Will Smith hates robots. At least his character, Del Spooner, hated robots in the prescient 2004 movie iRobot. His antipathy was largely based on a lack of trust in the notion that the hyper intelligent machines were always right; their cold logic frustratingly timely and accurate. More than mere disdain, it seemed Spooner was afraid robots were removing humanness from humanity. This paints a somewhat bleak picture of the future. But artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to open new doors and unlock incredible potential for all walks of life. For marketers, AI will free up resources; lead to closer, more meaningful connections; and help develop a more well-rounded understanding of customers to deliver what they want, when they want it. Here now are three ways AI will impact (and improve) marketing.
Nearly every branch of marketing — be it direct, email, mobile, social, search, SEO, a combination of these or something else entirely — requires a series of actions, some of which can become mundane. For example, email marketing requires identification of a product or service to be sold, an audience of potential buyers, development of a list of those potential buyers, creative work for the body of the email, some amount of HTML and CSS coding, scheduling, and post-send analysis. Some companies are already employing AI-type principles to simplify these tasks.
On the cutting edge is Amazon, which employs a series of algorithms to determine what customers are likely to buy or “need” next and email suggestions. Emails are pre-formatted and creative is pulled from a massive database. Little or no human touch is required. This type of automation frees marketers to spend time thinking critically about customer needs and wants.
Integral to the development of AI and eminently important to marketers is social network analysis. Facebook is perhaps the quintessential example of a social network. But really, it is only a visualization of connections that have always existed across humanity. From personal interactions — which can be measured in terms of strength and frequency — to media and brand preferences, social media platforms like Facebook have rapidly introduced new means of understanding consumers. For marketers, social network analysis will dramatically improve audience identification and segmentation.
The email marketer who once only had the option to filter a list of one million customers by previous purchases and certain high-level demographic information (e.g., age or location) can now assess the likelihood an individual will make a purchase because social network analysis shows 10 of their closest friends made the same purchase. This sounds complex because it is complex. However, AI and the scientists developing it are well on their way to making the process accessible and actionable.
For years, context has been one of the key futuristic buzzwords in marketing. Popularized by Forrester’s digital expert Shar VanBoskirk, contextual marketing promises to meet customers where they are in time and space. Imagine walking into a mall on a bright sunny day. As you shop, the sky darkens and it begins to pour. Your phone buzzes to tell you about a limited-time offer on umbrellas at Nordstrom. That, in essence, is contextual marketing. Taken to a logical extreme, context can include not only location and weather information, but brand preferences, shopping habits, and advanced demographic information like household income and recent major life events. (Naturally, this raises a litany of privacy concerns. To be addressed in another post.)
Machine learning is already doing a lot of the heavy lifting for existing instances of contextual marketing. Citibank exemplifies this with its Citi Price Rewind program. Price Rewind tracks customer purchases for 60 days and, if it finds a lower price, refunds the difference. By collecting consumer receipt data, Citi is able to concurrently display customer-specific offers based on purchase patterns and preferences. AI will eventually be able to take into account vast numbers of variables and quickly make relevant advertising decisions to the delight of customers. One-to-one marketing will be made possible with AI.
Marketing is entering a new era. AI will help marketers automate campaigns, create new and stronger connections with customers, and ultimately lead to a hyper-personalized, delightful experience. As companies introduce advanced statistical tools, machine learning and even artificial intelligence, it's crucial to begin thinking about what fills the gaps. As automation removes menial tasks, how can marketers use their newfound time wisely to consider what customers want and how to deliver it? How can new connections with customers lead to unforeseen connections between businesses? If contextual marketing reaches customers precisely where they are, but they don’t take action, what went wrong?
The important thing to remember is artificial intelligence is a tool. It is not to be feared. It will free our minds so we can eliminate distraction and ponder more deeply. AI will do wonders for marketing. The logic is undeniable.