Marketing AI: A Fireside Chat with Cathy McPhillips of the Marketing AI Institute

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Marketing AI: A Fireside Chat with Cathy McPhillips of the Marketing AI Institute

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down to chat with Cathy McPhillips of the Marketing AI Institute about the Marketing AI Conference (MAICON) on September 13-14, 2021. Cathy and I covered a wide range of topics, such as:

  • Why marketers take AI claims at face value
  • Why there aren’t many marketers who can deep dive into the technical aspects of AI
  • Key use cases of AI in marketing, such as social media and content creation
  • How to sell a pilot project idea to leadership
  • The importance of culture to mitigate bias

Watch or listen to the conversation below. If you’re interested in attending MAICON (I’ll be speaking about natural language processing), you can register here.

Marketing, AI, and You: A Fireside Chat with Christopher Penn and Cathy McPhillips

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Machine-Generated Transcript

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Christopher Penn 0:22

Folks, and this is a fireside chat.

I’m Christopher Penn with me today is Cathy McPhillips, from the marketing AI Institute, and we’re talking about the uses of artificial intelligence and machine learning within the space of marketing, the domain of marketing.

If you have comments or questions about anything, as you’re watching this, go ahead and just use the comments box on whatever platform you’re on.

If you’re on Facebook, you’re gonna have to go to the little thing here, stream, slash Facebook, if you want your name to be seen, if you just want to be an anonymous person, that’s fine.

You can just leave comments, however.

So Cathy, welcome.

And tell us very briefly about who you are, what you do and why you’re here.

Cathy McPhillips 1:03

Well, I’m here because you asked me to be on, which makes me very excited.

I am Cathy McPhillips.

I’m the chief growth officer at the marketing AI Institute.

I’ve been with the company about 10 weeks.

And I think that you know, I’m excited to be here because I come with a marketer’s perspective with this AI stuff.

And I work with Paul racer, and Mike capote.

And they’re so in the weeds on AI, that I’m excited to kind of as tell you with some of the questions that I’ve been asking them for the past 10 weeks weeks incessantly.


Christopher Penn 1:30


In your first 10 weeks, what have you found from the perspective of a marketer to be some of the obstacles because one of the things that we’ve seen, I’m going to pull up a slide here, this is from the CMO survey from February 2021.

They asked about 500, CMOS? How, if at all, has your investment in AI and machine learning influence how much time your market is able to spend? So the impact of AI? And what you see is of those companies that are doing something with AI, most of them have not seen very much impact at all.


There’s they’re trying it out, and it’s just not happening for them.

So when you think about, again, from the marketers perspective, this chart, why is this?

Cathy McPhillips 2:17

Well, I think a couple things, one, I think this artificial intelligence, the term scares people.

I mean, guilty, you know, you know, a year ago, two years ago, if I heard that, I’d be like, you know, that’s just we don’t need that.

We like the personal touch, we want to be more involved.

We don’t want machines to do a lot of the things, you know, I don’t you know, me well enough to know that, like, my biggest thing is customer experience, and I want community and I want to have that relationship, and will AI jeopardize that? Well, what I’ve learned is that no, it actually would give you will give you more time to do those sorts of things, because it’ll take away a lot of the data driven repetitive things and give you more time to focus on what you really want to focus on.

I think between that, and people, there is bias, we’ll get into that a little bit with AI and people worry about what will this machine tell me? And I think there’s a whole thing of like, well, I become obsolete, will machine take my job away.

I think you know, if people are onboarding AI, I would ask them, are you really is what you’re using really an artificial intelligence solution? And are you doing it right? Do you have the right people doing it are you investing in just because you have a technology doesn’t mean you’re doing it right? Or even doing it because if you’re not having someone behind it to use it, then you’re not really using it.

Christopher Penn 3:30

And in terms of the different technologies that are out there is natural language processing, regression analysis, all sorts of really fun and technical terms.

What are the things that you’re seeing most people trying to discuss trying to say like, yeah, this is something that I’m, I’m excited about? Or this is something that I don’t understand.

So what are the hot areas that from a marketer’s perspective you think people should be paying more attention to?

Cathy McPhillips 3:57

I’m going to kind of answer this in roundabout way but I’ve been doing some Google Ads around MAICON or event that’s coming up in a few weeks.

And you know, I did AI and Mark and analysis, AI and social media, AI and content creation AI en un agencies, and AI and social media has been the one that’s surfaced the most and has gotten the most impressions.

So I think there’s a big opportunity there for social media, you know, how can we it’s just such a it’s a time suck it’s but you to do it right? You need to invest a lot of time on social media.

So what what can you shortcut? What can you streamline? What can AI help you at least get from point A to point B, not from point A to finish, but how can it help you take a few hours off your plate.

And then content creation might put our Chief Content Officer posted something on LinkedIn today.

He wrote a blog post a few weeks ago, he actually didn’t write it, AI wrote it, and we read it and we’re like, this is really good.

So just being able to start drafting some content for you.

Whether it’s social, whether it’s a blog post, and then funny enough last week, Someone I’m not sure if you were in this conversation, but someone posted on LinkedIn about how AI really doesn’t work for marketers.

So I chimed in and just said, you know, here are some use cases on how AI might be beneficial for you.

And he wrote back and he said, I tried to write a blog post, and AI is never gonna give me a final version of my blog posts that I want.

And I was like, what’s not really supposed to give you the final version.

And if you don’t try to get that first draft, you’re never going to get a final version anyway.

So you have to at least jump in and get started, like machine learning doesn’t say, we’re going to give you this beautiful thing at the end, it’s going to say we’re, let’s, we’ll take you, we’ll keep learning from you and making it better and better each time.

