92: What’s stopping AI from fully replacing marketers today? Insights from 10 industry experts

What’s up folks, we’ve got another roundup episode today and we’re talking AI. Before you dismiss this and skip ahead, here’s a quick summary of why the excitement around generative AI isn’t just hype—it’s a sustainable shift.

While some may perceive AI to be losing steam, largely due to a surge of grifters in the field, this is not your average trend. In Episode 78, we spoke with Juan Mendoza, CEO of TMW, about why generative AI is distinct. It’s not mere hype or a future possibility; generative AI delivers practical value today.

Examining Google Trends data for the search term “AI + marketing,” we notice a significant surge starting in November 2022, coinciding with the release of ChatGPT. This surge peaked in May 2023 when GPT-4 became mainstream. Normally, you’d expect interest to wane after such a peak, but it has barely dipped. We’re currently sitting at a 94/100 search interest, compared to this summer’s peak. This suggests a sustained, rather than fleeting, interest in the technology.

While nobody has a crystal ball, there’s broad agreement that AI is far from making marketing roles obsolete. Instead, it’s augmenting the work we do, not replacing it.

In an effort to explore further how we can better future proof ourselves, I’ve asked guests what specific aspects of marketing make it resistant to AI. The insights from these discussions have been fascinating, underscoring the unique value and human touch that marketers bring to the table.

Here’s today’s main takeaway: Your real edge in marketing fuses a nuanced understanding of business context, ethics, and human emotion with capabilities like intuition, brand voice and adaptability—areas where AI can sort data but can’t match ability to craft compelling stories.

AI isn’t pushing you aside; it’s elevating you to a strategic role—given you focus on AI literacy and maintain human oversight. This isn’t a story of human vs. machine; it’s about how both can collaborate to tackle complexities too challenging for either to navigate alone.

AI is less a replacement and more of a reckoning. It’s not coming for us; it’s coming for our inefficiencies, our lack of adaptability, and our refusal to evolve. AI is holding up a mirror to the marketing industry, asking us not if we can be replaced, but rather, why we haven’t stepped up our game yet. Buckle up; this roundup of experts doesn’t just debate the future—it challenges our very role in it.

Jump to a Section 👇

Why AI Can’t Fully Replace Human Nuance in Marketing Operations

Let’s start off in Marketing Operations with Mike Rizzo, the founder of MarketingOps.com. We asked him to dive into his view that AI won’t be replacing marketing jobs “anytime soon,” a point that has some level of ambiguity. The question aimed to uncover what Mike specifically means by “anytime soon” and why he believes that AI won’t fully automate the marketing Operations sector in the near future.

Mike highlighted the intricacy of marketing operations that he believes will be resistant to full automation. Specifically, he mentioned that marketing across SMBs and enterprises involves nuanced processes. The differentiation between types of leads—MQL, SQL, PQL, and so on—each has its own distinct workflow and architecture. This makes it a highly tailored field, more a craft than a science, and challenging to automate.

Mike pointed out that the entire operational architecture, from data movement to notification protocols, is unique to each organization. It’s precisely this framework that makes it hard to replicate with AI, regardless of its computational abilities. While he admitted that AI could offer suggestions in optimizing specific metrics or elements, such as lead scoring, Mike emphasized that these technologies serve better as consultants rather than decision-makers.

The implementation of martech stacks, according to Mike, is akin to running a product. From understanding the product roadmap to enabling team members, AI can at best serve as a consultation service, streamlining processes but never fully taking over. Each tech stack is tailored to an organization’s needs, something that AI, for all its merits, struggles to capture in its full complexity.

Mike also confessed to leveraging AI for particular tasks but remains skeptical about its ability to handle the fine-tuning required in the marketing ops and RevOps space. He argued that while AI can assist, it can’t replace the distinct, specialized requirements that each marketing operation demands.

Hear directly from Mike below 👇

Key Takeaway: Mike suggests that AI has its uses, but the nuanced, unique nature of marketing operations makes it a field that’s resistant to full automation. There’s value in human oversight that not even the most advanced AI can replicate.

Trust in Data and the Ability to Constrain AI Responses

While AI might have some challenges with the nuances of marketing Ops, AI does have a foothold in some marketing sectors. Boris Jabes, the co-founder and CEO at Census, acknowledged AI’s ability to drive efficiency, especially in advertising. In spaces where “fuzziness” is acceptable, such as Ad Tech, AI already performs exceptionally well. Marketers utilize advanced algorithms in platforms like Google and Facebook to better place their ads, and these platforms are continuously fueled by world-class AI. In these instances, AI isn’t just convenient; it’s almost imperative for maintaining competitive performance.

