In the marketing world, you can’t go any further than the next trend piece or trade publication article before you read about artificial intelligence (AI). It’s said that AI will revolutionize the marketing tech stack; AI will help marketers tap into big data; AI is the key to unlocking the marketing potential of the IoT. AI — and the terms you always hear associated with it, like machine learning, deep learning, autonomous algorithms and neural nets — are practically inescapable. They are the very definition of buzzwords.
Like most buzzwords, there is something worthwhile buried beneath layers of hype, and this is certainly true for AI. And like most things in today’s marketing landscape, that value is tied to data. Customer data.
Unlike the grandiose potential applications of fully-realized AI, many of its subsets (machine learning, for example) will be useful to marketers in their current state, as tools with which to parse customer data, predict behavior, and facilitate marketing automation.
The more brands and merchants capture and retain customer data from an ever-widening variety of touch points, the more marketers will need to lean on advanced technology tools like AI to identify patterns and extract actionable intelligence.
Finding signals in the noise
In fact, many marketers are already relying on AI for this functionality today. According to a BrightEdge survey, 60% of marketers expect to use AI this year in their content marketing strategies. Many others are seeing the benefits of finding new audiences with AI and machine learning. These associated technologies are uniquely suited to this task — combing through reams of seemingly-unrelated data and pulling out recurrences and patterns that point to new markets, segments, or other opportunities for marketers.
The availability of increasingly extensive data sets, driven by the proliferation of data collection systems like CRMs, means that the use of AI for rapid and accurate interpretation will only increase. But to what end?
The personalization prize
Most marketers already know the answer to that question: better personalization. Yes, segmentation and targeting were a part of a marketer’s vocabulary long before AI ever was. But AI and machine learning can expedite the process of segmentation and execute it on a more granular level. It’s not too hard to imagine AI facilitating customer segments so narrow they are effectively a segment of one — achieving those long-held marketing goals of a singular customer view and true person-based marketing.
Furthermore, AI will be better able to track what type of content consumers are most interested in, allowing marketers to create more personalized, natural content tailored to individuals. And this will obviously impact a wide range of marketing activities, from persuasive content to offers and promotions to loyalty program interactions.
Leveraging data in real time
But perhaps the most impactful AI-related development will be the automation of marketing. Not automated to the point that the need for human marketers is eliminated (we don’t want to imagine that particular dystopian vision), but automated enough to deploy real-time offers based on predicted behavior, manage and update databases without prompting and execute intelligent multichannel campaigns on the fly.
If AI can take that moment-by-moment decision making out of marketers’ hands, they will be able to devote more resources to big-picture strategy and to assessing their marketing approach at a high level.
Marketers have no shortage of tools, data sources, analytics packages, and marketing technology software services at their disposal. Maybe it’s helpful not to think of AI as one more tool to manage, but the tool that can manage the rest of them — integrating insights, leveraging discrete or “siloed” data sets to facilitate personalization, and executing real-time decision making.
AI may never become the panacea all the hype suggests, but marketers that embrace it for what it can do for them today will be able to optimize their current marketing efforts and be incredibly well-positioned for overall success in the AI-enabled future.