So yeah, then I just stopped, stop the conversation, because,

Christopher Penn 5:43

you know, social media goes, Well, yeah.

So inevitably, somebody ends up, you know, insulting somebody else.

I don’t know if I agree with that in, in terms what, you know, natural language processing in particular is able to do, this is a funny example.

So this is a press release that I found on the news wire from Campion plumbing, right in Oklahoma City, I have no connection to these people, I have no idea who they are.

They just were the unlucky.

Draw that morning, on the news where, and you can see this whole press release about, you know, plumbing and trees, and you’re like basically the same, like, don’t plant trees near your house, because those don’t mess up your plumbing.

And what I did was, I said, Okay, I’m gonna slice off the press release in half.

And I’m going to get rid of the second half.

And I’m going to feed it to one of these models and say, you try to auto complete the rest of the press release.

So here’s the thing, I should probably share my screen because you can’t see that.

So here’s the press release, right? It’s, it’s not, it’s not terrible, right? It’s we encourage our neighbors to plant maintain trees, it’s critical, be smart, where they’re located.

And then you know, another wall of text from from the person who’s speaking, so fed it to the model, this models, poorly branded, named GPT, J, six, b, AI needs to work on naming things.

And I said, I’m gonna cut off a second half, what you autocomplete the rest of the release.

So there in the top of this, let’s make this bigger is the original release in the bottom here, the non bolded text is what it came up with, right.

And it’s a nice bullet list, plant fruit and nut trees, at least 12 feet away from the house, maintain your tree roots.

Keep your plant mulch, so the tree roots don’t have to go dig down as far as like, this is not a first draft.

Like right, this is almost ready to go.


First of all, a lot prettier.



So, you know, to the person who’s saying, you know, this is the only it’s ever going to create a finished product.

I don’t know that that’s going to be true for you know, for the long term, it is true now.

But all these models are getting so much better, so much more quickly.

That I don’t know if that holds true.

I mean, so for somebody to have those beliefs, how do you think something like this is convincing enough to get them to go and maybe I should be hopping on the bandwagon?

Cathy McPhillips 8:18


I mean, and to the other point is like, okay, so you go in here and you add a bullet, or you tweakable it or something, and then the machine sees what you did, and the next time it’s going to know that so you have to give the computer data, the machine data for it to know and learn.

So next time, it’s going to be better, you know, and it’s You can’t expect this perfect thing without you putting in some some information.

And those are the kinds of things that I’ve, you know, learned and said, okay, we can give this a shot.

Christopher Penn 8:47

I’m curious to you to dig in a bit more you’d said with regard to social media.

What is it that you’re hearing people asking you about the use of AI within social media?

Cathy McPhillips 9:00

I think from like, not from an engagement standpoint, but more of the distribution standpoint.

You know, you’re writing a blog post, you want to do a LinkedIn post, a Twitter post, a Facebook post, and different versions.

So it may be one blog posts might be 20 different versions of the social media posts, without duplicating something and you want to pull out different snippets or use different hashtags and all these different things like how can AI help me do that? Because the blog post took me 10 hours to write and social media is taking me another hour to two hours to draft to publish to schedule.

So how can AI help me in that? Like, can it go through and just do a quick sweep of the post and just draft something up? So I can just go in and edit that? save an hour of my life? And then and then go and then you know, go in and say can you even schedule it for me because you know, here’s the optimal times that our community is engaging with our posts.

How can I help us there and just constantly learn, you know, you six months ago 10am might have been a great time for you to be on Twitter, but machine learning that your engagement happening more to in the morning it gives no one else is on.

And that’s those are the kinds of things that we, you know me as a marketer I’ve gone in and I’ve looked at that data and said, Let’s shift up our times.

But how can the machine actually tell me? Well, you, you’re looking at this way, but actually try this instead.

Christopher Penn 10:16

How much value do you think there is, though, in marketers trying to not necessarily just use AI for creation and work in their own stuff, but trying to understand that other people’s AI, so, you know, the the classic thing, for example, in SEO, people have been spending years of their lives trying to understand how Google does things.

People spent years, their lives trying to understand how Facebook and LinkedIn and all these different social networks, what their underlying algorithms and models do.

And for those who can read the technical stuff, you can extract a lot of value, and come up with tactics that that map to the way the underlying machines work.

Do you feel like that marketers are in a position like even in your own efforts, as you said, in the last 10 weeks, do you feel like you’re in a position now where if somebody handed you, you know, some documentation about how LinkedIn is using its natural language processor, you can say, Ah, now I know what to change in my LinkedIn strategy.

Cathy McPhillips 11:21

I mean, is it trying to, like work with with the LinkedIn algorithm? Because I mean, or is it really try? Is that beneficial for you and your business and your customers? Sure.

I mean, I go ahead and read it, I probably read it anyways, because I’m a big nerd, and I read stuff.

But I don’t know if I invest.

You’re not trying to learn the tech.

Now, you’re not trying to learn AI, you’re and you and I talked about this a few weeks ago, when we were on the phone, that I’m not, I don’t need to learn about AI and be a data scientist and understand all that I just need to learn how AI is helping me.

I don’t know if you said this analogy, or I did.

But you know, just to drive a car, you don’t need to be an auto mechanic, you don’t need to know how to how a car works to drive it, you just need to drive the car.

So if I know how AI can help me, I don’t want to, that’s pretty much the end of it.

I don’t need to know all the ins and outs.

Unless I really want to.

Christopher Penn 12:11


Because I think it’s interesting, what you hear a lot about with it particularly in in more technical pieces of documentation is you learn more about the inputs, like the underlying algorithm, there’s only really a handful of algorithms that these big tech companies could use at scale, because they’ve got to do it for millions or billions of people, so they can’t come up, they can’t use the fanciest stuff that there is out there, because they simply don’t have enough computational costs.

