AI: Why Marketers Need to Look Beyond the Buzzword
Here in 2018, it is almost impossible to avoid tech trends such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain in our newsfeeds. Every headline promises that one of these latest buzzwords will either transform your business, industry or lead us to some sort of tech dystopia where the machines will rule the earth.
In a digital world where everything is exaggerated or sensationalized to get quick hits, it's easy to see why so many of us are beginning to suffer from tech fatigue. Every new solution promises to be faster and smarter than the one before, but can these technologies really transform marketing? If we look closer, early indicators suggest they already are. But first, we need to clear up a few things.
What Is AI and How Did We Get Here?
Much of the confusion and tech fatigue is caused by artificial intelligence being used as an umbrella term for other technologies such as machine learning, natural language processing, and deep learning, which are a subset of AI.
There is also a great deal of misinformation online about machines thinking and making decisions as humans do, which is incredibly misleading and ultimately untrue. The reality is that machines learn from systems and processes that are programmed by humans, so our destiny is still very much in our own hands.
In marketing, our love affair with buzzwords began with big data where businesses captured as much information as they could, only to discover that they didn't know what to do with it all. This evolved into predictive analytics, and eventually, we mixed it all together, and new solutions appeared run by those that refer to themselves as "AI" companies.
However, the reason marketers and industry experts are getting so excited about AI is that it's paving the way for the industry to progress beyond data analysis and advance into data generation. Marketers no longer have to endure the time-consuming task of manually categorizing or describing various types of data-rich media such as voice and video.
For these reasons alone, AI and the subset of technologies it relies on are much more than buzzwords; they are game changers in every sense of the word. Enhanced analytics are already helping marketers to adopt a proactive rather than reactive mindset. How they analyze real-time data from a variety of platforms and devices enables them to target audiences with unique personalized experiences.
Looking to the future, these customer experiences will elevate their expectations to an unprecedented level and become the standard. Amazon's one-click basket was only the beginning, and we can now order an Uber, secure a Tinder date, Netflix movie, and romantic soundtrack with a couple of swipes. It’s easy to see how those AI-driven experiences makers will quickly gain a competitive advantage.
There is already a wealth of tools such as Bluecore and Custora that enable marketers to learn from their customers’ past behavior and anticipate what they will buy both now and in the future. But capturing the attention of consumers has never been more difficult.
Many of us awake in the morning and reach for our smartphone to see how many emails we can delete before starting our day. Email marketers across the globe are turning to AI to answer some of their most significant questions; for example, when they should send an email, how they should personalize it for the recipient, and how they can get consumers to not only open the message but respond to the campaign.
According to Constant Contact, the average open rate for retail emails is 12%, and the clickthrough rate is 8%. Unsurprisingly, AI can drastically improve email marketing results by interpreting consumer data and treating a consumer as the unique individual that each is, rather than just a demographic or job title.
Consumers are creating more data points than ever before across a myriad of online devices. This raw data reveals behavior and engagement trends that enable marketers to deliver relevant content that resonates with their target audience.
Sophisticated technology provides straightforward answers to exactly where loyal customers and brand advocates are engaging the most. The answers to these questions make it much easier to deliver relevant content in the right place, on the right device, and at the right time.
AI tools such as Lucy, which is powered by IBM Watson, are already helping brands transform their content strategies. A combination of cognitive computing and natural- language processing gives marketers more effective analyses to form revolutionary content strategies. Forget buzzwords; these tools are already providing real business results and applications for 21st-century marketers.
The Rise of Voice Search
Although we have invested our time and resources into perfecting the SEO on our website, our digital habits are changing how we interact with brands. The smart speakers in our homes and the smartphone in our pockets are beginning to set us free from the screen to find a company and buy a product using our voice rather than our fingers.
Welcome to the world of conversational AI that is powered by an increasing list of digital assistants such as Alexa, Siri, Google, and Cortana. The shifts in user behavior prompted ComScore to predict that by 2020, 50 percent of all searches will be voice searches.
Food for thought?
As users get more comfortable with interacting with branded content using their voice, businesses looking to regain their competitive advantage will need to rise to the challenge of creating new experiences for their customers on AI devices.
Get on the Bus, or Get Left Behind
As AI and its subset technologies continue to evolve at breakneck speed, marketers should be focusing on the art of the possible and meaningfully engaging with their customers.
There are already countless real-world examples of how legacy companies are leveraging AI with fantastic results. For instance, TGI Friday's used AI marketing to increase its revenue by $150 million in only 12 months and tripled customer engagement without breaking a sweat.
Elsewhere, eBay has been using machine learning (ML) for more than a decade but has now added AI, and as a result, has boosted its sales volume by over than $1 billion per quarter. These are real-world examples of brands taking an early competitive advantage; how long can you choose to ignore the signs before getting left behind?
Our brief online history is already littered with hard-luck stories from household names such as Blockbuster video, Kodak, and Polaroid that failed to adapt to embrace digital disruption and changes in consumer behavior.
Maybe it’s time for marketers to take AI seriously after all.