However, Boris warns that there are areas where AI falls short, specifically in customer interactions that require nuanced understanding and empathy. For example, using AI to answer questions about ADA compliance or other sensitive matters can result in “hallucinations,” or incorrect and inappropriate responses. Herein lies a crucial challenge: How do you constrain AI to deliver only appropriate, correct information?

Additionally, Boris identifies data trustworthiness as a significant hurdle. AI’s performance depends on the quality of data it’s trained on. Large enterprises are often hesitant to adopt AI without reliable data, and thus, miss out on its advantages. Conversely, smaller companies are more willing to experiment, but their scale is insufficient to make industry-wide impacts.

Despite the challenges, Boris argues that staying away from AI is not an option for today’s marketers. Whether you are aiding the machine with quality data or deciphering how AI can be employed responsibly, there’s room for human marketers to provide valuable input and oversight.

Hear directly from Boris below 👇

Key Takeaway: AI has carved out a substantial role in specific sectors of marketing like Ad Tech, but it still has limitations that require human oversight. Trust in data and the ability to constrain AI responses are areas where marketers can add significant value.

Marketers Are Future Prompt Thinkers and AI Regulators

Over the next few years, marketers will be invaluable when it comes to ensuring data integrity and guiding AI’s influence. Let’s explore how marketing roles might evolve across different verticals. Pratik Desai has some fascinating predictions about the role of marketers. He’s the founder and Chief Architect at 1to1, an agency focused on personalization strategy and implementation.

When asked about the limitations preventing AI from taking over the marketing landscape, Pratik dives into the intricacies of how AI operates in different sectors. According to him, AI in marketing can be bifurcated into “Curation AI” and “Generation AI.” Curation AI, as the name suggests, curates content and recommendations. Generation AI, a more recent evolution, generates content from scratch.

Curation AI has shown promise, especially in less regulated industries like e-commerce. Here, even if AI gets it wrong 15% of the time, the increase in efficiency and accuracy for the remaining 85% is often considered a win. But switch the lens to highly regulated sectors like financial services or healthcare, and the stakes skyrocket. Here, even a 1% mistake rate could translate into severe regulatory or even life-impacting issues. This inherent limitation necessitates a “marketer control” layer to ensure compliance and accuracy.

In comes Generation AI, aimed at resolving some of these content-based challenges. With its ability to generate images and copy at scale, Pratik posits that it could revolutionize how marketing programs are run. This technology can create content in seconds, which would otherwise take a design team weeks to produce. But again, the human element isn’t completely removable. Marketers will still need to oversee these automated processes, especially in regulated sectors where the margin for error is minuscule.

Hear directly from Pratik below 👇

Key takeaway: The role of the marketer is changing but not disappearing. In industries with low regulation, marketers transition to becoming “critical prompt thinkers,” while in more regulated sectors, they wear the additional hat of “AI regulators.” This reveals the dual nature of AI: a tool that can enhance efficiency yet requires human oversight for nuance and regulatory compliance.

The Need for Ongoing Dialogue Between AI and the Marketer

This inherent necessity of a “marketer control” layer to ensure compliance and accuracy is a shared thread. When asked about the potential of AI to take over the marketing realm, Tamara Gruzbarg—VP Customer Strategy at ActionIQ—offered a seasoned perspective, advocating for a more nuanced view. 

She was explicit that AI can certainly handle the grunt work—automating repetitive tasks and even aiding in content generation. However, Tamara highlighted the irreplaceable role of human marketers when it comes to understanding brand voice, tone, and style.

Tamara also cautioned against overlooking the human element in data analytics and predictive modeling. She argued that constructing models for critical business metrics like conversion rates and lifetime value demands a deep understanding of business context. AI tools may be adept at crunching numbers, but they fall short in interpreting the underlying structure and implications of the data.

Tamara introduced the “human-in-the-loop” philosophy that they follow at ActionIQ, emphasizing the need for ongoing dialogue between the AI and the marketer. This interaction ensures that AI-generated content aligns with the brand’s unique voice and message, preventing a homogenized marketplace where every brand sounds the same.

The discussion confirmed the ongoing need for marketers to “cut through the noise.” Tamara argued that a human touch is essential for achieving this, particularly in an era where AI can churn out volumes of generic content. She pointed out that while AI could be a valuable partner in initial drafts and multiple versions of content, the final say should always be human.