But there’s plenty of it’s really like, the analogy I use is a blender, like if you know what to put into blender, you know what a blender does, then what comes out of the blender shouldn’t really be a surprise, like if you if you put in sand of fruit smoothies not going to come out, right.

And so there’s this interesting post that has since been deleted, which I find very interesting, by the technical head of Instagram saying, here’s what the signals we look at, in rough order of importance for what, how we show things to people.

So post itself signals like how many how quickly people are liking, commenting, sharing and saving a post.

And they matter explore more than doing feeder stories, your history of interaction with someone your activity, what you do, and how people interact with you, and interact with people who are about their posts.

And I find that, again, you may not necessarily need a data science or an AI engineering background to read this and go, Oh, so these are the things in order that you take into account.

So as a marketer, when you read this now, does that change how you think about how you should be using Instagram to promote stuff? For sure.

And why our market is doing this, then?

Cathy McPhillips 14:01

I don’t know why they take this down because people are trying to game the system?

Christopher Penn 14:07

I don’t know.

I speculate and this is pure speculation.

This is the I have no basis in fact for this.

But I speculate that he gave away a little too much information.


Yeah, or didn’t have the appropriate approvals to give it away.

But there’s a lot of information here like oh, well, if you know this about what Instagrams model is taking into into account, then you know that what you need to do.

So if there’s a post, for example, that you need to have really do well.

The fact that they say us how many and how quickly people like comment and share.

You may want to send out a text alert to your fans.

So like I need you all to like this post right now.

I run some ads, really spend some ads really quick on it or you send out an email or a notification just slack community, but whatever it is the fact that how many and how quick is the most important signal is the velocity algorithm means that you can now go and take advantage of it.

And so again, from the perspective of a marketer, why don’t more marketers pay attention to the technical stuff? There’s no codea.

There’s no math when I ask anybody to do math, yeah.

But this could change your social media strategy, all those marketers who are looking for AI on social media like they’re giving it to when they don’t delete it on you.

Cathy McPhillips 15:26


All right.

Unless you’re Chris Penn and screenshot it and save it.

You know? Yeah, totally.

I mean, this is such useful information.

Because, you know, we’re working on that right now.

We’re trying to build our Instagram strategy for the Institute.

And it’s just like, I could take this back to our team and say, Okay, here’s what we’re gonna do.

You know,

Christopher Penn 15:43


It’s something you know, our CEO Katie Robbert’s always saying is like, so what like, he’s, you know, you have all this AI as a CIO, whoa, well, when you’re decomposing other people’s AI, and trying to figure out how it works, the so what is you know, how their stuff works better.

So that you can take advantage of there was another paper, I don’t have it handy.

LinkedIn published.

LinkedIn actually is, I think, one of the most interesting social networks because they publish and share a lot of their underlying technology, like they tell you exactly how they do things, how they train their models and things.

But again, marketers don’t read the now in that case, I think it’s fair to give marketers a break, because their papers are really technical, like really like this is calculus and linear algebra all through them.

But if you can decode it, you can recognize Oh, so for example, it’s not just what you post on LinkedIn, it determines what gets seen.

It’s the language you use on your profile.

It’s the language of the people in their profiles in your first degree connections around you.

So like, if all your friends on LinkedIn, all your first few connections are talking about e commerce, and you’re over here talking about AI, this kind of this mismatch and LinkedIn symbol, you know, they’re not really interested in AI.

So we’re not going to show your post to them.

But if they show some interactivity, and then one of the things I thought was kind of a cool dead giveaway was it looks at the language you use and other people use in comments, like when you’re commenting on other posts.

So if you are engaging with, you know, political content on there, and all you’re talking about is so and so did this thing.

It thinks that that’s what you’re about then.

And so then when you publish your thing about the marketing AI conference, it’s like, well, you’re, you’re posting something has nothing to do with what you talk about most of the time, right? So again, I would I wish more marketers would keep these things.

Cathy McPhillips 17:41

So I think it’s a new side business of Trust Insights is to have you analyzed, you know, decompose all of those into marketer speaks, we can all understand it and pay you to, to do that for us.


Christopher Penn 17:55

will do what we can actually make a living and you know, that’s sort of the especially one gentleman comes to mind is Bill Slutsky over in SEO community.

He runs a blog SEO by the sea.

And his whole thing is he reads and analyzes in detail every patent that Google puts out, and every you know, academic paper, and he’s like, Okay, this is what Google is doing based on what they have patented.

So if you if you read this, because like, okay, he invests like a ton of time on it.

But again, I think there’s a niche here, for folks who are in marketing interested in AI, again, you don’t have to be a coder, you do have to be able to read academic papers.

Okay, let’s move on something else, you had said that earlier on a bit of a focus on like bias and ethics and what’s going on with AI, what you found out in your, in your first 10 weeks about that topic.

Cathy McPhillips 18:51

that a lot of marketers take what they ate, what AI, the what the machine is giving them and they take it at face value.

And that really is not a really good decision.

You know, and Paul rates are so our CEO and I have talked a lot about you know, he has this whole model of marketer plus machine, where a marketer needs a machine, but a machine needs a marketer.

So, there has to be someone a real life person on the end of that after the machine tells you something to say, Is this true? Is this beneficial? And are we comfortable using the data in this way? So, you know, whether it’s implicit bias or whether, you know, just, there’s a lot more to it than just taking what the machine is telling you at face value, you know, and there’s Karen Hall from MIT tech review, who’s speaking at MAICON who’s got getting into this topic, and she, I mean, she has been phenomenal.

I’ve read a lot of her stuff.

