The role of data skills in the AI age

Published Dec 5 2023 3 minute read Last updated Apr 16 2024
ai in marketing
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  • Sean Dougherty
    Written by Sean Dougherty

    A copywriter at Funnel, Sean has more than 15 years of experience working in branding and advertising (both agency and client side). He's also a professional voice actor.

No one can agree on how artificial intelligence will impact the future of humanity. Elon Musk, who helped form OpenAI, the company that gave the world ChatGPT, warns that AI could become "the most destructive force in history" and even make life practically meaningless for humans. 

Yeah... it's pretty frightening when one of the billionaires who helped make generative AI possible says it could destroy the point of living.

On the flip side, NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang believes AI will actually create jobs and give creative people more opportunities to see their ideas come to life. Then again, Huang recently made billions of dollars selling the chipsets that power AI technology, so he might have a profit motive behind his statement.

We don't know what will happen decades down the road, but we do know one thing: AI in marketing has already disrupted every aspect of the industry, from content creation to data analytics. 

So, how can you start preparing for a career that possibly involves appeasing AI overlords? Here are some evidence-driven ways you might want to adapt.


The fundamentals will remain important

AI can make challenging work seem easy, but it still needs humans to interpret the results (at least for now). That means data skills in marketing will remain relevant. 

What should you learn?

Fundamental performance marketing (and math) skills include:

  • Linear algebra (that's the basic algebra you learned in high school)
  • Percentages, which confuse way more people than they should (but that's one of the reasons the robots might win)
  • Probability and statistics (basically, what are the chances that a certain thing will happen)
  • Pivot tables that turn spreadsheet column items into column headers
  • VLOOKUP() functions that let you look up a value in one column and get a return value from a different column
  • Spreadsheet IF statements, like SUMIF() and AVERAGEIF(), which is pretty straightforward stuff

And since many of the people data analysts report to don't fully grasp some of these concepts, you must know how to visualize data. Otherwise, expect to see a lot of eyes gloss over during your presentations. 


Data fluency will help even the odds

AI can crunch more numbers in a second than you could in a lifetime. It's not a competition you can win, so don't even bother training for it.

The question is whether you have the data literacy to use AI in marketing to your advantage.

Not sure whether you're data literate? Can you:

  • Recognize the differences between raw data and clean data?
  • Clean data before presenting analytics to your team or higher up?
  • Identify actionable metrics and determine how to use them?
  • Visualize data with bar charts, scatter plots, infographics, word clouds, and other methods?
  • Find gaps in data without turning to a data scientist or similar professional for help?
  • Build a single source of truth where your data can live?

If you answered "Yes!" to these questions, you can probably rely on AI to help you get awesome results instead of feeling so intimidated that you question yourself constantly.

If you answered "No! Ugh!" You probably just need to hone a few skills to become a more data-savvy marketer. Jump in headfirst. You don't have anything to lose by learning more about data analytics. Resisting inevitable trends, though... that could really damage your performance.


Make the machines work for you!

Don't you already follow too many commands from machines? Your smartphone's alarm clock tells you when to get out of bed. Your fitness tracker tells you how many steps to take. Traffic lights tell you when you're allowed to drive through a busy intersection!

Wait, let's back up. Those sound like pretty good things. Without them, how will you get to work on time without having a car crash and know you get enough exercise to enjoy a healthy lifestyle?

OK, let's re-approach this issue: it's time to make machines, including AI, work for you!

Our research shows that 34% of marketers spend too much time on data maintenance. Furthermore, "63% of marketers' data-related time is spent on tasks that can be partially or fully automated."

Instead of worrying about the negative effects of AI in marketing, take advantage of the technology so you can devote more time to creative endeavors. Every successful campaign starts with a great idea. Nike's team of humans came up with "Just Do It" and the ongoing marketing strategies behind the slogan. AI didn't do that. “IT” came from human creativity.

Now is the right time to free your mind and develop even more creative campaign strategies to motivate your target audience.

Of course, you still need data analytics to determine the success of your campaigns. AI can handle much of that work, and it's okay to rely on it as long as you know how to interpret the results and communicate them to stakeholders.


Take control of your data

According to McKinsey, companies that embrace AI see revenues grow by 3 to 15%. With that kind of success, you can expect AI to become increasingly critical to all areas of business, including data analytics and marketing.

With the right approach, you can make peace with AI in marketing. You can even benefit from it.

Want to learn more? Of course you do! That's how you can stay ahead of industry trends and learn the data skills in marketing you need to stay relevant in the field.

Start by reading Funnel's Marketing Data State of Play 2024: How AI (+ your data skills) will change everything.

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