What does AI mean for marketers?
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What does AI mean for marketers?

Day-by-day, artificial intelligence (AI) is making the transition from fiction to reality. What are the implications for marketers?

Thanks to its ability to draw insights from huge and complex data sets at great speed, artificial intelligence (AI) is making the previously obscure into something measurable. It also offers the opportunity to create new experiences for consumers. But what does this mean in practice for marketers?

Big data

Big data is nothing without equally big intelligence – that’s true for people and for machines. It doesn’t matter how much you know when you can’t systematise and apply that knowledge to achieve something useful.

With 44 zettabytes (each a sextillion bytes) of data in existence by 2020, the ability of humans or simple computer programs to extract anything meaningful is going to be stretched to the very limit.

Even individual shops or web stores can collect enormous amounts of data, tracking the entire customer journey for everyone who enters.

In this context, increasingly advanced artificial intelligence will be a huge advantage to those of us working in marketing, where spotting patterns in data is key to success. It is becoming the only way to quickly and accurately draw inferences from so much material. Tasks that may have taken a whole team, working for many months, can now be performed quickly using a product like IBM’s Watson Analytics, which uses natural language processing and machine learning to arrive at its conclusions.

What is the ultimate purpose? For the AI to understand our needs and desires almost as well as we do, and to deliver a suite of options to the consumer at exactly the right moment. How close the technology will come to realising this goal in future only time will tell, but there’s no doubt that it is going to be far more effective that anything we have today.

And if you’re looking for a more aggressive sales approach, there are still more options – like Conversica. This AI program can assist your sales team by contacting leads and working out which are worth following up by a human. Assuming that ad blockers don’t take over the internet, AI will also help marketers to work out which consumers to target, and when.

Enhanced experience

Pattern recognition, however, is only one use of artificial intelligence.

For example, it is already being applied to boost customer experience – from Siri to Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa, to mention just a few from major brands – AIs are now being used to assist people. That means everything from recommending restaurants and ordering consumer goods to controlling elements of people’s homes.

For that matter, AI is also boosting customer service functions – providing a cheaper and more efficient way to assist people who might have a question or an issue. Voice recognition and instant automated translation also rely on AI.

But surely people want to talk to a living, breathing customer service operative when they have a serious problem?

That’s true today, but perhaps not in future. As time goes on, it will become increasingly difficult to tell the difference between human workers and AI, especially in real-time text conversations on the internet. That’s because the more questions the AI is asked, the more it will learn – eventually, these chatbots will almost always have the right answer and could actually provide a more helpful service. Startups like DigitalGenius are working in this area right now, while products like Amelia are already on the market.

Naturally, AI has its limitations. It can only do what it is programmed to do and may not be able to make split-second judgements like a real person, which we saw, for example, when one of Google’s self-driving cars caused a minor road accident in the USA after pulling out in front of a bus. In a marketing context there is also the potential for a lot of data to be lost if AI malfunctions. Then there is the cost of purchase and maintenance, which can be considerable for any new technology. The return on investment would have to be carefully considered.

So do the advantages of using AI for customer service outweigh the advantages for marketers? It may not yet have the warm, human touch, but this technology does mean that businesses can be secure in the knowledge that their customer service will be consistent. And, – when you’re dealing with more than a few hundred customers, you’re working with statistics – the better-than-average service offered by the machine will outperform the mix of outstanding, standard and sub-par work performed by humans, in terms of keeping the customers coming back.

Rob Coston Reporter CPL
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