Marketing Summit gathered dozens of top marketers for a day of learning and growth.

Evolving Beyond Digital—Seeking Out New Opportunities for Marketers

What marketing means in the age of AI, smart cities, and changing ideas about human connection.


Human connection is the key to marketing, but advances in technology are a constant reminder of an evolving set of challenges and opportunities.

Booth community members discussed this and more at the 2019 Marketing Summit, an annual, invitation-only event with a focus on the school’s thought leadership in marketing. Senior executives had a chance to “take a time out from their day-to-day and think about broader topics and ideas,” said Sanjog Misra, the Charles H. Kellstadt Professor of Marketing and Neubauer Family Faculty Fellow.

Misra presented research on the hype around artificial intelligence, while Nicholas Epley, the John Templeton Keller Professor of Behavior Science and Neubauer Family Faculty Fellow, spoke about how different communication media can affect consumers’ impressions. Dan Doctoroff, JD ’84, chairman and CEO of Alphabet Inc.’s Sidewalk Labs, gave the industry keynote on how the group is designing the city of tomorrow.

Here are four takeaways for marketers looking to tap into new opportunities and ideas.

Marketers may play an entirely new role in cities of the future.

Marketers will be called on to help reimagine today’s cities and aid new generations in unlocking their potential. In Toronto, Sidewalk Labs is working on what it means to live in an urban environment, Doctoroff told the audience. That means transforming everything from buildings to roads in order to take advantage of emerging technology. “We can be successful here because we can establish a new model for how to live in urban environments, a model that can replace the one that people are struggling with today,” Doctoroff said.

The data powering AI will expand the notion of marketing.

As big data changes the way we understand the world, the inputs are going to take on new meaning because of valuable insights, Misra explained. “People are going to start using data as currency,” he said. For instance, machine learning is already being applied to study irregular heartbeats in electrocardiograms, and the results of discrepancies that are spotted by machines are often better than results spotted by cardiologists. By tapping into big data, marketers will have new opportunities to expand the insights they bring to consumers.

AI will change marketing— for better and worse.

The good news: machines can already do the kind of creative thinking once reserved for humans—be it writing poetry, painting, or even writing code without human involvement, said Misra. But there’s a flip side too. Despite the advances, machine learning also brings issues including privacy and bias to the forefront. “There are higher-order questions we haven’t grappled with yet,” he said.

Marketers should be mindful of one of the most powerful tools for communication: the human voice.

Managing relationships is an important part of marketing, Epley suggested, and one that humans are inherently well-suited to. But with an increasingly diverse and popular array of text-based media available, we risk underestimating the value of the voice as a humanizing element in our communication. “Paralinguistic cues of all sorts provide honest signals for the presence of thinking and feeling,” Epley said. “You might not be able to see another’s mind, but you might be able to hear it.”

In a series of experiments, Epley found that hearing people express themselves can make them seem more mindful—more thoughtful, intelligent, rational, and humanlike—than reading the same content via writing. In one instance, gathering supporters from both sides of the political divide on the eve of the 2016 US presidential election, Epley learned that people are more likely to dehumanize others with different beliefs when their views are shared in writing rather than spoken. “To actually hear somebody explain their [opposing] views, they sound kind of reasonable [and] thoughtful,” he said. His findings suggest anyone considering communicating by text alone, whether for marketing purposes or otherwise, should consider what they’re losing by leaving out the human voice.


Marketing Summit is hosted by the James M. Kilts Center for Marketing, which advances marketing at Chicago Booth by facilitating faculty research, supporting innovations in the marketing curriculum, funding scholarships for MBA and PhD students, and creating engaging programs aimed at enhancing the careers of students and alumni. Learn more about the Kilts Center »

—By Alina Dizik
July 9, 2019