Greg Kihlström is a best-selling author, speaker, and entrepreneur, currently an advisor and consultant to top companies on marketing technology, customer experience, and digital transformation initiatives as Principal and Chief Strategist at GK5A and host of The Agile Brand with Greg Kihlström podcast.
What's your industry?
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
I am a former marketing agency owner that started as a "webmaster" back in the early days of the Web and grew to love the intersection of marketing and technology. Before I sold my agency in late 2017, we had the opportunity to see the rise of social media marketing, personalization, programmatic advertising, big data in marketing, and many other innovative technologies that were utilized by marketers and customer experience teams within enterprise brands.
What kind of work does your daily role involve?
I love variety in my work! I work as an advisor and consultant to $1B+ companies that are working on marketing technology or digital transformation initiatives, and I also host a podcast called The Agile Brand where I discuss relevant MarTech and CX topics with leaders of brands and platform companies. Additionally, I've written several books on related topics, speak, and run workshops that train marketing and CX teams on the latest trends and technologies.
What gets you excited about your industry?
I am in the marketing technology industry which is constantly changing, both with new opportunities and new challenges. Currently we're seeing tremendous growth with the ability to personalize customer experiences, while needing to balance this with consumer data privacy regulation and industry self-regulation. All of this means there are no dull moments!
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you on your journey in business?
Someone once told me that there are no failed experiments as long as you learn something valuable from them. I think this applies both to work specifically in the marketing profession, as well as in professional life. I've often heard the "failure is the best teacher," but I would even re-frame this to say that what is sometimes thought of as "failure" is really just a learning experience.
What's the most challenging project or situation you've overcome to date?
At the marketing agency I sold about 5 years ago, we had a very exciting but daunting year where we had record sales of the most complex type of work we'd ever performed (requiring the creation of new processes and upskilling some of the team members), all while I was buying out my other partners from the firm, and taking on some substantial expansion. While all of this was technically "good," it was difficult to do well, and to give everything it's due time and attention.
Are you using any AI tools right now to help grow your business or, if not, do you plan to use any this year?
Yes. I use some AI tools for my work as a consultant and writer, and I also work as a consultant and advisor that are using AI tools as well, so I have both perspectives on this. Generally speaking the tools I use for my own business are focused on productivity and automation so that I can accomplish more as a boutique consulting advisory. For my clients, which are generally large enterprises, there are some other use cases, including customer data analysis, and automation of marketing content, offers, and experiences.
Overall, do you see AI as a good thing for business?
Yes. I do see AI as a mostly good thing for business, because it has the potential to allow teams to focus on more strategic and meaningful work, while leaving redundant and repetitive tasks to AI. I also think that AI can provide the ability for teams to parse and understand large volumes of data that humans simply can't process in that way.
Overall, do you see AI as a threat or an opportunity in business?
Opportunity. AI will provide those businesses that utilize it in smart and strategic ways, a benefit to scale their ability to do more work and focus their human team members on more valuable work. This means that people at organizations can use AI as augmentation of their work, allowing them to be more strategic and thoughtful in their approaches, rather than stuck with repetitive tasks that machines are actually better at performing in the first place.
This has several positive components to it. First, the quality of work will improve, with humans doing what they do best, and machines doing the repetitive data entry work. Second, employees will be happier in their work, because they will feel more fulfillment in their roles when focused on more creative and strategic work. Finally, customers benefit when employees have a better experience, and customers also can benefit from AI's ability to create hyper-targeted recommendations that are based on their unique needs, preferences, and behaviors. All of this is a win-win for businesses and their customers.
All of that said, AI is not without its threats. With more sophisticated AI comes a greater ability for fraud and security breaches, which already affect so many companies and individuals. Additionally, bias in AI is a real problem that does not seem to be lessening, and in many cases is growing. We need to be mindful about how bias is introduced into AI and machine learning models, and there needs to be more work to eradicate it or at the very least reduce it.
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
I have many wishes for the future of the marketing technology industry, but to pick one, I would say that I wish that it would learn how to balance the needs of the business, and all of the needs of the customer, from making sure they have the most relevant experiences offered to them, as well as providing them with the highest level of data privacy possible. I am hopeful about this, but I know that more work still needs to be done.