May 30, 2023 | 4 min read
This article was written by Jason Hartley. As Head of Search and Shopping, Jason oversees PMG’s holistic approach to search across their client portfolio. A senior member of PMG’s Center of Excellence (COEs), he consults on media strategies across clients like Nike and Gap brands. He also leads PMG’s holistic approach to privacy. Alongside his work at PMG, Jason is a member of the Google Performance Council and ANA Ethics Policy Committee.
Last week, I had the opportunity to chat with Vidhya Srinivasan, vice president and GM of Google Ads, at Google Marketing Live 2023 about some of the changes we’re seeing across Google Search as it relates to AI. We had a great conversation but only had enough time to scratch the surface of what generative AI really means for search marketers and why I’m so bullish about the AI-powered future of search.
One of the first questions Vidhya asked was whether I’m nervous or excited about artificial intelligence, and honestly, I would only be nervous if we weren’t taking this step forward as an industry. Search has reached an inflection point, and it must evolve to meet the needs of consumers. And these days, people—especially younger generations—want a more dynamic experience.
More specifically, though, one update I’m very excited about coming out of both Google I/O and Google Marketing Live is the ability to see follow-up questions that inform a more expansive search experience beyond the initial search box. With every detail, we’ll be gaining a more nuanced understanding of what the person wants and then have the tools to respond accordingly. It opens up a whole new world of possibilities for brands to provide more information and a better customer experience.
I’m encouraged by Google’s stance that those customer touchpoints are being measured with a privacy-first approach, and advertising opportunities are going to be available within a brand-safe environment. From what we’ve seen with brands that have tested into many AI features like Performance Max is that Google AI truly provides a better user experience and improves performance. As we get a better understanding of how people are behaving within some of the experiments offered within the Search Generative Experience (SGE) environment, I think we’ll also see new content and customer engagement opportunities emerging very soon.
When humans think about the future, we tend to focus on what we could be losing rather than envisioning what we’re gaining. I think this mindset holds true when we think about generative AI. Just as others in the industry have noted, adopting AI is not about marketers competing with the AI platform but marketers competing with other marketers who are using AI. As we’ve talked about a lot at PMG, generative AI stands to augment human creativity and is another tool in the toolkit for ultimately helping create better brand experiences for consumers.
Related: PMG’s report on the limits and endless potential of generative AI
And let’s be honest, we’re not exactly sure what the AI-powered future is going to look like yet. But, from my own experience in this industry, I remember asking similar questions ten years ago amid other shifts. At the time, it was clear that automation was going to be a bigger part of all of our jobs. I had concerns that search would be commoditized and with no room for agencies to be strategic partners with their clients.
Those never materialized. Now, our jobs are more strategic and fulfilling because of automation since our time is freed up to spend more of it on high-value tasks, like digging deeper into a brand’s performance trends for actionable insights, creating meaningful testing roadmaps, pushing toward more sophisticated bidding strategies—rather than reporting in a spreadsheet. AI will change our jobs, to be sure, but I’m confident that we’ll still have plenty to do and that work will be extremely rewarding.
The new features and ad products unveiled at Google Marketing Live are only the beginning, and we can expect even more AI advancements from Google, and its competitors, in the near future. Every aspect of what marketers do could change in the next 12 to 18 months, which is very fast, even for a historically dynamic industry like ours.
The future is certainly going to be disruptive, but I don’t think we’ll see radical changes right away. Google’s AI essentials list is a great first step. Now, it’s up to media practitioners and brands to work together to define what that transformation journey looks like.
As I mentioned at Google Marketing Live, there are so many things changing across the industry and within Google that it’s incredibly helpful having insight into what our partners at Google think is most important. Every brand will have its own journey toward a more AI-centric approach, so while it’ll be important to use this checklist as a benchmarking tool, it’s just one resource among many, allowing marketers the freedom to chart the best path forward for their brand as we enter this new era.