximized. Yes, AI and machine learning will continue to make our lives easier, but rest easy fellow strategists, for my gut (something that doesn’t exist in any machine), says our jobs will be intact for the long haul.

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