Hear directly from Tamara below 👇

Key Takeaway: Tamara stressed the importance of human expertise in data analytics and predictive modeling. While AI can handle data computation, it lacks the ability to understand business context and the nuances of data. She advocates for a “human-in-the-loop” approach at ActionIQ, which keeps marketers engaged with AI tools. This collaboration ensures brand-specific messaging and avoids market homogenization.

AI’s Creative Strengths and Brand Style Guide Limitations

This idea of brand specific messaging also extends to visual brand marketing and AI’s lack of ability to follow a brand guideline… at least for now. Pini Yakuel is the CEO of Optimove, a platform that’s operating light years ahead of most martech when it comes to AI features. 

When asked about the roadblocks stopping AI from completely replacing human marketers, Pini focused on the intricacies of creative studio work. He points out that while AI can perform well in tasks such as comic book illustrations, it still falls short when you factor in the human elements—like nuance, emotion, and unique design language—that often define a brand.

Pini recounts a conversation he had with one of his designers about this very issue. The designer expressed that AI could create fantastical images—like a unicorn riding a motorcycle on Mars—but couldn’t quite replicate the specific design language integral to their brand, Optimove. Despite AI’s capabilities in artistry and replication, it lacks the human touch needed to navigate the complex and nuanced design landscape that brands often require.

He emphasized that while AI can go wild with creative elements, it’s not yet proficient at maintaining the unique “look and feel” that a brand’s specific style guide may dictate. For instance, integrating various elements into a cohesive design that represents a brand authentically is something AI still struggles with. According to his designer, the technology simply isn’t there yet, at least not to a level that can replicate the careful and intentional choices a human designer would make.

This limitation isn’t just about not having enough processing power or data; it’s about an inherent lack of understanding of human emotion, culture, and nuanced communication. These elements often serve as the underpinning for any successful marketing campaign, aspects that AI can’t yet replicate.

Hear directly from Pini below 👇

Key Takeaway: Pini argues that the barrier to AI fully replacing human marketers lies in the inability to understand and replicate the nuanced, human elements that make up a brand’s unique design language. Until AI can integrate this “human touch,” it will remain a tool rather than a replacement.

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The Trust Barrier in AI’s Quest to Replace Marketers

If you asked a marketer in the mid 80s if the Internet would replace everything a marketer did back then, they probably would’ve been skeptical. To be fair it didn’t replace everything but marketing looked dramatically different 10-15 years after that. At the heart of roles shifting and a marketer control layer is this idea of adapting. 

Deanna Ballew is Senior Vice President of DXP Products at Acquia where her team is focused on innovating with AI for marketers. When asked about the likelihood of AI replacing marketers, Deanna emphasized that it’s not a matter of “if,” but “how” we adapt to this looming shift. In line with comments from Boris, she added that the obstacle isn’t the capability of the AI but the trust—or lack thereof—in the data it uses. Deanna points out that tools like ChatGPT aren’t yet trusted because they rely on an immense pool of uncurated data. To trust an AI with marketing tasks, there’s a need for curated, proprietary models.

Deanna brings the focus back to a crucial but often overlooked factor: AI literacy among marketers. As AI technology advances, so must the understanding marketers have about the underlying models. The future isn’t just about AI doing the work but about marketers asking the right questions. Chat UX interfaces could enable marketers to query data effectively, bypassing the need for a business intelligence analyst. However, this streamlined process depends on the trustworthiness of the data.

Here’s the flip side: As marketers become more literate in AI, their roles will shift from manual tasks to higher-value activities. Think about posing complex questions to AI-driven systems, which could then provide strategic insights that marketers can translate into actionable campaigns. Marketers could use these interfaces to directly ask, “What’s the next best customer segment to go after?”—with the system offering insights based on trusted data.

The advancement of AI is like a double-edged sword. On one side, it promises to relieve marketers of mundane tasks; on the other, it demands a new set of skills and a higher level of trust in the data. Deanna stresses that the transformation is inevitable, but the timeline is undetermined, hinging on how quickly trust can be established in AI-generated data and models.

Hear directly from Deanna below 👇

Key Takeaway: Deanna underscores the role of “trust” as the linchpin for AI adoption in marketing. Marketers should focus on increasing their AI literacy and understanding of underlying models to prepare for this seismic shift. Without trusted data and models, even the most advanced AI can’t eliminate the human checkpoint in marketing decisions.

The Organic Evolution of AI in Marketing

There’s a clear trend so far, that the human checkpoint in AI is going away anytime soon. That means there’s a clear signal for marketers to follow Deanna’s advice and double down on AI literacy. The next question is really about how fast you should consider doing this. How fast will we need to adapt?

