CMO Breakfast: Big Data, AI, and Marketing

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For this year’s penultimate CMO Breakfast, the AmCham China Marketing, Advertising, and PR Committee was excited to host Li Yang, Associate Professor of Marketing at Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, and Yue Liao, Director of IBM GCG Performance Marketing for How Big Data and AI Revolutionize the Future of Marketing”. The event hosted over 30 senior marketing professionals who were captivated by the insights shared by both speakers, discussing the topic of big data and AI in marketing, their applications in marketing, and the future of AI and big data-facilitated marketing.

At the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, Li Yang’s research focuses primarily on big data marketing analytics, with a focus on pricing, consumer choice, and competitive strategy. As such, Li’s presentation titled, “Big Data: More than Data”, explored an array of phenomena currently being experienced in today’s digital landscape, which he refers to as the “Big Data Era”.

Li Yang, Associate Professor of Marketing at the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business

One of the most striking aspects of Li’s talk was its kick-off, in which he illustrated that most discussion of big data is really only conceptual, rather than practical. Li cited cases where the theoretical power of big data has failed, such as Google’s 2009 attempt to predict flu outbreak based on keyword searches, wherein Google, promising the ability to predict flu outbreak within a day of its onset, somehow managed to miss the 2009 swine flu epidemic months after the project’s launch. With cases such as this, Li hurried to highlight that much of what is discussed or promised globally in terms of big data is no more than “click bait”.

Despite the large amount of what Li referred to as “big noise”, he was not without practical upsides for big data in today’s market. For e-commerce giants such as Alibaba and JD, leveraging big data and general user data to selectively market products remains a powerful marketing asset. Interestingly, Li noted how this ability hinges on the ability to “tag” users based on previous behaviors and purchases. For gender alone, Alibaba utilizes 18 different tags, says Li, with most people being some percentage male and some percentage female. Though it might be nice to envisage this as a sign of Alibaba’s progressive nature, in fact, it’s just impossible for Alibaba to be 100% sure of a user’s exact identity or demographic and has no capacity to determine if, for example, a husband is buying a product for himself or for his wife.

Yue Liao, Director of Performance Marketing at IBM Greater China

Yue Liao’s talk “Marketing Transformation – Performance Marketing” focused on leveraging big data to improve B2B interactions. Liao described her business unit's mandate as “a pursuit for understanding and improving every dollar we spend to drive improved outcomes, including programmatic targeting and score card sheets to achieve an understanding of marketing performance.” Liao emphatically noted that AI will - and already has - changed the way marketers understand and interact with their customers. “Before, advertising was static. Today, it is dynamic and interactive,” says Yue.

The AmCham China Marketing, Advertising, and PR Committee was proud to host such an informative CMO Breakfast, and would like to thank both Li Yang and Yue Liao for sharing their executive insights on the future of big data and AI in marketing.