AI Meets Humanity: Navigating the Future of Marketing at SXSW 2024

SXSW is a place where you can discuss the world’s next big ideas and the tech of the future over breakfast tacos and live music – and I thoroughly enjoy it every year. 

2024 was no different, but one aspect of this year’s festival stood out: AI took center stage like never before. 

Riding the Tech Wave: AI Dominates the Dialogue

Of course, AI has been a hot topic for a long time now. But as Amy Webb, CEO of the Future Today Institute, put it during her featured session covering her 17th annual Tech Trends Report, AI is spearheading what she calls a “technology supercycle.” 

According to the report, we’re living at the very beginning of this supercycle right now – and it shows. AI permeated pretty much every session and tech showcase at SXSW this year. 

It’s not just AI, though. Webb notes that three general-purpose technologies are converging to push forward this new supercycle: AI, biotechnology, and the ecosystem of interconnected wearable devices.

I previously wrote about the Apple Vision Pro spatial computing headset. It’s an example of how these technologies are coming together more and more these days, with the Vision Pro even assisting in surgery now.

Plus, I moderated a panel discussion about extended reality (XR) on the Grit Daily Startup Show at SXSW this year. There was lots to talk about regarding the Apple Vision Pro – which had a major presence at the festival – and the current and future landscape of the XR world. 

But let’s get back to general-purpose technologies, aka the original GPTs…

Basically, GPTs are technologies that can affect an entire economy and even drastically alter society itself. We saw this in the past with things like the steam engine, electricity, and the Internet. Now we’re seeing it with AI, biotech, and connected wearables, all coming together to fuel a wave of unprecedented innovation that will change the world as we know it forever.

For myself as a futurist, it’s exciting and yet a bit unnerving at the same time. As I’ve said before, “Futurism comes with a responsibility of being a steward of the technology for people.” 

So What Does This Mean for Marketing?

Every person and every business will be affected by this new tech supercycle. With AI at the forefront, how do we as Internet marketers navigate this new world? 

I touched on this topic in another panel discussion hosted by Grit Daily House at SXSW, called “Marketing to Humans in an AI World.” 

Currently AI tools are still in a support role in marketing, not so much a leading role. I’ve yet to see AI that can take my 20+ years of experience and distill it into anything really meaningful – the tech just isn’t there yet. 

But as I mentioned in the panel, clients are looking to us to navigate the frontier of technology for them. So as marketers, we have to know what’s possible with AI, what tools are out there, what tech is imminent in the marketing space – while also being mindful of potential pros and cons. 

Most importantly, we need to realize when we’re getting too good. We can’t forget that people want authentic relationships. If we take too many shortcuts, if we know or anticipate people’s interests too well and harvest data too succinctly with our AI superpowers, then that starts to feel creepy. 

I call that creeped-out feeling digitralia, a portmanteau of “digital” plus “penetralia,” which means the most secret or hidden part of something (a penetralia is often the inner sanctum of a building). People usually don’t like their hidden thoughts and desires to be penetrated and exploited so openly. 

However, AI is only getting better and better at it. Machine learning algorithms can identify patterns in vast swaths of data and use sentiment analysis and predictive analytics to figure out what you want or what you’re going to do – almost before you even know it yourself. 

So we need to use AI’s power wisely – balancing smart, efficient strategies with a genuine touch to make sure our marketing feels enriching and not invasive.

Key Takeaways for Marketers

I’ll leave you with a few takeaways from my time at SXSW:

  • Discover and take advantage of AI tools that can enhance your marketing efforts (e.g. video and text editing and data-crunching tools, Midjourney for generating images, for headshots, ChatGPT, Gemini for integration with the Google ecosystem, etc.).
  • Always disclose to clients when you’re using AI tools. This is so important for trust and transparency when you have another company’s brand in your hands.
  • Prepare for seismic shifts in the marketing space, such as a move toward set-it-and-forget-it AI tools for online ad platforms like Google Ads, and AI-powered automation everywhere. 
  • Watch out for when you’re possibly going too far or the AI is getting too good in a way that’s creepy. When it starts feeling intrusive, it’s time to refocus on maintaining genuine human connections.

Anyway, speaking of which, I hope to see y’all in Austin next year!

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