Aliaksandra Lamachenka, a Marketing Technology Consultant, had a surprising and insightful answer. She drew an analogy with post-war Japanese architecture, specifically a concept known as “Japanese Metabolism.” This architectural philosophy thought of buildings as living organisms with a spine to which modular capsules could be attached or detached. Despite its early promise in the ’50s and ’70s, this concept now largely exists as an idea, with few practical implementations. The buildings initially envisioned as the future of living are now mostly used for storage.

What does this have to do with AI replacing marketers? Aliaksandra contends that society needs time to adapt and accept new concepts, just as with Japanese Metabolism. The notion of AI taking over marketing roles is a similarly radical shift that society isn’t ready to fully embrace. Moreover, she believes that the evolution of AI will be more organic than revolutionary, a natural progression shaped by cultural and societal shifts.

Aliaksandra underscores that although AI has vast potential, the speed at which humans can adapt and accept these changes is the bottleneck. She compares AI’s future impact to the way modular buildings and integrated landscape houses have slowly, but organically, become part of architectural reality. Aliaksandra asserts that AI’s growth will similarly happen organically over decades, not through immediate disruption but by evolving naturally into our processes and systems.

She concludes by pointing out that the ideas of the past often serve as the blueprints for future innovation. Whether it’s post-war Japanese architects or today’s AI developers, the radical concepts and technologies introduced will take time to become an integral part of society. Like the modular houses of today that owe their conceptual roots to Japanese Metabolism, future AI capabilities will likely be adaptations of current bold ideas.

Hear directly from Aliaksandra below 👇

Key Takeaway: Aliaksandra suggests that the pace at which humans can adapt to new ideas is the limiting factor in AI’s ability to replace marketers. She predicts a gradual, organic evolution of AI in marketing, driven more by human adaptation than by technological capabilities.

AI’s Shortfall in Grasping Marketing’s Emotional and Intuitive Side

While the advance of AI in the marketing sphere could be more of a steady march than an overnight revolution, there’s a threshold it hasn’t crossed: the realm of human intuition and gut decision-making. 

Tejas Manohar, Co-founder and Co-CEO at Hightouch, offered a nuanced take, emphasizing both the promises and limitations of AI. Tejas mentioned that AI technologies, like generative AI and reinforcement learning, have already begun revolutionizing how marketing campaigns and experiments are run. They offer incredible potential for automating tasks such as data experimentation, audience segmentation, and personalization.

However, Tejas made it clear that AI is not ready to replace human marketers entirely. The core of his argument lies in the duality of the marketing role, which requires both quantitative and qualitative skills. While AI can crunch numbers, run experiments, and even generate content, it falls short when the job requires a deeper understanding of human emotions or intuition-based decision-making. Tejas points out that marketers often rely on a mix of data and gut feeling, using insights to make substantial strategic changes. Current AI technologies are just not equipped to understand or implement these nuanced elements.

He also discussed the notion of AI as a complementary tool rather than a replacement. Tejas is bullish on the idea that AI will augment marketers, particularly by providing them with easier access to critical business data. He envisions a future where marketers won’t have to request specific scripts or datasets but can work independently to glean insights, thanks to advancements in AI technologies.

The issue of AI completely taking over marketing, Tejas concluded, is also tied to broader ethical and societal questions. If AI gets to a point where it can wholly replace human skills and intuition, society will face “singularity type problems” affecting not just marketing but every job role.

Hear directly from Tejas below 👇

Key Takeaway: According to Tejas, AI’s current role in marketing is as an augmenter, not a replacer. While it excels at quantitative tasks, it lacks the nuanced understanding of human emotion and intuition that is critical for effective marketing. Its potential lies in the empowerment it can offer marketers through data access and automation.

The Thrill of Using Generative AI in Your Martech Stack

Many of the marketers I chatted with echoed Tejas, that AI may be able to process data and spit out automated directives, but it can’t yet replicate the unpredictable, qualitative essence of what makes marketing tick. One particular guest flipped the script on me and argued that the exciting debate is how AI will augment, not replace, the roles of marketers.

The Martech Landscape creator, the Author of Hacking Marketing, The Godfather of Martech himself, mister Scott Brinker had a clear perspective: we’re not there yet. For Scott, “good marketing” remains a domain where human intuition and creativity hold court. AI may be able to process data and spit out automated directives, but it can’t yet replicate the unpredictable, qualitative essence of what makes marketing tick. 

