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As industries evolve alongside tech, there is often the requirement for new capabilities. What do marketers need to learn to make the most of AI, for example, and how will it change their jobs?

Amidst discussion of the fundamentals of marketing, and the notion of generative AI tools being just that (tools), there is recognition of new challenges and potential new pitfalls.

Econsultancy Managing Partner Paul Davies spoke to three marketers at the Marketing Capability Leaders Forum last week and asked them how they are upskilling for AI.

Questions that the average marketer “has never grappled with before”

“[Beyond the fundamentals], there is [still] a requirement to learn things. We have to know how to learn the tools,” said Kate Narbrough, Global Brand Director at Nomad Foods, Europe’s largest frozen food company and owner of brands such as Birds Eye and Goodfella’s.

“There’s language that we have we haven’t considered historically when we’re thinking about a technology. Is it open or is it closed? What data are we including? Do we own that data? Can we delete that data? Is that data training somebody else’s tool?

“These are questions that certainly the average marketer in our teams has never grappled with before, and [everybody] needs to be versed in [AI] at every level if they’re going to entertain utilizing it, either as a keen enthusiast or because the company suggests that they do,” added Narbrough.

The frozen food business already had a “tech triage” process in place, according to Narbrough, but is “putting [in] a lot of processes to ask people questions as to which platform they want to use and why.”

Education around IP is “really important”

Digital asset management is one area that Nomad Foods is currently investing in, with Narbrough sharing plans to build a closed system that utilizes generative AI.

As part of this project, Narbrough highlighted the importance of “understanding the rules and regulations around IP”.

“That level of education is really, really important and can’t be underestimated,” she said.

“There will be a large upskilling… because there’s no point in investing in the tech if everybody can’t then use it in the very best possible way and some people might find themselves to be natural prompt engineers, but there will be many people who aren’t, and sharing the learning… is going to be really important,” Narbrough added.

kate narborough, global brand director, nomad foods
Kate Narbrough, Global Brand Director, Nomad Foods (left)

Investment “will happen”, but how quickly?

Sophia Angelis, SVP, Global Marketing Excellence Director at wine and spirits producer Brown-Forman (owner of Jack Daniel’s), told Econsultancy’s Davies there’s “excitement and fear” around AI in many industries.

“From a marketing or knowledge worker perspective, I think it will fundamentally change how we do things, but I’m excited about it because if it means that you take out the grunt work from what we do as marketers – those processes that take time and have very little value. It frees up time to do more critical thinking or creativity or strategic long-term thinking,” said Angelis.

I think it will fundamentally change how we do things.

However, Angelis also sounded a note of realism, saying that, “whether that investment and the effort will happen – behind the infrastructure, the data, the technology, the people – remains to be seen. …It will happen, [but] how quickly will it be properly embedded?”

This point, about the potential of AI being slightly unclear, was echoed in comments made by Kay Etherington, Marketing Academy Director at Lego:

“We don’t know what it’s going to be yet,” Etherington said, comparing AI to the early commercial internet. “I think we have no concept of the enormity of what it can do and [businesses are] not willing to put our money where we’re not sure,” she added.

This mix of wariness and excitement has arguably been palpable in 2024, and was  broached in Econsultancy’s 2024 trends predictions back in January, where we highlighted generative AI’s position at the top of ‘the peak of inflated expectations’ in the hype cycle. The authors write, “The key piece of advice here is, of course, to be wary of hype, and to focus on use cases that deliver real business value. Be realistic about what to implement and why.”

Could AI fast track some marketers into new specialisms?

One of the major anxieties in the workplace around AI is whether it may take some people’s jobs, and indeed this was a question posed by one audience member to the panel of marketing leaders.

Nomad Foods’ Kate Narbrough offered a counterpoint, saying that though the technology is not “all pervasive in the company” and is only in use in limited tests and pilots, there are junior members of her team who have seen it as “a real opportunity”.

If you want to become the specialist, you can…

“One of the things that I’m fascinated by is that there’s always been a hierarchy [in our industry], to some extent, in terms of either experience or superiority. Your boss tended to know more about production than you did, for example. And that’s not the case now, if you use an AI tool for production, for image creation, for example,” Narbrough said.

“It’s creating, in my team, a kind of meritocracy in that if you want to become the specialist, you can, and then you can take that out into the business.”

“The big picture of marketing has changed”

When Davies quizzed the panel on how they are building new capabilities, Lego’s Kay Etherington said, “One of the key things for us [is] about more holistic pictures of what marketing is.”

“Big picture marketing is not just looking at it as you’re doing a campaign. [It’s how] you’re wrapping your audience in an experience [with] the digital tools that we develop; how you’re going to track and measure your campaigns more effectively; how you can [achieve] speed to market, in-time [changes], which AI tools are helping us to do far more effectively; experimenting more with ideas, so that we can make sure that what we’re doing is truly effective.”

Throughout the discussion, Etherington highlighted the value of AI for interrogating data and said that “the ability to analyze the data effectively and quickly” is a key skill “that we look for”.

Marketers also require resilience

Making a salient point to close the discussion, Brown-Forman’s Sophia Angelis offered some perspective on the core skills marketers need to cope with change.

Alongside new “language, nomenclature and governance”, Angelis said, “there’s just a human element of change management and the ability for us to help build resilience for a discipline that’s becoming increasingly complex in a world that is changing fast.”

“As a human, having to keep up with that change is incredibly taxing and so, how do we make that experience better for marketers?”

Econsultancy runs an AI for Marketing short course, as well as tailored learning academies for large marketing and ecommerce teams.

Read about our work on The Sky Academy of Marketing.