Machine Learning Is the New, New Thing. But Can It Help CMOs Build Brands?

CMOs marketing build brand

Can big data build brands better?

A few years ago, Big Data promised to radically transform the marketing landscape. CMOs were warned to master it or watch their brands get left behind. Artificial intelligence was the next new, new thing. Now the hot property is machine learning, the data-crunching tool that can find patterns in big data and make them actionable.

Each of these innovations is truly transformative — and each has limitations. As machine learning gathers steam, let’s look at what it means for brands. Which challenges can machine learning tackle which still depend on human intelligence?

What is machine learning?

Simply put, machine learning is a form of artificial intelligence that uses high-powered algorithms to find patterns in huge datasets. By tracking the (mostly digital) behaviors of thousands or millions of anonymized individuals, machine learning can become predictive. For example, it can identify high net worth individuals and “rewind the tape” of their behaviors as they were climbing the ladder to financial success. It can then identify others who appear to be on the same ladder so marketers can start nurturing their loyalty on the way up.

CRM platforms are using machine learning to understand the messages that drive engagement, then tailor content to people with statistical similarities. They’re replacing guesswork with statistically sound, automated methods.

So there are exciting ways that machine learning can help CMOs make their marketing organizations work smarter. But what can’t it do?

Don’t leave the human part out of the data part

There are four areas directly impacting brands where we think human intelligence – not machine intelligence — is absolutely required. They are: empathy and other emotions, creativity, insight, and aspiration.

Without these four things, you wouldn’t have a brand; you’d have an incorporated collection of business processes. It will be years, if ever, that a machine can substitute for these functions. Here’s why:

Emotions and empathy

The value of your brand is directly tied to what it means to people – functionally, but also emotionally. Building your brand requires an understanding of how it makes people feel and then a strategy for optimizing that emotional bond. This requires the ability to empathize with your audiences, to feel what they feel.

No machine can empathize with the feelings people have toward your brand. And no machine can develop strategies for optimizing those feelings. Machines can be smart — but they can’t feel.


It’s true that software can be used for some limited creative functions. The Associated Press uses a form of artificial intelligence called natural language processing to write quarterly earnings reports, for example. But this only works for content that is templated, with known variables swapping in and out of a rote structure.

Brands by definition are completely unique. Every brand should have a distinctive voice, look and point of view that, combined, create a unique brand experience. Every brand touchpoint should deliver a consistent story. And only a human being can create and curate content that consistently tells and emotes the story of a brand.


Insight is a human skill that relates to both empathy and creativity. It’s a way of taking information and emotional understanding and evolving them into something greater than the sum of their parts. A machine can compute a fact like 1+1=2. It can’t compute an insight in which 1+1, as interpreted by the human gut, heart and brain, can sometimes magically equal 3.

Brand articulation is built on unique insights about how a brand relates to its target audiences, its competition and its cultural context. No machine can come close.


Every brand means something today and should aspire to mean more tomorrow. Aspirations and new ideas for achieving them aren’t facts that can be predicted by a machine. They’re the product of human emotions and human intelligence, dissatisfaction with the status quo, and yearning to achieve more.

At Emotive Brand, we’re excited at the new efficiencies machine learning can bring to CMOs and their marketing organizations. And we’re gratified to continue using our collective empathy, creativity, insights and aspirations to help our clients build great brands.

Have a peak at a few client case studies to see how we’ve helped CMOs build brands and use big data.

Emotive Brand is a  brand strategy firm working with leaders of high-growth companies to help build stronger brands.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *