By Accenture research, Artificial Intelligence could double annual growth rates in 12 developed countries. It has the potential to change the very nature of work by creating a “new relationship between man and machine.”
Investors are pouring millions ($1.3B in 2016) into related startups, and meanwhile, Elon Musk is working double-time to “save humanity from machine-learning overlords” in response to Silicon Valley‘s rush to embrace AI.
As for me… I spent the week in Las Vegas, high-tailing past the smoke-filled rows of slot machines and navigating the maze of the Mandalay Bay convention center during Oracle Modern Marketing Experience.
No wait, I mean Oracle Modern Customer Experience.
Same event, two names.
It’s like when Prince became the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. Whatever you call it, it’s still somehow both iconic and complicated at the same time.
PS: I never got to meet the real Fabio, but I did spend some quality time with his cardboard cutout. I love marketing conferences.
Besides Fabio-FOMO... here's what I took away from the event.
Post-acquisition, Eloqua is the same, only, very different.
I’m a bit of a marketing trade show veteran, on the circuit back in the day when this was Eloqua Experience. There were familiar sights, including the Markies - and Adrian Chang’s glamorous gold accoutrement putting us all to shame.
This had always been an event born of Eloqua’s innovative, smart brand, a celebration of marketing excellence, the spirit of which carries on as alumni move on to roles at SiriusDecisions, Allocadia, Nudge, Fuze and LookBook, solidifying each of these as companies to watch by the sheer quality of their teams.
During the awards show dinner, I spoke to one attendee who was new on the MarTech scene (ignorance is bliss.) They remarked at the expanse of the Oracle Marketing Cloud – and the number of solutions within the famous Scott Brinker landscape slide. I held back from lamenting “when I was your age… we had 100 marketing technologies to choose from… and we liked it!”
Given my appreciation for who Eloqua was and what they were able to accomplish, I was eager to find out how this event had changed since Oracle’s acquisition of Eloqua (for a cool $871M), and what I found validated what we’d heard all along would happen.
We were told consolidation in the chaotic marketing technology world would come, and it has. The Oracle Marketing Cloud boasts six solutions all working in alleged harmony to meet the needs of an orchestrated customer experience (hence the name change).
That consolidation drove a 65% increase in net-new logos for the business, according to CEO Mark Hurd in the press room, part of an overall 72% growth rate – one that he was sure to point out as faster than that of Microsoft and Amazon.
And all this means…
The barrier to technology adoption is lower than ever
Mark's point was clear: GE can now access the same technology stack as BlueApron (both customers.)
This is a unique point in the history of business. With the ubiquity of the cloud, we all have access to the same tools and technology.
This means every business faces an unprecedented level of opportunity. My smaller clients can buy the same tools as my largest clients, leveling the playing field such that it’s back to basics for marketers.
No longer is having the best tool or tech a competitive advantage. That’s all table stakes. Our ability to build sound strategy and put these tools into practice to achieve that strategy is what will separate the long-term winners from those who fizzle out.
Artificial Intelligence is not going to replace jobs
The technology du jour for Oracle MME (ok ok, ModernCX) 2017 was AI.
As mentioned before, the world is abuzz with the potentials of this sexy capability, but with that comes some misconceptions.
Mark (who, by the way, is remarkably approachable for a guy worth $35M at the helm of a 136,000-person organization) sounded a lot more like an entrepreneur than a blue chip CEO when he took aim at our obsession with jargon.
He bemoaned the habit of an industry that often wants to come up with a new term and find problems to solve later – sound familiar?
"We're not lacking data, we're lacking the ability to use data at the specific moment of contact with customers,” he said in his opening keynote.
Here’s what I heard loud and clear: AI will not replace jobs.
Sure, some jobs will go away - but really, AI will create new opportunities, new capabilities, and provide assistance to the next step of the customer lifecycle.
Just look at what Oracle is introducing behind the scenes for support professionals. A service rep armed with customer data like their VIP status, lifetime value, at risk status and more has amazing context to make the right decisions.
My interpretation is that this functionality will play out the same way automation did – smoke and mirrors at first as we all figure out what the hell we can do with this technology, but eventually some sound use cases as the smoke clears and the dust settles.
Steve Krause, Group Vice President of Product Management at Oracle Marketing Cloud shared his stance on the world of AI. According to him, the use case for AI is already here.
“Marketers have a fundamental need to match the right offer to right person - AI makes this possible. What’s manual today instead gets a smart copilot in the future.”
Creativity is the endgame of AI
Is creative problem-solving the ultimate goal of AI?
According to Jack Berkowitz, VP of Products and Data Science at Oracle Adaptive Intelligence, yes.
"AI is about having a machine understand the context of the situation, and give you aid to amplify your abilities in that situation. AI is a partnership between people and their systems.”
During the invite-only panel about AI, Jack made this clear: The point of AI is to unlock creativity, to give talent the time they need to do their job.
He told the story of Netflix, beginning as a delivery channel, an innovative new way of accessing content. It’s now a content company because it’s got a foundation of incredible technology that allows it to deploy sophisticated market segmentation in order to free up their time to bigger, more important things.
FYI, Netflix boasts 94 million global subscribers, and some analysts predict Netflix will continue to add 19.2 million new subscribers annually moving forward.
The gap of tech promise and adoption
All in all this event reminded me of the cyclical nature of technology adoption. What’s old tends to be new again, and it tends to be hyped up again… just look at the fact that AI companies have existed for 20-30 years.
(And the fact that, inexplicably, everything I wore in the 90s is suddenly back in fashion. WHAT.)
Consumers today welcome a credit card fraud warning, said Steve. That’s driven by AI. But, he points out, the excitement fell apart. Where these concepts reach adoption – when they’re truly valuable – is when they can be applied to a real business problem.
Marketing automation – taking this full circle and back to Eloqua - demonstrates this cycle of hype and adoption. What was exciting and new in 2008 is moving right along the bell curve. Slowly.
Some studies have the adoption of marketing automation at 42% of companies (Ascend2). Other surveys have it at 4% (VentureBeat). But talk to vendors, and the media, and it can feel that everybody is doing it, and if you’re not, you’re the freak.
It’s like high school all over again.
And yet the industry and its media is ready to move on to Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and what’s next.
Oracle Marketing Cloud’s SVP and GM Laura Ipsen called it “apps anxiety and innovation insecurity.”
I think it's a timing problem. Our trade shows are annual. Every year begets a new theme, a new buzzword, and a new focus. Readers are hungry for something fresh and new.
What earns a click, however, rarely matches what a practitioner is ready for (but how else are digital publications measured?)
Our adoption of tech does not fall neatly into a 365-day package.
Marketers are left to bridge the gap between the hype of the industry, and the reality in their companies. They operate somewhere between pace of real change, and the consensus of the status quo.
That gap, some days, seems wider than ever.