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While AI brings many benefits for digital marketers, it is important to be aware that there is a darker side to these tools. It’s easy to think that because these tools exist, then their function can only be good: to help us create better scenarios about how to reach people more effectively. The goal of marketing has always been to increase sales or awareness, to reach the consumer with an appropriate message that loops them into becoming a customer and then maintains that relationship with ongoing, highly-customized messaging. And AI tools can help make these scenarios a reality.
But as marketers, we always have to be careful with what we are doing to capture people’s attention. And these days, there is so much data available on every user that marketers can draw from, that it can be easy to cross the line into “dark marketing” without really even being aware of it. AI tools also make this possible. Huge tech companies are literally collecting data on every user interaction on the web and then selling that data to marketers. This has been standard practice for a long time now, but it’s incredibly easy to forget that at the end of every data point is a human being. It’s easy to run an ad campaign without thinking that there are actual people clicking on those ads. We are manipulating their attention in such a way that they are engaging. But ad platforms only report these things back to us in numbers, and so there’s a danger of thinking of digital advertising purely in terms of data points and leaving the human element out altogether.
That’s why we’re always banging on about remembering the human. Because ethical concerns around data privacy and AI are actually real and should be taken seriously. We aren’t advertising to some random individual units, but to actual living, breathing people. And we are attempting to manipulate their behavior with our ads. But we believe that this can be done in a human, ethically responsible way.
If a company is treating its customers and potential customers as units of data to be manipulated by AI algorithms that it doesn’t really know anything about, then it’s headed for trouble. Even AI systems have to be monitored and adjusted by humans. These systems are not infallible. Thus, every company should provide some human-centered marketing. Perhaps you decide to do live chat on your website rather than have a bot do the job for you. Perhaps you are very transparent about the way you are marketing so that people feel that their rights have been respected through you telling them what is actually happening. There are countless other ways you can respect the human while using the latest AI tools to do better and more efficient business.
While many people recognize they are doing business with a computer or a bot and are largely okay with this, there are times when they’ll want to have access to a real person. Provide this access. And make it easily accessible. Don’t bury it some obscure place where they have to search and search to find it. Go the extra mile to be transparent. It can only do your business good.
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