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The Drum’s 3 Actionable Insights series asks top industry leaders to share their thoughts about the actions our readers should take immediately. Today, BlackRock senior managing director and global chief marketing officer Frank Cooper III tells us why marketing and communications need to be in lockstep, why AI must be prioritized ASAP, and why it’s essential to think like creators, even if your chief financial officer hates the idea.

1. Align brand and reputation to make it a superpower

It is no longer about marketing developing the big, grand idea and communications following behind. Nor is it communications leading with reputation and then marketing following along. Those two things have to come together because people are saying: ‘I want a brand that actually has a great product and is culturally relevant. But I also want to look behind that brand and understand the company that’s associated with it.’

This is manifesting itself in a bunch of different ways. I hate putting labels on it because people will quickly go to both the positive and negative side of it – but look at what’s happening with purpose and stakeholder capitalism. Look at what was happening with employees and their new expectations of companies. And then look at customers who are closing that values action gap saying: ‘I want to invest in and buy products and services from companies whose values I respect.’ That is brand and reputation coming together. And the question is, how do you actually execute that?

The only way is if you co-create across marketing and communications. Don’t even think of it as two separate things. Marketing and communications have to be hand-in-hand. They feed off of each other in ways that they never have previously. If you can point it in the right direction together, it becomes a superpower.

2. Embrace artificial intelligence as soon as possible

I’m always afraid to talk about AI, machine learning and reinforcement learning because we went through the whole hype cycle of AI. But this shift toward artificial intelligence is absolutely foundational. When you can start to automate the mundane processes in a way that allows you not only to become more efficient, but to see things that you otherwise cannot see, that’s a game changer.

And we’re now at a phase where you’re starting to see kind of multi-skilled artificial intelligence. We have computer vision. The computer can actually see things and absorb that data. We have audio recognition. It can hear the audio, and we have natural language processing like Open AI and their whole GPT-3 platform. And it’s going to accelerate.

If you’re not in the game of bringing AI into your processes, I don’t know how you compete. Because no human, and no collection of humans, can digest that much information, analyze it and then learn. That’s a tremendous shift.

The main misconception about AI is that it’s for the technologists only – that it is a complicated, algorithm-driven process. And that we should let the computers and the technologists do what they do, and then we’ll take that information and we’ll try to sort through it. That is a massive mistake.

It is actually not that complicated. I’m not saying everyone’s going to go and learn Python coding. But if you understand what the machines can do, what they’re trying to do, and give direction to that, then that’s everyone's responsibility. Most people have the capability of directing that. The misconception that we should allow the specialists to move along and we’ll just take it as it’s given to us – that’s a massive mistake. It’s dangerous and it will lead us to places where AI doesn’t benefit humankind.

So this recommendation comes with a warning label. We cannot let the machines lead the way. It has to be human-led. The machine evolves and it can tell you what is. But what we want, and what should be, that must be human-led. We have to figure out a way to embrace AI in such a way that human beings are driving the outcomes and pointing the machines in the right direction so that the outcomes benefit human beings.

3. Become a creator, no matter what your chief financial officer thinks

Traditional advertising, interruptive advertising is becoming more difficult. In many places it is becoming less effective and more expensive. That’s not a sustainable model. And in some cases, even when you put the label of branded content on top of it, it feels like you’re putting a tax on the user’s experience. I don’t think it has to be that way.

You can say, think like a publisher, but that’s a hard thing to do. You have to become a creator, and what does the creator do? A creator tries to identify ways to speak to the emotional needs of an audience. They try to add value to people’s lives. If you can design content that actually adds value to people’s experiences, where you understand deeply the context that they’re in, and what they want within that context – you become a creator.

Brands and marketers have to start thinking like creators. Don’t just make it. Don’t just do it. Be it. That’s a fundamental shift that’s happening. It goes beyond this idea of just becoming a content marketer, which I think is an important piece. Content marketers are like: ‘I produce content. I distribute that content.’ But is that content meaningful to people? Only when you think like a creator does it become meaningful, deeply resonant and something people want to share.

And the punchline to it is that a chief financial officer at a company might say something like: ‘Oh, you guys want to become creators? You want to do these fancy things and put sizzle out in the world? I’m sure that’s great for you, but how’s that helping my business?’

Well, the great news is that people are incredibly smart. They connect to messages that add value to their lives and then they share it. They don’t need to work very hard to find the attribution, the person who’s actually pushing this out. So, as you become a creator, you have to do less heavy lifting in terms of promoting your product and your brand. Others will help you do it because you’re delivering value to them. That’s the deep relationship that you need and want. You just have to keep one thing in mind: be original and connected in ways that add value to people’s lives.

You can check out more of our 3 Actionable Insights series here, and don’t forget to sign up for The Drum’s daily US email here.