And she just constantly pushes back saying, Are you sure Are you sure? Are we doing this? Right? And especially now where marketers are aware, if you’re talking about AI, even if you’re not using AI, you’re ahead of most people.

And as this continues to grow, we have this opportunity and a big response.

ability, as marketers leading this AI charge, we need to set this, set some ground rules and set this up now to do it the right way.

So I’m excited to hear her speak at the event about that.

Christopher Penn 20:12

What are some of the ground rules do you think need to be set up?

Cathy McPhillips 20:16

I don’t know.

I think that’s one of the reasons I want to hear from her is just putting some, you know, some checks in place.

And I don’t know who the right people are to do that, whether it’s making sure we have a data scientist somewhere in our team and our agency and our, you know, some type of partner that can help us do that.

Or, you know, having having someone look at that, and it just an analyst within our company, look at the data and say, you know, is this? Or is this right?

Christopher Penn 20:49

How do you reconcile that, particularly when you have things where there aren’t necessarily always good? right answers.

So real simple example.

Social Networks, Facebook, in particular, but social networks, in general have received a lot of criticism, most of it very valid, that they are essentially breeding grounds for misinformation.

And for just outright garbage, you know, particularly around the pandemic, but politics in general.

How do you balance that? As of saying, like, yes, you have the right to free expression, even if what you’re expressing is completely incorrect.

with things like, hey, by, you know, 40% of the population failing to take action on this thing, you will eventually create a mutant strain of, you know, SARS-CoV-2, that will probably reinfect us all.

So how do you balance the public good with the individual when it comes to the way these models appearing? Because right now, no one’s doing much of anything on this front? And, you know, the outcomes we’re getting are not great.

Cathy McPhillips 21:55

I smacked me like a really silly answer.

But I feel like if, if you have that gut feeling that, I don’t know if this is right, or are we sure, like, I just feel like we as marketers need to be good humans, and just make sure we’re doing good by our company, and by our customers, you know, if if it gives you pause, probably you probably need to dig a little further.

And you need to do a little bit more.

I think you need to do that anyways, even if you know, you are confident with the data, but what, but I just feel like we have to, to speak with people, you know.

But I don’t I don’t I don’t? I don’t know, I don’t know.

And that’s some of the things you know, that’s, like I said, I’m coming into this as it’s funny, because I’ve been marketing for 30 years.

But this is all new to me.

So I’m coming in with like, an expert ish level of marketing with no experience in AI.

So trying to learn that, and being a customer, customer of our company, just trying to understand it.

It’s like there’s a lot of questions that I need answered.

And that’s, you know, that’s one of them, you know, you say, What are you doing, like, I’m figuring it out as we’re going on, which is how I’ve kind of lived the last 30 years of my marketing world is just, you just figure it out.

Christopher Penn 23:08

Right? Do you think that some of these things, at least for big things have societal impact, might need to go through a review process, you know, something, for example, with clinical trials, you can’t just release a drug on the market.

Without it, at least in the United States, the FDA saying hey, you should probably provide some evidence that this thing works the way it says it works.

And that’s not actually just going to go and kill a whole bunch of people.

There is no oversight like that in artificial intelligence should there be?

Cathy McPhillips 23:38

Well, we have talked about, you know, within our team, we have kind of like an ad hoc Advisory Board of sorts, you know, where I’ll reach out to someone like you, or Tim Hayden, or, you know, Can Can you look at this? Or what do you think about this or some CMOS that we know that we’re making sure we’re getting gut checks from them? Just saying, you know, are we on the right path? Or what do you think of this? But yeah, I think there should be some some checks in place along the way.

Christopher Penn 24:05

How much of the problems do you think are because of upstream issues with the people creating the AI?

Cathy McPhillips 24:15

Well, I do know that we have talked to some folks about you know, wanting to partner with us on something and the team has pushed back and said, you know, either one, there just doesn’t seem like it’s a good fit for a number of reasons to what you’re doing really isn’t AI.

And so just trying to make sure that we’re we’re we’re working with the right people and what they’re doing is something that we believe in

Christopher Penn 24:43

deep voice that so what about the people who tell you about those those companies that say they’re doing AI but they’re not what’s what’s your name names, obviously, but, you know, what’s the story behind that?

Cathy McPhillips 24:55

Well, I think that some, you know, as marketers, you know, bet like, I’m kind of jumping off topic a little bit but like way back before when I was working with CMI prior to that, you know, I was a CMI customer, I was reading the blog, and I’m like, we’re doing content marketing.

And once I started CMI, like, we are not doing content marketing at all.

We’re publishing promotional blog posts.

So you know, you just learn, I think some companies and some marketers think, oh, because we’re using a marketing automation tool.

We’re using AI, or we’re doing you know, we’re using this tool, we’re using AI, but that’s not you’re using a technology, you’re not using an AI powered technology.

So marketer? It should, I mean, it should, if you know that it can, the machine is going to help you in a more beneficial way, by learning what you’re doing and learning what your customer needs, then, yes, in the long run, that’s going to save you a boatload of time and give you more, you know, better.

Better outcomes.

Christopher Penn 25:53

Okay, because in 2018, the Financial Times did an assessment of 100 companies that that said they did AI products were AI enabled and found that 35% were just outright lying.

Like, there’s literally not a scrap because they had an outsourced, you know, cube farm somewhere in like Kyrgyzstan that was doing all the stuff behind the scenes.

Unknown Speaker 26:14

But it’s good for SEO to have machine learning in your, in your website.


Christopher Penn 26:19

And then, ultimately, the question is, if the customer gets the benefit, at the end of the day, does it actually matter whether machine did it or not?

Cathy McPhillips 26:32

I see your point, you know, is the cost of outsourcing all this stuff? is comparable on price to using an AI technology? I mean, I guess what are you do you right? But I mean, I guess I would, I would say if you want to want to know really what your customers want, and what you’re going to save time on, and you as a, as a business leader Want to know more? I feel like we got to get on this AI train eventually and start using some of these technologies.

Because what you’re you’re giving, you’re giving this other group, this partner of yours, all this data, and they’re just sending it back? Are you sure? Are you sure it’s what rights, right? Are they doing what you want what you want them to do?

Christopher Penn 27:13

Right? But if you’re if you’re a marketer, who’s not a technologist, do you necessarily know what you want them to do? Or do you just want them say like, Hey, I just need my social posts, actually, more people like my tweets.

So they can see that the more they’re getting their engagements up.

So everything’s good.

Right? Exactly, exactly.

Because one of the things that I wonder about a lot when it comes to the use of AI, and you know, particularly with bias and ethics is machines write their own software, but they do it from the data we provide them.

And they do it using algorithms in many cases that we specify.

Which means that if we’re doing it wrong, we’re going to teach that to the machines.

The most powerful and unpleasant example I can come up with is when you look at this is Facebook’s website, these are their core values, be bold, focus on impact, move fast, be open and build social value.

That no point in here, doesn’t say make the world a better place, make people happier, improve the productivity of society, right? Even when you zoom in on a few of these, these values and things, you know, we’re trying to bring the world closer together.

Yes, you’ve done that.

Congratulations, you are entire tribes of people who are like wacky conspiracy theorists.

So because these the values of the company, it shows up in their AI, it shows up in how the Facebook newsfeed works.

You don’t have to, you know, you can look at say, okay, they have done exactly what they said they were going to do.

And in the process made the world a much worse place in society.

Exactly, because that’s not in the values.

So when you hear people, you know, companies coming to you, how is anybody thinking about? Okay, have we hired people who are biased in a way that would be generally accepted as not acceptable? You know, has anybody looked at the data going in? Has anybody looked at the data coming out? Do you see anybody doing that kind of deep investigation?

Cathy McPhillips 29:24

There have been a few people we’ve worked with, obviously, you know, Paul and Mike on much longer scale, that that’s what kind of what they’re doing is they’re being Are you being strategic with your data? Are you using it? Are you like you said, Are you inputting it the right way? Are you teaching the machine the right way? And like you said, I mean, that’s bias right there.

You think you’re doing it right? Even with the best of intentions, but you might not be and having someone to help you do that is, you know, is is an important thing to have.

But yeah, I mean, they’re definitely God.

Christopher Penn 29:57

No, please God.

Cathy McPhillips 29:58

I was gonna say they’re definitely Some companies that we’ve kind of shied away from, because it just kind of gives you that feeling of like, I don’t know if this is, if this is right, I don’t know if this is an association, we really want to be part of, let’s just watch and see maybe in the next 612 months how things change with their business, and maybe it’s something that we might want to consider.

But that’s something that Paul, you know, for, as long as I’ve known him way before, you know, I was involved with his agency.

And he’s, you just kind of find the people that you want to be associated with, that are good people, and that are working toward a good good cause.

Christopher Penn 30:35

What’s the makeup of the companies themselves in terms of the people they’ve hired? With when we partner with people with when you’re looking at a company and trying to evaluate, for example, whether they’re telling the truth about their AI and or whether their AI is, is it has potential biases, when you look at the company itself, and say, like, gosh, it, I’ll give you an example.

I used to work at a company was based in Atlanta.

And they claim they were an equal opportunity, employer, all this stuff and things like that, and you walk in the office the first day on the job.

And now the 100 employees, there’s not a single black person, they’re like, this is Atlanta, 54% of the population is black.

And you’re telling me you can’t find a single person who’s black to work here by going but we’re an equal opportunity play like, No, you’re not.

Otherwise you represent the population you’re in.

And so one of the things that I wonder when I look at, you know, because we will look at companies and technologies and look at the team that go to their their team page and look at it say, huh, you’re all exactly the same people.

It’s like, you know, something, right, a Stepford Wives just, you know, you’re the same person cloned over and over again, right? That makes me worried about their AI.

Because if you have a homogenous culture of people, you’re going to create an algorithm or a model with problems, how much do you look at the people behind these companies?

Cathy McPhillips 31:56

That’s a good question.

I honestly don’t know the answer to that question.

But I do know that we talked off camera about our AI and action series that we’re starting next week, and some of the sponsors of MAICON, who will be on these AI and action sessions next week.

You know, Paul got on the phone with them and talked for 3060 minutes and just said, let’s talk about your AI.

Let’s talk about let’s talk about this doing like, we don’t want to partner with someone who’s saying they’re using AI and they’re not, for example, um, as far as getting into team and culture and all those sorts of things.

I don’t know.

But it’s something I’ll definitely you know, you know, Matt, we like when we were at CMI that was something that Moe and I really were it was important to us.

With the with the larger informer community, so I think I feel like that’s something that I could bring back to the team for sure.

It’s a great question, right? Because I know, I know that, like in the lessons and in the certifications, that those are slides saying, check out these things.

But have we put it into our own practice? I would like to say yes, but I’ll make sure.

Christopher Penn 32:58

What about what the conference itself, like when you’re choosing speakers and things?

Cathy McPhillips 33:02

Oh, definitely.

You know, it’s, it’s hard right now, because it’s been a lot of, you know, we know that you’re an expert.

We know, like I said, Tim Hayden, and Mathew sweezey.

Three men, you know, it’s like, but we know that you’ll give the content to our attendees that they need to know.

So it’s been, it’s been an effort to, you know, scour the internet, talk to people talk to people that are our customers.

