MarTech conference attendees walk through the vendor exhibition hall at the Hynes Convention Center.
MarTech conference attendees cannot avoid talks of artificial intelligence this week. PHOTO: Dom Nicastro

BOSTON — As the leaves in this New England city change colors and meet their demise, discussions of artificial intelligence and its practical application in marketing remain very much alive.

What’s a marketing conference, after all, without talk of artificial intelligence? 

Scott Brinker’s MarTech Conference, held this week at Boston's Hynes Convention Center, was certainly no exception as thought leaders, marketing practitioners and vendors were among the 1,500 attendees who had artificial intelligence (AI) on the mind.

Brinker himself joked during his Tuesday keynote that he’s “legally required to talk about artificial intelligence at a marketing conference.”

AI Promise, Costs

Vendors at MarTech stressed the value of content analysis, automation and understanding customer intent better to deliver superior digital customer experiences.

Brinker, conference founder, creator of the Chief Martech blog and vice president of platform ecosystem for inbound marketing provider HubSpot, told attendees during his keynote that AI reinforces the need for better quality data management.

Marketers have plenty of reasons to be excited about AI in marketing -- 15 to be exact, according to the LinkedIn post of Robert Allen, digital content manager at CITU.

Juniper Research reported earlier this year that chatbots and artificial intelligence will save businesses $8 billion by 2022.

Not all reports are about cost-savings. AI can costs organizations up front

Marketo: Content Analysis

Marketo CEO Steve Lucas on stage at the MarTech conference in Boston Tuesday.
Marketo CEO Steve Lucas on stage at the MarTech conference in Boston Tuesday.PHOTO: Dom Nicastro

Good reports. Scary reports. 

No report seems to slow down marketing technology vendors promoting the virtues of AI.

Marketo, a marketing automation provider based in San Mateo, Calif., on Tuesday released Marketo Content, an AI-powered product designed to predict content most likely to convert each audience by auto-discovering and cataloging website assets.

“The future of marketing is undoubtedly wedded to AI,” Steve Lucas, Marketo CEO, told the MarTech audience in his Tuesday keynote. Marketo is running its Marketo Nation Roadshow at the Hynes Convention Center this week. “AI as a system, as an engine, as a technology is uniquely fitted well to the front office, to marketing. Whether it’s audience identification or campaign or workflow execution, or perhaps it is understanding your content better, the reality is AI is uniquely built to serve the marketer.”

Marketers can produce “hyper relevant” content for individuals through AI, Lucas said.

“This is AI in action,” he said, adding some vendors do AI to become "buzzword compliant." 

"This is real," Lucas said. "The future of marketing is not AI vs. the marketers. It’s the marketers and the machine working together.”

AI with a Purpose

Marketo wasn’t the only vendor touting AI at MarTech this week:

Santi Pierini, president and chief operating officer of marketing measurement provider Cake, said AI in the marketing suite needs to have an actual purpose. It can't be "AI for AI’s sake."

In an interview with CMSWire, Pierini pointed to the current wave of attribution vendors like VisualIQ and Adomentry being acquired by giants Nielsen and Google, respectively.

Santi Pierini headshot
Santi Pierini

“Underneath all of those attribution engines is an element of AI,” Pierini said. “And that AI is helping people understand the relevance of each step in the customer journey. But the next logical evolution is to take those insights and create optimizations around them. Being able to tell marketers what’s working in their marketing mix and blend and what they should be doing better and differently. And that’s where we see the future of digital marketing.”

What's Behind the AI Curtain?

Jason Orgill headshot
Jason Orgill

AI isn’t without its skeptisim and concerns

MarTech attendee Jason Orgill, president of advertising tech provider Airthentic, attended Marketo’s keynote and said the AI-based Marketo Content product seemed “really cool.”

However, speaking generally about the promise of artificial intelligence, Orgill told CMSWire he’s “always a little bit skeptical about anyone who says they’re using AI.” 

“What’s that really mean?” he asked. “Is it AI because some coders threw a few lines of code together or is it really an AI engine? What’s going on behind the scenes? People use it as a buzzword." 

Marketer: Not Ready for AI

Amy Wicks headshot
Amy Wicks

Amy Wicks, digital marketing manager at Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital, told CMSWire the medical side of the business leverages AI but said her marketing team is in the building phase.

“We’re not going to be using AI tomorrow for our team, but seeing the capabilities, it does so much,” Wicks said. “You can’t ignore it. And it’s getting so much better.”

Wicks said the marketing team is simply not ready for it.

“There is a lot of dot-connecting that we’re working on,” Wicks said. “We’re in that phase where we need a tool to do it. We’re not ready to dig in."

MarTech Chief: All About Good Data

Scott Brinker on stage giving his keynote Tuesday at the MarTech conference in Boston.
Scott Brinker on stage giving his keynote Tuesday at the MarTech conference in Boston.PHOTO: Hill Media Group

What does the chief marketing technologist himself think? 

Brinker told the audience on Tuesday that AI is not “one giant brain that magically gives us answers.”

“It’s about getting better at operating at scale and managing complexity of this whole set of marketing activities. Good AI depends on good data. Most of the algorithms in AI are frankly commodotized,” Brinker said

AI is a lot about your company’s data.

“This will become one of the biggest missions for MarTech," he said. "How do we get really effective at quality data management?”