<small><small>By Jonathan Bumba, Chief Marketing Officer, Ensono</small></small>
<small>CMOs and other brand leaders play a pivotal role in shaping and guiding their organizations’ first-line response to the generative AI revolution. The steps taken today will have brand implications for years to come... tread thoughtfully.
CMOs and other brand leaders play a pivotal role in shaping and guiding their organizations’ first-line response to the generative AI revolution. The steps taken today will have brand implications for years to come... tread thoughtfully.
While addressing the graduating class at Rice University in 1962, President John F. Kennedy made a statement for the ages: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
The centerpiece of what is now commonly referred to as the “moonshot speech,” these inspiring words have been lifted by just about every enterprise in modern history to describe their own big bets on technology. While it is certainly understandable that the president’s reference to the moon got all the attention at the time, I believe the five words that followed—“and do the other things”—are the ones that will define us going forward. Fast forward to 2023, and one of the most significant “other things,” whose potential we are all attempting to fathom, is inarguably generative AI. Now, as then, we find ourselves faced with an urgent question—what are we going to do about it?
Like it did so many others, the arrival and impact of ChatGPT caught me completely off guard. It’s not that I didn’t know it was coming—I’ve been tracking OpenAI for several years. But what I hadn’t considered was the unprecedented disruption that would be caused by the convergence of three specific dynamics:
Until November 30, 2022, the overwhelming majority of people were only consumers of AI through capabilities embedded in other technologies, like Amazon’s Alexa or the Apple iPhone’s Siri. These capabilities were largely created by a select few, who had the training and skills to leverage AI properly—and even they were known to fail spectacularly (see Microsoft’s early foray into AI, where it took less than 24 hours for it to turn into a sex-crazed, neo-Nazi racist1). Then, seemingly overnight, and for the first time, millions had the ability to not just consume AI, but create with it. The response was unprecedented. Within five days, ChatGPT had one million users; within 60 days, that number surged to over 100 million—the fastest that any company or platform has ever achieved that milestone.
The democratization doesn’t stop with ChatGPT. There are now several hundred unique generative-AI tools available to the masses, offering a growing inventory of capabilities. By now, most people are familiar with capabilities like content, image, video and code creation, but new capabilities and use cases are spawning at what seems like an exponential rate. From instant conversation starters to 30-second website builds to record-time cell-factory design2, we are careening toward a point where no human activity, however mundane or complex, is beyond AI’s reach.
I hadn’t considered the level of disruption caused by three converging dynamics: the democratization of AI, proliferation of 1000+ generative AI tools and the pace at which they could evolve.
1“Microsoft’s neo-Nazi sexbot was a great lesson for makers of AI assistants,” MIT Technology Review, Rachel Metz, March 2018. 2 thekeys.ai; durable.co/ai-website-builder; cradle.bio
Perhaps the most disruptive of these dynamics is the pace at which these tools are evolving. ChatGPT 3.5 was released on November 30, 2022. ChatGPT 4.0 was released on March 14, 2023. Within three and a half months, it had become multi-modal. This is quite a step up in function in so short a timeframe. This pace is not unique to ChatGPT, which means that new, unexpected capabilities will continue to launch at a pace which is nearly impossible to manage.
Welcome to the world of the “unknown unknowns”
Individually, any one of these dynamics would be relatively easy to get my head around. Taken in combination, however, they represent an event horizon for CMOs everywhere past which it is impossible to predict how they will impact our respective brands. To paraphrase former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, there are the “known unknowns,” (for example, not knowing who in your company is using what tools and how they’re using them), and then there are the “unknown unknowns” (not knowing what capability or tool is coming next, or what the impact might be).
CMOs are typically chartered with corporate communications, including crisis management. We contemplate the possible but finite number of scenarios that would need immediate intervention in order to have responses and solutions at the ready—data breaches, data center outages or cyberattacks are common considerations. But when you think about the growing number of large language models (LLMs), the opaque nature of their algorithms, and the fact that even their creators don’t know exactly how their tools may act once their underlying datasets grow past a tipping point3, the potential danger appears limitless. What could possibly go wrong, right? At this point, it seems like just about anything.
When determining the path forward, let the brand be your compass
Given that generative AI platforms for content and imagery have been some of the first ones launched, it makes sense that marketing departments have been among the first to dip their toes into this brave new world. I’ll admit, it was tempting to hit the pause button and declare a “no-fly zone” for these tools until we could better understand all the risks and benefits, create policies for acceptable usage, and build the technical guardrails to ensure we save ourselves from ourselves. Tempting... but just saying “no” is untenable. It did not take long to realize why turning away from these technologies would be a fool’s errand:
3“Geoffrey Hinton tells us why he’s now scared of the tech he helped build,” MIT Technology Review, Will Douglas Heaven, May 2023.
Innovation defines our brand; fear defies it –
At Ensono, our customers overwhelmingly tell us that they choose to do business with us for a combination of three distinct reasons: our expertise, our flexibility and our culture. In terms of our expertise, they have every expectation that we will help them be more strategic and navigate through times of technical disruption. We cannot deliver on that expectation if we aren’t sailing our own ship through the same waters.
Speed matters –
In this new, agile world, perfection is the enemy of progress. Mistakes will be made…period. But in the world of AI, those who learn first, win! We have seen this play out (admittedly much more slowly) over the last decade, with organizations who moved from waterfall to agile operating models—often as part of their digital modernization efforts. Those who moved first went through significant pain, in terms of organizational change, but came out stronger on the other side. Today, these are the companies best situated to capitalize on the generative AI wave. Those who did not take the plunge are now being left behind.
A compass will always point north –
Embracing what’s next is part of the human condition—especially for top talent. If we don’t move with today’s currents of change, our best team members will gravitate to organizations that do. Make no mistake, there will always be a next “other thing.” Look no further than merging AI with quantum computing (see page 3 for Professor Michio Kaku’s take on going down that next rabbit hole).
As his historic speech did more than half a century ago, JFK’s words offer courage and inspiration for this moment and the next, calling us to meet each new challenge—each “other thing”—as “one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”
Embrace the change. Lean into the excitement, possibility and, yes, the uncertainty of this moment and you will be rewarded!
Do not act alone. The CMO is a key player in the enterprise theatre, but we are not the only actors in this play. Get out in front of your organization’s AI usage by aligning with other key functional leaders, such as Product, Legal, HR and IT. Share your perspective on the potential impact to the brand and understand their take. Set a goal of establishing unified guiding principles that apply to and work for all. You can turn these into more formal policies and governance structures over time.
Survey your teams. Learn and document how your organization is using what tools, for what reasons, and the value they receive from them.
Build your business case to move even faster. Turn those survey results into the beginning of a board-quality business case, complete with the entire enterprise-wide virtue of wide adoption.
TRUST is your currency. In this climate of confusion and uncertainty, the value of trust to your customers, employees and shareholders will only become more essential to your success moving forward. Once you’ve synthesized the outputs of the above into a defined set of guiding principles for acceptable use, publish them in a place that’s visible and accessible to all (see The Maven Report’s guiding principles on page 2). In addition to building public trust, being transparent with your AI usage should be viewed as thoughtful and responsible, which will have the added benefit of helping to insulate your brand in the event of any future missteps.