But he’s also reaching out to people that we’ve never talked to, you know, a couple of our speakers are brand new to the whole team, because Paul took the initiative to go out there and find and find folks and ask around and make sure that, you know, so is it 5050? Is it? You know, is there a diverse audience? can we do better? Sure, we could do better, but it’s better than 2019.

You know, so we just have to continue to improve.

And I think, I think that’s definitely important.

But we just, you know, it takes 12 months to plan an event, and we just have in that gives us now, September 15, we’ll start planning 2022 and that gives us a new new chance to get out there and and try to find out who those experts are.

or train some, you know, get somebody that means to be that next expert.

Christopher Penn 34:15

is the issue because there aren’t enough people who are skilled in both marketing and artificial intelligence.


Okay, are we are we just don’t know them? Right? Because I know this, for example, you know, there’s the whole black and AI community and the Latin x in AI community and the women in AI women analytics organization, which I think is actually either in Cleveland or Cincinnati.

So there’s groups out there, but I know a lot of those folks are like in bioinformatics stuff and where these are folks who are 100% know, the cutting edge, but they’re not doing they don’t work in marketing or they have no protection of marketing.

Cathy McPhillips 34:55

Yeah, I mean, definitely, and I’ve met a few women and AI groups.

I’m on this inside AI, Slack channel.

And I’m looking around, like you said, it’s like trying to find the marketing people within those groups.

And then approaching them in a way that, you know, I would love to connect with you and not like, I need something from you.

So it’s building relationships, too.

It’s not just, hey, you’re, you’re a black woman who works in AI and marketing, can you come speak at our event? Like, I wouldn’t do that.

So we have to, you know, it’s gonna take a long time to build that relationship up and up and have them want to do that for us.

Christopher Penn 35:31


When you look at the audience, who, who is a member of the Institute, who’s attends the conference? Who is in how has it changed in the last three years?

Cathy McPhillips 35:46

Well, I’m still diving into all that data.

But what I have seen is a lot more people that are, you know, downloading our state of the industry report are downloading our beginner guides, I look at their title.

And I’m like, you’re so not a beginner, you are a CMO of a brand.

But they’re trying to like just dip their toes in the water and say, is this something I should be be investing in? We’ve got a nice international presence, which I think that’s been consistent, consistently growing.

And I mean, I’m even trying to grow the market in Cleveland, you know, just how many people in Cleveland know that? You know, Paul has been around for a long time period.

2020 has been around for a long time, the institute kind of heard about it, but they don’t know about, they haven’t heard about the event.

So I’m like, wow, in our own backyard, we need to expand our audience a little bit.

Christopher Penn 36:32

What are those? What are folks who are? What are their top questions that they have? Obviously, you know, the big ones are easy, like, how does this stuff work? Do I need this and stuff? But what are some of the more nuanced questions that you’re getting? That you see as a theme?

Cathy McPhillips 36:49

Am I ready for this? What do I need to do with with my team with my data before I can start? What does it even really mean? You know, what is what is AI? I mean, just what is AI? Right? So I think it’s a lot of just that fear.

And also, you know, the fear of Can I do this? And shall we be doing this? But do I have time? You know, what, where do I fit? You know, onboarding technology alone is is a time commitment.

But now you’re like changing your whole entire marketing strategy? And can you onboard a new technology that might help you with one small task? Before you change overhaul your strategy? Like, what? I feel like you need to do both? But when can you just start with something small? And then work on the bigger picture?

Christopher Penn 37:37

How do you answer to people who ask you, how do I know if I’m ready for it? I told them to call Paul.

What it means is what you learned in the last 10 weeks?

Cathy McPhillips 37:48

Yeah, I mean, I think if it’s something that, you know, if it’s something you do every single week, if it’s something repetitive, if it’s something that you have data to support.

And if it’s just consistent, I feel like that’s a good use case, you know, it could be a be testing subject lines, it could be drafting social media posts, it could be looking at some analytics, just some of those things and versioning creative, you know, I one of our AI inaction sessions next week is what the company called Sol tra.

And they talk about how they you can put in a piece of creative and it’ll version that for all the web, you know, all the banner ad sizes.

And I but there are companies that do that.

But how they’re different is that they, you might you can go on, you can manipulate where the logo is and to do certain things on the versions they pump out.

But then it learns and says, Okay, next time, we’ll know that, you know, or the other companies who aren’t AI powered, don’t do that.

And I was just like, Oh, my gosh, I just I did that two weeks ago for all our a and actioner I make concessions.

I’m I spent a whole entire day doing creative.

And I was like, that would have saved me.

Maybe half the time, I could have done it and half the time versus eight hours, it could have been four hours, that would have been glorious, because I have so many other things I need to do.

So just finding that that thing.

And what are What don’t you like doing? You know, I love doing you know, creative ideation and putting something together.

But do I like sitting there and make all the versions? Not really.

So usually I do it at night watching a movie, which is not a good way to spend my time either because I should be enjoying my evenings with my family.

And I’m versioning ad creative.

So just you know What don’t you like doing what you know, what isn’t fulfilling to you? I know we all have things that aren’t fulfilling that we just have to do because part of our jobs, what’s repetitive and what do you have data to support the machine can help you.

Christopher Penn 39:36

How do you answer people when they ask the the perennial buy or build question like should we should we go out and just get a vendor or should we try and build this ourselves? What do you think is the criteria that makes sense to you

Cathy McPhillips 39:49

think from an AI standpoint, if any, if people haven’t figured this out yet, and there are companies that are working on it, I feel like why would you start your own I mean someone Like you could, but do you have the team? Do you have the team that could do that? are you investing in the right people? Go see what other technology companies are doing.

First, this was what I would say.

Christopher Penn 40:15


Yeah, the decision we background is a cheap because we’re a small business.

