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Is AI (artificial intelligence) a Marketer’s Crystal Ball?

artificial intelligence marketing crystal ball with wordsMarketers are spoiled for choice when it comes to the endless array of tools and platforms to choose from to help them better understand prospects and generate leads.

First, there was CRM, a must-have for customer records. After its introduction, marketing automation platforms (MAPs) quickly became “the” tool all marketers needed (and arguably, still do). Then came social media management (SMM) and content marketing solutions. Now the buzz is about artificial intelligence (AI). One of the big differences (and there are many) between AI and the aforementioned solutions is that it isn’t necessarily a competing tool. Whereas earlier marketing technology breakthroughs had some marketers wondering which to use for what when there were overlapping capabilities, AI, when combined with their existing systems, can actually make the current toolset work better. Ultimately helping them understand and target their audiences like they had a crystal ball.

What is Artificial Intelligence, and why should marketers care about it?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the ability of computers to perceive activities within its environment and take actions that would otherwise require manual human interaction, that maximize the chance of success for the targeted goal. Which in the case of most marketers, often means delivering great customer experiences that result in conversions. So in an age where customer experience often trumps the actual specifications of product/service being sought in the buying decision, relevant personalization of content is one of the best strategies to meet those high expectations. Artificial intelligence will help marketers deliver more relevant content, through the right channel, at the right time, to the targeted audiences.

Is AI really the next big thing?

To some AI may seem like something out Michael Crichton’s book Prey, but many big names in the technology world are counting on its adoption and growth. Several content and marketing technology industry vendors have waded into the AI foray:

  • Adobe has Sensei
  • OpenText made a big splash of Magellan at this year’s Enterprise event.
  • Salesforce doubled-down on Einstein at Dreamforce 2016
  • Google Research is making news on many fronts with its Machine Intelligence, and of course,
  • IBM has its Jeopardy winning Watson.

These, and other, companies are leveraging the power of AI to do all sorts of things ranging from natural language generation to content analysis to content optimization all in an attempt to humanize their clients’ customer interactions. Oh, the irony!

How is AI used?

AI is being integrated with all types of technology, but let’s take MAP as an example.

Machine learning within a marketing automation platform tracks and “learns” the behaviours of customers – current and potential – and then applies deep layers of analysis to determine relevant marketing messages. This notches up previous, more manual, content targeting and segmentation activities and essentially allows marketers to treat users as a segment of one, rather than one of many. And what company wouldn’t want the ability to connect with each and every customer on a one-to-one basis to help make the sale.

This data also helps augment the overall view of the customer. Taking the information collected via AI, and combining it with data collected from other parts of the organization, companies can generate (and maintain) a more complete and up-to-date view of individual customers. This then enables the company to be more customer-centric in all that it does: content distribution and campaigning, product development, customer support, etc.

There is a caveat here – sure, AI can help marketers be more effective and efficient, but only if they understand how to use the artificial intelligence capabilities within their tools. And this likely isn’t the majority; at least not yet. Many marketers, and other business units are still in the early stages of figuring out how to do basic data analysis – let alone AI. So while AI is there, many with access to the functionality likely don’t have the skills to leverage it.  And technology without the necessary skills to use it is redundant.

Beware of the GDPR and other privacy regulations

Marketers using AI for marketing purposes will need to brush up on the privacy rules and regulations, like the recently enacted General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe. Making the most of what AI can offer in regards to customer intel and respecting the privacy boundaries will require marketers to strike an informed balance between personalized content and being intrusive and creepy.

Don’t lose the human touch in all the hype

Despite the hype, not everyone believes we should be entrusting AI to take on so much power when it comes to customer interactions, or anything else. Big thinkers (and doers) in the space like Bill Gate, Stephen Hawking, and Elon Musk are all vocal in their doubts and warn about the potential dangers of AI. It’s unlikely a robopocolypse is going to happen anytime soon, companies still need to beware of letting these bots do too much. While marketing’s use of artificial intelligence will continue to be fine-tuned, it should never take the place of authentic human connections between brands and customers. AI tools are improving to the point where they are successfully forming the initial connections between brand and customers. But it is still, and should always be, the marketers who reach out to leads, having conversions and establishing loyalty through personal participation.


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