The buzzphrase “Your job won’t be replaced by AI; it will be replaced by another marketer who’s good at using AI” captures the current sentiment aptly. Cheesy as it may sound, Scott sees a grain of truth here. Far from envisioning a future where AI eliminates human roles, he expects technology to bolster the capabilities of marketing professionals. It’s about learning how to weave AI into current practices to improve efficiency and expand possibilities.

But where Scott finds the most promise is in the evolving role of marketing ops leaders and martech professionals. The real thrill comes from the ability to leverage generative AI to optimize what a marketing stack can do. Essentially, AI becomes a potent tool in the toolbox of the modern marketer, especially in operations. The tech is less about replacing humans and more about magnifying their abilities.

However, Scott’s perspective doesn’t herald the end of human involvement; it simply reframes it. AI becomes a part of the job, a powerful component in the array of strategies and tactics that marketers employ. For him, it’s about balance, not replacement. AI might be good, even exceptional, at crunching numbers and predicting outcomes based on existing data. But it can’t yet think creatively or strategically in the way humans can, which is where the core of “good marketing” lies.

Hear directly from Scott below 👇

Key Takeaway: The future of marketing isn’t a binary choice between human intuition and machine capabilities. Rather, it’s a synergistic relationship where each amplifies the other. For Scott, the real excitement lies in how AI will augment, not replace, the roles of marketers.

AI’s Storytelling Shortfall in Marketing’s Emotional Landscape

While AI will continue to amplify the reach and efficiency of marketing efforts, experts agree, their role remains largely complementary to human skill sets. Despite its analytical prowess and automation capabilities, AI hasn’t cracked the code on intuition and following brand guidelines but what about emotional intelligence or compelling storytelling—elements that are often considered the heart and soul of effective marketing. 

Lucie De Antoni, Head of Marketing at Garantme, brought forth some astute observations. Sure, AI is making strides in many industries, marketing included. It can automate and even enhance several elements of the marketing process. But what AI notably lacks, according to Lucie, is the ability to replicate human creativity and emotional intelligence.

Marketing isn’t just a numbers game. It’s about storytelling, tapping into human emotions, and crafting narratives that resonate with people. Lucie argues that these are areas where AI falls short. While machine learning can analyze trends and predict consumer behavior to a certain extent, it’s not equipped to fully understand the nuances of human sentiment or create emotionally resonant campaigns. 

This shortcoming isn’t necessarily a drawback; Lucie sees it as a positive aspect. If AI were capable of such emotional intelligence and creativity, it would put marketers in a tricky situation. The very things that make marketers invaluable—understanding human behavior, crafting compelling stories, evoking emotion—are elements that AI can’t yet emulate.

So, the reality isn’t that AI is primed to push marketers out of their jobs, but rather that it can become a tool that complements human skills. Lucie suggests that this “limitation” of AI serves as a safeguard for the unique value that human marketers bring to the table. The tech may evolve, but it’s unlikely to eclipse the human ability to connect on an emotional level anytime soon.

Hear directly from Lucie below 👇

Key Takeaway: Lucie emphasizes that the strength of human marketers lies in their ability to understand and evoke human emotions—a skill set that AI, despite its advancements, cannot yet replicate. Therefore, while AI can be a powerful tool, the human element in marketing remains irreplaceable.

Episode Recap

AI is already rampant in marketing, particularly in fields like Ad Tech. However, generative AI is not a magic bullet; human expertise is essential for interpreting data and grasping brand nuances. A “human-in-the-loop” approach creates a checks-and-balances system, fostering trust in the data generated by AI and offering the emotional intelligence that machines lack.

Marketing roles are evolving but definitely not vanishing. In sectors with fewer regulations, marketers could morph into strategic thinkers, whereas in tightly controlled industries, they’re becoming essential AI regulators. To effectively ride this wave, increasing AI literacy among marketers is non-negotiable.

The speed at which AI becomes a staple in martech is not solely a question of technological prowess. It’s about how quickly humans can adapt and find ways to integrate AI into existing frameworks. The most viable future is not a zero-sum game between human and machine; it’s a collaborative one, where each enhances the other’s strengths.

You heard it here first folks: Your real edge in marketing fuses a nuanced understanding of business context, ethics, and human emotion with capabilities like intuition, brand voice and adaptability—areas where AI can sort data but can’t match ability to craft compelling stories.

AI isn’t pushing you aside; it’s elevating you to a strategic role—given you focus on AI literacy and maintain human oversight. This isn’t a story of human vs. machine; it’s about how both can collaborate to tackle complexities too challenging for either to navigate alone.

Listen to the full episode 🎧


Intro music by Wowa via Unminus
Cover art created with Midjourney

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