So we’re like, Okay, if we can build ourselves, we will.

And, and more important, if it’s something that is, is ancillary, like I just want, like your example of ad creative, that’s not, that’s never going to be a core competency of ours.

So there’s no reason to build that technology doesn’t know if somebody else has solved that problem.

But if it’s going to be something that is core to what we do part of the secret sauce, I personally feel like that’s risky to have in the hands of a vendor, even no matter how good the vendor is.

I feel like that’s something that you don’t want to be held hostage to with the by a vendor.


So, okay, so to wrap up here, where can we find out more about the conference itself?

Cathy McPhillips 41:10

The conference itself can be found at

And that will take you to the homepage, and there’s, you know, our agenda, our sessions, speakers, everything’s up there.

Yeah, so it’s in September 13, and 14th.

And yesterday, we did a lot of the filming and everything.

And it’s, it’s, I’m

Christopher Penn 41:28

really excited about it.


What are you looking forward to most?

Cathy McPhillips 41:35

One, I’m excited because we’re using Swapcard, which is an AI powered solution for our platform for the event.

And the nice thing about that is that say, I connect with you and I connect with with Katie, she’s coming to the event, then, then the algorithm will say, okay, they’re looking at folks in this industry, or they’re looking at, you know, this job level or function or whatever.

And they’ll say, why don’t you go talk to these, you know, talk to John Wall, talk to this person, and it’ll connect you so that we, you know, we thought if we’re using a platform, we should use an AI powered platform.

So we’re, we’re testing out some things.

So I’m excited about that, just to one just to see people and start to build this community a little bit more.

And then to just some of the sessions, I think, I think one of the things that I keep asking a lot, which I’m probably driving everyone crazy, is just the Okay, we talk a lot about the what is marketing AI, and why you should be doing it.

But I’m just like, how do you do it? Show me how to do it.

And so I think, you know, one between our between our AI and action sessions that are happening next week, along with some of our breakout sessions, it really is diving into the How are you doing it? How can we be doing it? And that will answer my question of should we be doing it right now? Or what do we need? What do we what position do we need to be in to be able to start doing this on our own or with a partner to help us? So I think that’s going to answer a lot of the questions for some folks.

And then some of the other sessions that we talked about Karen’s Cade Metz is our closing keynote.

And he wrote the book genius makers, which is, was a really, really fascinating read on the world of AI, from Google and Facebook, and, you know, DeepMind through now and how that whole industry is evolved.

And to your point, there was a lot of white men 30 years ago, 40 years ago, you know, doing 50 years ago, you know, doing all this and look at, look where we are today.

So the industry is evolved.

There’s a lot of the whys and how we got from this point to this point.

And he’s the technology correspondent for The New York Times, and he’s working for Wired Magazine.

So a lot of his stuff has just been really great to read.

And he was actually one of the people that Paul started following First that got him into the, into this whole marketing AI space.

So he’s doing the closing keynote.

And then just Mathew sweezey will be there.

He was supposed to keynote last year, and we know how 2021 so that didn’t happen.

But he’s going to come back for this one.

And he’s always brilliant to listen to and so great to listen to.

He’s really good at taking something strategic and, and bringing it to a tactical level.

So you can really understand it and figure out like, Okay, this is something that I really understand.

And as a marketing leader can take to my team on things we should be doing or things we should you know how we should be approaching our marketing strategy.

And then there’s lots in between.


Christopher Penn 44:23


I have a question here from Dr.

Ashley Liddiard.

asking what aspects of marketing apps higher activity of AI

Cathy McPhillips 44:35

I think right now content creation has been the biggest one that I’ve seen.

But I but and there is a state of the industry report on our website.

I think it’s just state of I should know this off the top my head state of marketing AI calm there was a report that’s that would answer some of those questions.

Christopher Penn 44:57


I know from our own experience, we You’ve seen the attribution modeling, by far probably uses the most, the most models and data, at least informed companies selling or building like the new Google Analytics four has some brand new attribution modeling that has some questions to the Google team using the other back end.

And I know SEO has a ton of machine learning really being used right now where it’s like you said, content creation.

It is also very much analysis, like people trying to reverse engineer search results and figure out well, what are the factors that that correlate most to the known outcomes? When you look at the, you know, the people doing data analysis on on search results and ranking positions and things, there’s a tremendous amount of data.

And because it’s all in reasonably good condition, you can build models on I think those are the things that I’ve seen with people using more complex stuff, but there’s not, there’s not as much of it as, as I would have thought it would have been.

Because, again, there’s not that many people who can sit down and say, Okay, take your Google Search Console data.

And let’s, you know, run it through gradient boosting algorithm, you know, and see what are the variable importance factors that go with these things? there’s not as many folks that can do that.

And there’s not a lot of off the shelf stuff that I’ve seen that does that well, because everybody’s data is different in a really messy.

Cathy McPhillips 46:31

Well, that’s what I was going to ask you.

So how am I and I’m interviewing the interviewer right now.

So how right, how many CMOS and marketing leaders do you think are reluctant to dive into that? Because they don’t want people to see that things are messy.

Christopher Penn 46:49

More than we think.

And certainly more than anyone’s willing to admit, we had a client a couple of years ago, their marketing team was forbidden to see any data from sales were like, how do you make sales just tells us Yes, that’s, you know, things are good or no things are bad.

Like, why? And you know, a couple years later, it turns out that sales was so bad at their job, like they closed like 1% of the leads, they got it and the chief sales officer didn’t want anybody to see just how bad things were.

Cathy McPhillips 47:22


I mean, you think a good Mark, Mark, a good leader would say, you know, this is not my area of expertise, I need help.

