Iskender Dirik, CEO of Microsoft ScaleUp in Berlin, is tasked with nurturing continental Europe’s best startups. He is also a venture partner at EQT Ventures, one of the largest venture capital funds in Europe. In addition, this tech trailblazer and AI enthusiast has founded several startups, built up big data and machine-learning technologies for large corporations, and advised Germany’s DAX companies in the field of online marketing.
In this interview with CMO.com, Dirik discusses some business issues he expects AI to solve, how AI will be a job creator, and a trio of other emerging technologies he’s watching closely.
CMO.com: Iskender, you published an infographic entitled “The Future of AI Transformed Marketing” (PDF). Can you tell us how you think AI will transform the industry?
Dirik: In my opinion, there are three painpoints in marketing: The first is that the processes are still very manual. We still work a lot with Excel files and have to manually collect, clean, and merge data, build landing pages and banners, and keep an eye on myriad channels.
Secondly, targeting is still [not perfect]. ... And multichannel including online and offline data [remains a challenge], including cross-device marketing.
The third issue is difficulties with decision making. There are so many options and channels open to marketers that it raises questions, such as: Which of the many online channels should I use? How do I link them together? Which will achieve the best conversion? It’s often unclear how the channels are connected. There are so-called “intelligent dashboards,” but there are still too many decisions for users to make, so they aren’t truly intelligent. If used correctly, AI can be the antidote to all of these issues.
CMO.com: How so?
Dirik: I think AI will help to completely automate manual processes. That starts with the collection and processing of data and extends to the automated generation of ads and landing pages. One day ads and videos will be designed by AI and then individually aligned to the viewer.
AI will [improve] targeting with hyper-personalization. We will do away with clustering, so people will see the best product recommendations for them. A unified data warehouse, while still a distant prospect for many companies, will help to recognize every user at every touch point. This will extend to customers entering the store, with facial recognition linking shoppers to their user profiles.
The technology will add value to our decision-making process, with smart algorithms offering marketers informed recommendations on what to do next. The tech is able to say: “I recommend the following marketing mix. You should invest so much money in Facebook and so much in channels A, B, and C. This will affect your business as follows." It can also consistently improve conversion. That’s why I say that AI is a painkiller for marketing.
CMO.com: Is there reason for worry that AI will replace jobs?
Dirik: There is an element of truth in that, but equally it will create new jobs. We should also recognise AI for the opportunities it represents.
I think that the most repetitive, manual jobs in marketing are being replaced by AI. But these are assembly line jobs that we in the industry have already rationalized away. There will be new jobs for the jobs that have been eliminated. The newly created jobs are more human than those that are being eliminated. If we’re honest, the repetitive tasks are the ones we don't like doing. I think, “Here come jobs that are more fun and give us the chance to be more creative.” It’s also up to individuals; you need to develop yourself and the responsibilities you take on. If you’re willing to do that, AI will be good for you.
CMO.com: Which startups do you support at Microsoft ScaleUp?
Dirik: We have eight locations worldwide, of which I’m in charge in Berlin. We work with tech startups and are currently placing a particular focus on AI. We tend to work with more mature startups that already have a first proof-of-concept behind them. These companies are often turning over more than $1 million, have 25 to 50 employees, and boast enterprise customers.
We support these companies with scaling, helping them with the critical growth phase after their first major financing round. We give them access to enterprise customers and work with international coaches to support our founders in sales strategy, negotiation strategy, pricing strategy, and talent development to take them to the next level of business.
CMO.com: What marketing trends excite you aside from AI?
Dirik: Now comes the second big buzzword: blockchain. There aren’t many interesting use cases yet, but they will come. Marketing cannot ignore this trend. I also find virtual reality and augmented reality exciting. I believe they will open up a whole, new world for marketing. From a user perspective, access to products will continue to develop. For example, you can now visit a shop in New York on 5th Avenue from your sofa, all with VR.
At the same time, it’s crucial that brands don’t forget traditional skills, namely creativity and storytelling. The more we move towards automation, the more important creativity will be to differentiate a product from the competition.