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I wanted to reflect on the past year, but then had a week with a year’s worth of inspiration


If you work in Marketing, and I assume many of you do, don’t blink. Fast doesn’t even begin to describe how things will continue to change over the next 18-24 months.

I just hit my one year anniversary with Transparent Partners, and could not be happier with my decision to be here. Hopefully, the team feels the same about having me. I had planned to write a brief summary of all we have seen, worked on and delivered over the past year. It is always fascinating to glance backwards and realize how much has been accomplished and how much has changed. But then I experienced one of the most inspirational weeks I can remember, and my frame of reference for reflection changed completely. 

A Year of MarTech

For those of you in marketing technology or related fields, I imagine one or more of the following have been important topics for you over the past year: tech stack optimization, data privacy, cloud-based architecture, data clean rooms, measurement, retail media, programmatic supply chains, and change management. Those are the areas which we have focused on for clients in 2023. We are delivering projects inclusive of each of these today and have published some pretty useful material on our site along the way.

If I had to summarize what I have seen in 2023 to a few points, I suppose it would be:

  • Data Clean Rooms have gained a ton of awareness and attention, but nearly everyone is still trying to understand why exactly they need one and how to make the most use of one.
  • On a related note, data privacy, while vastly important to organizations, is still just beginning to get marketers’ attention.
  • Retail media became the belle of the ball. Every retailer wants to be a media network, and every brand is shifting major investments their way. However, few, if any, feel they are optimizing the potential of this space.
  • Most marketers now want to be “full funnel” and “omni-channel”. There’s lots of talk of what this means and how to do it, but not yet many great examples of best in class.
  • AI – currently regarded as simultaneously the greatest, and scariest, thing marketers have faced to date. Keep reading for many more thoughts on this one.

A Week of Inspiration

I am fortunate to be involved in an organization called the Ascendant Digital Network, and the related Ascendant Retail Media Network. Two weeks ago I joined other members in Palo Alto for 3 days of content and networking. While much of what I heard reflected and validated my summary of important topics above, two realities hit me in the face which marketers must understand:

  1. The pace of change
  2. The scale of impact

In general, I think the marketing industry likes to talk about change about 10X as much as it likes to….change. Recall, it was the “year of mobile” for like 8 years straight before we could really say investment in mobile marketing reached an appropriate level. Well moving forward, changing slowly is not going to be an option. Further, previous innovations in marketing capabilities have tended to have impact in specific ways. Better data meant better targeting and measurement. Better tech stacks have meant better customer experience via multiple channels and touch-points. But the change that is coming, will impact every single aspect of marketing, brand building, and even brands themselves, all at once.

Inspired, Scared, or Both

Put simply, AI is changing everything, very very quickly. During the Ascendant events I was exposed to investors, builders, and adopters of the most recent advances in AI. A few highlights and thought starters for you to consider:

  • We did a group exercise to predict “winners and losers” in the next 18 months due to AI. Copywriters and creatives quickly came up as potential losers.  However some pointed out that those who are the most creative will continue to win.  They will do so by understanding how to generate the best material in concert with AI vs instead of AI. Perhaps lawyers will be winners while paralegals are losers. The entire field of medicine should be a winner.  Or will the divide in the have and have nots only widen due to AI, creating more loss along the way? There was agreement, in business those who quickly integrate the various powers of AI will be winners, those who hesitate due to fear or lack of understanding will indeed be losers.
  • We heard about the rapid addition of new venture backed companies building various agent based AI models and solutions. From Adobe adding Generative AI with Firefly to brand new companies building personal assistants just like Jarvis out of Ironman. In perhaps the most fascinating and entertaining session we got to hear from a 2023 Grammy Award winning founder of music AI Wavv, Ivan Linn. Ivan composes music for video game franchises like Final Fantasy and Assassin’s Creed. He fills classical concert halls with young gamers who come to hear the music of their favorite games played live. Now, he’s building AI to create music from scratch based on any prompt you provide. We witnessed the combination of his artificial intelligence working together with his very special human intelligence. Prompted with Fur Elise, Wavv created a new to the world 15 seconds of music. Ivan listened to this then proceeded to compose and play a 3 minute beautiful piece on the spot. This was a very visceral experience of the best potential of AI and human intelligence.
  • Finally, during breaks and over cocktails we discussed the very real risks experts in the field of AI are concerned about. The potential of nefarious uses like misinformation, particularly with the 2024 presidential election on the horizon. The development of AI for military purposes and what that may mean for global power shifts. The future challenge of retooling society for the skills needed in a world largely run by AI. And yes, the threat to humanity itself were we to go too far too quickly in the arms race for “general” or even “super” intelligence. Sobering discussions to say the least.

Be Prepared

AI creates opportunities for all of us in the marketing and technology industries, and we must be prepared to seize them. For us at Transparent Partners, our opportunity is to help you, our clients, get prepared. Several times I heard the need for data prep as a prerequisite for application of AI agent based capabilities. The single most valuable asset companies have moving forward is the data they generate and collect. It is this data which AI will learn from and evaluate as it helps you grow your business. As it helps you identify new whitespaces, test new ideas, build new products, generate new content, structure new financial models, build efficient organizations, and so on and so on.

However, most companies recognize their data is far from prepared for this. Silos exist everywhere. Quality and accuracy of data is an issue for nearly every business. Organizational dynamics prevent many from creating the infrastructure and environment most conducive to AI based operations. These are challenges Transparent Partners has helped clients address for several years, AI just makes the spotlight a little brighter.

We will be aggressively learning and training ourselves on the opportunities created by AI so we can apply them to your business. But we are also already helping major brands address data issues today which must be solved to enable the solutions of tomorrow. I remain fascinated, excited and certainly a little scared by what lies ahead for us. I also just love holding conversations about all of this.  If it interests you as well, send me a note and let’s compare thoughts. The future is ours to make, for now at least.

Aaron Fetters, Managing Partner, CEO