When people think about artificial intelligence (AI) today, they might think of computers that can speak to us like Alexa or Siri, or grand projects like self-driving cars. These are very exciting and attention-grabbing, but the reality of AI is actually thousands of tools and apps running quietly behind the scenes, making our lives more straightforward by automating simple tasks or making predictions.
This is true across every industry and business function, and particularly true in marketing, where leveraging AI to put products and services in front of potential customers has been standard practice for some time, even though we may not always realize it!
In business today, the term AI is used to describe software that is capable of learning and getting better at doing its job without input from humans. This means that while we’ve become used to using machines to help us with the heavy lifting, now they can start to help us with jobs that require thinking and decision-making, too.
A huge number of questions that would previously have needed human intervention to answer – such as “will this person be interested in my products?” or “what results will I get from this advertising campaign?” can now be answered by machines – if they are given the right data. And because machines can answer questions far more quickly than humans, they can easily chain together complex strings of queries to come up with predictions, such as who is most likely to buy your products and where the best places to advertise might be.
That’s the basic principle behind all business AI today – automating the processes of learning and decision-making in order to create knowledge (usually referred to as “insight”) that helps to improve performance. And marketing is one area where it’s certainly been put to good use!
The high-level use case for AI in marketing is that it improves ROI by making your marketing – often one of a company’s biggest expenses – more efficient. In the old days, before online advertising, businesses would pay huge amounts of money for TV, radio, or newspaper adverts, in the full knowledge that only a small number of the people who saw their ads would ever become customers. This was tremendously inefficient, but companies didn’t have any choice if they wanted to position themselves as market leaders.
In the online age, we’ve developed the ability to learn a great deal about who is or isn’t interested in our products and services. The first breakthroughs came thanks to the likes of Amazon with their recommendation engine technology and Google and Facebook with their targeted advertising platforms. Today, each of those platforms has been augmented with machine learning technology that allows them to become increasingly effective as they are fed more data on customers and their buying habits.
AI-driven content marketing
The rise in social media marketing and our growing appetite for online content has made content-based marketing the dominant form of marketing in many industries. AI lends a hand here by helping us work out what type of content our customers and potential customers are interested in and what the most efficient ways are to distribute our content to them. Advertising creatives have always strived to find formulas for creating adverts that will get people talking and sharing the message with their friends. Now, this can be done automatically using any number of AI-powered tools. For example, headline generation algorithms that monitor how successful they are and tweak their output to achieve better metrics, such as the open rate of emails, or the share rate of social media posts.
Taking this a step further, AI is developing the ability to take care of the entire content generation process itself, creating copy and images that it knows are likely to be well-received by its audience. A huge buzzword in this space will be personalization – where individual customers are served content that’s specifically tweaked to them, perhaps using information and reference points that the AI knows are relevant to them, intertwined with the overall marketing messages.
AI will also increasingly be useful for identifying what stage of the buying process a customer is at. If it detects that they are “shopping around” – comparing products and services that are available – it can serve content designed to differentiate your product or service from those of competitors. If it detects that they are ready to make a purchase, it can target them with promotions urging them to “act now” to take advantage of a limited-time offer.
A digital marketing agency called 123 Internet has embraced the ongoing industry developments by utilizing various AI-based technologies to improve service delivery. Scott Jones, CEO said:
“We’ve been using AI tools for a while now, in particular automatically checking website designs in hundreds of screen and browser types, this speeds up our design and development process”.
Their team also use an AI generated website audit which can be downloaded from their website and runs without human interaction.
Influencers are another huge trend in marketing right now, and AI algorithms are already in use to make sure the personalities that are most likely to appeal to you are appearing in your search results and social feeds.
Increasingly, advertisers will also use AI to identify smaller influencers that are most likely to gel with their brands and audiences. This has led to the emergence of “micro-influencers” – typically everyday people, rather than celebrities, who have a specialist knowledge they’ve used to build a niche audience that cares about their opinion. AI enables companies to find the micro-influencers with the right audiences for them, across a large number of niches and audience segments. AI helps establish when it makes sense to pay 100 people $1,000 each to talk about their product, rather than pay $100,000 to Justin Bieber or a Kardashian. Once again, here it is about creating efficiency by following the data, rather than simply doing what a marketer thinks or feels is the best plan.
AI in CRM
Customer relationship management is an essential function for any marketer to master, as existing customers are often the most important source of a company’s revenue. Here, AI can be used to reduce the risk of customer “churn” – by identifying patterns of behavior that are likely to lead to customers heading elsewhere. These customers can then be automatically targeted with personalized promotions or incentives to hopefully restore their loyalty. AI-augmented marketers are also increasingly turning to chatbot technology – powered by natural language processing. This can segment incoming customer inquiries, meaning those who require a quick response can be urgently catered to, to minimize dissatisfaction. AI-driven CRM will also allow businesses to more accurately forecast sales across all the markets where a company operates, meaning stock and resources can be more efficiently distributed. Additionally, it can be used to maintain the quality of data in the CRM system, identifying customer records where errors or duplicates are likely to exist.
The future of the marketer
If you work in marketing, you would be forgiven for worrying that we’re heading for a future where humans in your role will be redundant. You can take heart, though, from current predictions that state AI will end up creating more jobs than it destroys. It’s inevitable that your job will change, though. Marketers will spend less time on technical tasks such as forecasting or segmenting customers and more time on creative and strategic tasks. Those who are competent at working with technology, and identifying new technological solutions as they become available, will be hugely valuable to their companies and are likely to have a bright future!