The Near-Term Impact of Generative AI on Digital Marketing
The Near-Term Impact of Generative AI on Digital Marketing

The Near-Term Impact of Generative AI on Digital Marketing


Brian Kroll

Jun 17 2024

The resource gap is rapidly narrowing, but the implementation gap will remain

These are exciting times. Throughout human history, there have been many technological milestones, but nothing in the last 40+ years compares to where we are now. Even the first iPhone or AR/VR don’t match this moment. For a “Gen Xer” who fell in love with tech after booting up an Apple IIc, everything before now feels like a prelude. The story of technology is evolving almost daily.

I’ve spent most of my career in ad sales, starting with print advertising before moving to digital marketing 16 years ago. My fascination with digital advertising began in 2008 when I learned about behavioral targeting. Eager to understand it fully, I read everything I could find, including trade articles, the latest tech updates, and even patent filings. What I love most about digital advertising is the ability to attribute conversions to ads and optimize for better performance.

Back in 2013, I came up with an idea for an algorithm to optimize advertising campaigns. I couldn’t code, but I was good at math and Excel. I created a complex Excel workbook to test my concept, and it worked well. My agency decided to turn it into a product for our campaign managers. However, I felt left behind because I couldn’t contribute to the development due to my lack of coding skills.  

I started learning Python, and it was tough at first, especially finding time while working my day job. I had to adjust my thinking to “Pythonic” ways. But I enjoyed it! I was learning, building, and creating personal applications to help with my job. I love solving problems, which is why I enjoyed coding—it always presented new challenges. Whenever I started a new coding project, I often spent a lot of time on figuring out how to make my code work or fixing unexpected errors.

For a few years, it was all about trial and error. Then ChatGPT came along and made things much easier, narrowing the resource gap significantly.

A “resource gap” refers to the difference between the ideal amount of resources (like time, skill, and assets) and what is currently available. In business, this often means the gap between the company’s revenue goals for the year and the budget set to achieve those goals, including digital marketing budgets. Companies are also limited in terms of personnel by the number of employees they can hire based on their revenue forecasts. 

You’d think that bigger companies with higher revenues could afford more resources, both in staff and technology. “We’re not a Fortune 500 company,” a client says. “We don’t have the same resources as the big players. We don’t have a data science team, a large marketing team, or great copywriters. It can be tough to compete.” It’s true that you might not have the budget to hire for all the roles you’d like. But now, for just $20 a month (or less), you have unlimited access to high-quality resources.

Gen AI is still in its early stages. Models can produce errors, and low-quality prompts lead to poor results. But it’s improving quickly. Time is one of our most valuable resources, and even in its current form, Gen AI can save us a lot of it. It can boost the performance of lower-performing employees and help top performers with scaling or generating ideas. Gen AI is already quite good at tasks like writing ad copy, creating cold emails for sales, generating static images for ads, providing basic analysis of digital marketing performance, and writing short, specific pieces of code.

The most impressive part for me is the time saved. Two years ago, starting a new project or creating a tool for our team’s campaign performance analysis would take me several hours every day for a week. Now, I can typically launch new applications in less than an hour.

For example, I can write Python code in a Jupyter Notebook to download performance data from Google Drive, transform it using Pandas, and upload it to Amazon S3 with Boto3—all in no time. Need to write JavaScript for a Google Apps Script to flag high-spend, low-conversion keywords in a search campaign every three days? Done. And I’m more comfortable with Python than JavaScript.

Even though Gen AI for digital marketing still has room to grow, anyone who has seen OpenAI’s Sora text-to-video creation tool (which hasn’t been released yet) knows that creating amazing digital content will soon become much easier. This will level the playing field creatively, but the agencies and marketers who use Gen AI for data science will excel. We’re witnessing a huge spread of knowledge, and the time to develop a proof of concept (POC) has greatly decreased. While some technical knowledge helps, the time needed to learn coding is now much shorter, and many no-code or low-code tools are emerging to make things even easier.

Access to more resources, especially time, can significantly benefit many businesses. However, the implementation gap remains a challenge.

What is the “implementation gap”? It is the difference between a goal or plan written on paper and how it is executed in practice. In business terms, an organization can carry out a strategic initiative effectively. Simply put, it involves strictly following directions, adapting when necessary, and not cutting corners.

When my wife and I were searching for our first home, we visited many recently flipped houses. Our real estate agent pointed out where construction crews had cut corners to save time or money. The same thing often happens in digital marketing.

Just yesterday, I was reviewing a potential client’s Google Ads account and was surprised to see how many digital agencies skip basic steps like linking Google Ads with GA4 and tracking conversions. It’s really not difficult, and the instructions are readily available online.   

If you can’t do simple tasks well, how can you expect to handle more challenging ones effectively? Many people settle for doing things just “well enough,” but that won’t help when faced with harder tasks.

Sometimes, even when we have great ideas, putting them into action can be very challenging. It involves paying attention to details, negotiating contracts, spending money wisely, and managing people, all while keeping up with your regular work duties. It’s like trying to fix an airplane while it’s flying. Gen AI can’t easily assist with these complex tasks. Strategic changes within an organization often need soft skills, human interactions, and what a former colleague called “convening power.”

The implementation gap affects the digital marketing world. Often, even basic tasks are either poorly executed or ignored altogether. Our industry is becoming more complicated, and paying attention to details has never been more important.

When Google finally updates Chrome to change how third-party cookies work, you’ll probably need to set up a conversion API for your search or programmatic campaigns. While your favorite GPT tool can use its available information to guide you, it won’t know the details of your website or ecommerce system. This means you’ll need a human touch and possibly some troubleshooting.

Similarly, if digital privacy laws change in your state or region, you’ll need to adapt to stay compliant. Relying on GPT for legal advice isn’t advisable since it can’t defend you in court. Additionally, the expansion of Gen AI in search results could significantly affect paid search performance for advertisers who depend on those clicks.

If an advertiser doesn’t have the right talent or access to a knowledgeable team, they won’t fully benefit from AI, and may not see any improvement at all.  

The ability to implement or manage change often depends on the size and complexity of a company. Startups are usually lean and agile, while mid-sized businesses face different challenges. Although we can now use Gen AI to generate ideas, it won’t be helpful without the skills to implement them. Therefore, it’s essential to either develop or outsource those skills.

In summary, Gen AI can enhance an organization’s most valuable asset—its people—by making them more skilled and giving them more time to use those skills. This helps close the resource gap and levels the playing field. However, talent alone isn’t enough for success. The key lies in focusing on the details and consistently working hard towards your goals. Yes, these are exciting times.

Ready to update your digital marketing strategy and build your business?
Our experts are here to help.

Contact Us Today!

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Sign up with your email address to receive news and updates