The word “revolutionary” might be one of the most overused adjectives in marketing. What does “widget x” or “service y” have in common with the bloody, world-changing events that took place in countries like France or Tsarist Russia? That said, when it comes to applying Artificial Intelligence (AI) in marketing, I think the adjective may, for once, be appropriate. AI, like the revolutions before it, will bring about a complete change of ideas, leadership and direction. It will transform everything we know about marketing (although hopefully it will accomplish this without guillotines and gunfire!).
So, here we go, I’m going to say it: AI will revolutionise marketing.
On a technical level AI isn’t the easiest thing to get your head around—unless you’re a computer scientist. For marketers, however, the vital issues are Machine Learning (ML) and AI applications. ML refers to algorithms that are programmed to learn from data, whereas AI refers to applications that mimic human cognitive abilities, for example apps that can recognise images or respond to customer queries.
The revolutionary bit comes when these two technologies combine. ML is like the great revolutionary thinker: it comes up with insights and real-time knowledge, and ways for the AI system to keep improving and growing in sophistication. ML feeds into the AI application—the agent of change—whether that’s a chatbot virtual assistant or a programmatic algorithm.
AI in marketing
What sorts of changes are we talking about? One of the most exciting ways that AI will transform marketing is its ability to create hyper-personalisation. Personalisation holds the key to customer loyalty, enabling brands to build real, long-lasting relationships with customers as individuals. Until AI however, true personalisation hasn’t really been possible, because personalisation at scale has been impossible to achieve without racking up the sort of costs that make even the hardiest CFO burst into tears. Personalisation requires sifting through vast amounts of data in real-time—a function that the human brain cannot perform.
This is where AI technology proves its worth. As it’s based on high-powered compute capabilities, AI is a lot smarter than us at certain tasks. Companies are building AI systems that can mimic human conversation and “work” with customers to resolve issues, triage complaints and queries, and provide highly personalised recommendations.
But it’s not all about replacing us humans. AI will help us do our jobs better. One great example of this is Cogito. Cogito’s technology performs in-call voice analysis, providing real-time behavioural insights to help companies’ agents better engage with customers. It’s pretty cool to be able to read how your customers are feeling to help ensure you’re giving them the best service possible. It’s the sort of change that deserves to be called revolutionary.
The current state of play
Where do we stand with AI today? There are two sides to this question: what’s possible, and what people are actually doing. On the possible side, there has been a huge surge in AI applications. Here at Adobe, for example, we’ve pioneered an AI experience system, Adobe Sensei, which uses AI and ML to help businesses discover new insights that would otherwise have been hidden.
The system draws on massive volumes of content and data assets to gain deep customer insights and deliver highly personalised experiences for customers. HSBC, for example, has tested Sensei’s ability to personalise the order of products shown on a website to draw in traffic based on individual customer preferences. In its trial, HSBC used the technology to boost a product that performed well on its website, leading to a 109 percent increase in customers reaching that product.
Elsewhere in the world of marketing, AI is having one of its greatest impacts in the rise of voice-enabled personal assistants. These “chatbots” demonstrate the power of AI to connect customers with automated personas that use AI-derived insights to make personalised recommendations. Take Pefin’s new AI financial advisor, which was previewed at SXSW 2018. This chatbot is so sophisticated it can help users navigate life’s key financial decisions—everything from getting a mortgage to saving for retirement. This is the sort of highly-personalised experience that once would only have been possible through a (very expensive) human agent, and highlights the power of AI to provide bespoke experiences at scale.
That’s what’s possible. Let’s turn our attention to what’s actually happening. To what extent are businesses embracing AI applications? Well, the answer depends on who you ask. According to Forrester, just 11 percent of brands can be considered AI experts, while more than half fall into the “novice” or “laggard” category. But is that really surprising? The technology is still very new, and with such a big change most businesses would be wise to consider exactly how to deploy the technology to get the most value.
Perhaps a more revealing stat is this: 84 percent of marketing organisations are implementing or expanding AI and machine learning in 2018. Even if most businesses currently lag in AI adoption, you can bet your bottom dollar that won’t remain the case for long.
What does this mean?
Some of you may remember the debate a few years ago about whether customer loyalty had had its day. The argument ran that modern customers are too empowered and have too much choice. We’re fickle and won’t hesitate to switch brands. For me, the true power of AI in marketing is that it reverses this trend, making customer loyalty a realistic goal once more. AI allows brands to know their customers as people, and interact with them with the sort of insight you would expect from a best friend. If that doesn’t build loyalty, I don’t know what will.
We’re at a critical juncture with the deployment of AI. The use cases are firming up and the benefits of the technology are clear to see, but many firms have yet to make a play. My advice is simple: act now and don’t be left behind. Businesses that master AI-enabled marketing first will be at a significant competitive advantage. Vive la revolution! Let’s get busy rebuilding marketing.