But you know, are we, if someone’s been in a role for, you know, for a long time, or they’re like, I don’t want anyone to see what that we’ve been kind of muddling our way through this for so long.

You and I talked about that a couple years ago, and I’m like, I need help on some stuff.

Christopher Penn 47:44

It’s hard for people to ask for help.

Right? It’s hard for people to admit they don’t know something, especially if they’re in a leadership position where they’re there.

They whoever their stakeholders are, expect them to know things to, you know, put your hand up and say, I have no idea what that thing is.

But don’t go go find out about is is very difficult.

All right.

follow up question here.

When you talk say content creation, are you talking more granular customer segmentation, like specific content for specific people personalization?

Cathy McPhillips 48:15

Again, I’m still learning but I mean, that’s a great way to look at you know, we’re talking a little bit about, we actually just did it, we’re doing some ad copy for, for different for different functions within within marketing.

It’s a great way to use a tool, if you have the data.

I was talking more about just like legit content creation, but your blog posts, articles, social media posts, things like that.

I think, I think I keep going back to that, because I think it’s a, it’s a very tangible thing to see the results of.

So that might just be a good place for other people just to, to look at it, we used one tool called hyper,

I’m not endorsing them.

We have no affiliation with them.

We use them.

But it was like, Okay, here’s what you plugged in.

And here’s what came out.

It was just a very easy thing to see.

Wow, look at that.

It was actually turned out, it turned out pretty cool.

So I think just seeing what AI can do with a limit with a small amount of data versus large amount of data.

It’s been pretty fascinating to see like what I could do.

Christopher Penn 49:17

Yeah, I agree.

A personalization is is a relatively easy in terms of like recommendations, content recommendations and creating content that’s targeted towards certain audiences.

The folks who are in demand base who we’ve worked with relatively recently have a lot of systems like that, that will recommend content that has a higher propensity for somebody to buy.

A third question here is how do you sell AI and market and machine learning to leadership that either are unfamiliar with they’re opposed to it?

Cathy McPhillips 49:47

Like send them to MAICON September 13 and 14th.

I’m just joking.

I’m not joking.

I’m not really joking at all.

So again, this is a little bit of a sales pitch, but we have this the session starting next week, called AI in action.

And what they are, they’re six webinars to Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday over the next two weeks.

And we’re actually talking about, you know, showing AI in action.

So the creative example that I was talking about, it’s, there’s this company Celtra, so they took one of their customers, and they’ve got some pretty big name B2C customers.

And they took some of their creative and they ran it through their system.

And here was here was the output, and you can see it and it was like, This is what I did.

The first time we did it, then the next campaign, we did this, and here was the outcome.

So it’s not a demo, but it really goes into the tactical, show me your how your AI is working, and what’s, what’s the AI doing that another technology can’t do.

So I think a lot of those just visualizing some of those things.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a very visual learner.

So me seeing like, aha, or, you know, getting an actual use cases, that’s really beneficial.

I think some of the things like the state of the industry report, whether it’s ours, or whether it’s somebody else’s, just having them, see what other companies are doing, having them see what your competitors are doing.

Having them like, if there’s something that your company is spending a lot of time doing one thing, you know, could we just pilot AI on this one? project? And so so we can see how it’s working? I think some things like that, you know, just without taking your whole entire budget and trying to put it towards something and just saying, Can I just have a little bit, a portion just so I can show you this one thing? I think that’s a very easy, low cost low.

You know, you’re not locked into something longer term, wait to show people something.

Christopher Penn 51:35

Yeah, I mean, generally speaking, leadership cares about three things, right? It’s gonna save me time, it’s gonna save me money.

Is it gonna make me money? I remember, you know, when I was starting a Data Science Initiative at my last agency, the agency owner said, How are you going to make me money? Like, that’s it? That was the one question in the interview is like, well, we can resell the services.

And where I think a lot of folks myself included, my hand is totally up is we don’t spend enough time figuring out okay, well, he’s like, what you’re gonna get like, you’re gonna improve your ROI on your, on your ad spend by 14%.


So if you want 14% more results for your ad dollar, use the system rather than the system or, like in your case, your your team’s going to spend, you know, half the time creating a creative variation.

So those really, you know, help your marketing move faster.

And I think that’s something they can wrap their brains around to say, okay, you’re gonna make me more money.


I can I can deal with that, then because, obviously, a lot of the stakeholders, I’ve talked to them, they don’t really care.

They could be a box full of durables, you know, with some wires coming in and out, and they wouldn’t care.

What was in the box was fairies, dribbles, AI, you know, aliens from outer space, as long as when they put 1 in the machine more than1 comes out.

That’s really all they care about.

Yeah, for sure.

So, Oh, thanks for the great questions.

Thanks for the great conversation today.

If you’ve got comments or questions, things you want to follow up with afterwards, pop on over to our free slack group or Trust slash analytics for marketers, where you can ask Cathy who’s in the that slack along with 19 other nifty 100 other folks about your questions around artificial intelligence machine learning handles, so just like how do we do this thing.

And if you’d like to read more about this stuff on a regular basis, pop on over to our free newsletter, go to Trust slash newsletter, and hopefully we’ll see you at the marketing AI conference September 13, and 14th.

Go to MAICON AI and if you’d like to learn more about Cathy NPS, shoot, go to marketing AI Institute comm Cathy, thanks for coming and hanging out for almost an hour today and

Cathy McPhillips 53:50


Yes, for sure.

Thanks, Chris.

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Christopher S. Penn is one of the world’s leading experts on AI in marketing. Christopher Penn has over a decade of AI experience in classical AI, regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI. Christopher Penn has written artificial intelligence books such as The Intelligence Revolution and AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer. Christopher Penn is an AI keynote speaker around the world.


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