10 things marketers need to know about AI

AI-enabled marketing isn't just about cute chatbots. Here's what CMOs, CIOs and others need to know to make the most of AI in their marketing initiatives in 2017 and beyond.

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"Marketers are attending conferences, hearing pitches from vendors about AI in tangible, practical terms that apply to their work," says John Callan, Boxever's vice president of marketing. "They understand that machine learning algorithms can better resolve customer identity, aid decisions, and help you decide which offer should be delivered to which consumer based on behaviors, historical interactions with the brand, and so on."

Consumers, on the other hand, still have "fantastical sci-fi" visions of AI, often in the form of movie robots and self-driving cars, Callan adds.

While not all marketers are fully conversant about and comfortable with AI, Callan notes, they might not have to be. "Over the new few years, you'll see more people who aren't particularly tech-savvy using tools that are extremely powerful under the hood," he explains.

7. CMOs face challenges in adopting AI

The Demandbase/Wakefield Research study helps quantify some of the concerns that markets have about rolling out AI technology. In that survey, 60 percent of marketers polled said that they worry about integrating AI into their existing technology stack. Large portions of respondents also cited concerns over training employees (54 percent) and the difficulty of interpreting results (46 percent).

Frank, the Gartner analyst, also suggests that the automated technology could be seen as a threat to well-established roles within an organization.

"I think the biggest challenges CMOs and CIOs will face in adopting AI in their digital marketing efforts is grappling with loss of control," Frank says.

"Both roles are accustomed to exercising authority over activities in their respective domains -- in the CMO's case to protect the brand, and in the CIO's to enable smooth operations," he adds. "Both roles understand intuitively that whatever tricks an AI can manage, machines are still nowhere near possessing a human-like understanding of the subtleties of communication. So both roles have good reason to be suspicious of autonomous AI applications, especially where customer interactions are concerned. Getting comfortable with these systems will be a big challenge."

8. CIOs will face their own challenges with AI

CIOs have been grappling with some significant changes over the past decade, to put it mildly. That includes the emergence of sophisticated new mobile devices and the galaxy of apps they support, cloud computing and the internet of things, to name a few.

Marketing automation technologies have proliferated over the past few years, as well. So while marketers have had to become more tech-savvy, CIOs have had to become savvier about marketing.

Adding AI to the marketing mix requires CIOs to face some new challenges. "CIOs have dealt with smart automation before, but not much beyond call center bots," See says. Now, a company’s CIO "needs to understand what all the customer touch-points are, what the role of the marketer is, and how they can be supported by great data, great analytics and integrated AI." Figuring all that out will likely take a few years, he says.

Getting one "single customer view" pulled from a variety of sources, such as CRM and customer acquisition databases, "will be essential but also fairly difficult" to achieve, adds Lippincott's Marshall.

[ Related: Calling all coders: is AI coming for your job? ]

"One of the biggest challenges for CMOs and CIOs will be tackling the data challenge," says Shah of Hubspot. "In order to get the most value out of machine learning, organizations must first get a rich variety of data into a common platform that can then feed the AI algorithms. Often, this data is sitting in disparate data silos across the organization."

In addition, "there are very few AI use cases that prove the technology's ROI for marketers," notes Marketo's Pattabhiram. "This can be a non-starter for CMOs and CIOs who must ensure that any new technology is worth the investment of time, money and IT resources."

What's more, 42 percent of American marketers cited reporting and analytics as critical needs when proving ROI, according to a recent Marketo Future Tech survey. As a result, "it's crucial that executives understand how best to measure the success of their AI programs in order to justify their spend," Pattabhiram says.

Ultimately, CIOs must "have the right IT infrastructure in place to make sure AI applications have access to the data they need to deliver personalized experiences, wherever that data may live," he says. "This may mean simplifying an existing tech stack, rather than tacking on disparate technologies that don’t effectively integrate with one another."

9. AI could change the nature of marketing

Some believe AI will ultimately fundamentally change the nature of marketing and thus, the job of the marketer.

In the near future, AI will routinely make buying decisions for consumers based on what's known about them, Marshall predicts. For example, consider a task as simple as checking the weather. Not long ago, you'd likely have watched The Weather Channel for your local forecast, where you'd see an ad for a product that may or may not be of relevance to you, he says.

More recently, you might go to Weather.com, where you'd see an ad for an antihistamine. The ad would be displayed to you because you had previously visited the allergy part of the website.

A few years from now, an app or virtual assistant would know if you have allergies, when you're traveling to a certain city and what the pollen count currently is in that city. Then, if needed, it would recommend or even automatically purchase your preferred antihistamine medication,.and have it delivered as well.

In that situation (and endless variations of it), the consumer doesn't need to make a brand decision -- an AI platform does it for them based on what it knows about the consumer, Marshall says. Consequently, "it gets harder and harder to build a brand through marketing." In the age of AI, then, marketing will become much less about promises and claims and much more about outcome and performance.

"AI will and is entirely changing the nature of marketing organization in a way that's tremendous,” Marshall says. Over the new few years, he expects that AI will take on many activities such as targeting and messaging. That means that some marketing jobs dependent upon those activities will disappear. So who survives? Those who focus on what the target customer's "next need" is, and those who deliver against that need with better outcomes, will be well positioned for the future, according to Marshall. Likewise, he foresees a shift in the nature of the marketing role from "persuasion" to "insight."

10. AI is about truly knowing your customers and making them fans

As marketing and technology chiefs come to terms with some of the disruption that AI will bring, they can move toward the real value that the technology could bring. That, according to See, will be a more tailored personalized approach to customer service that will help the firms that get it right stand out from their competitors.

"As the world moves forward, being able to differentiate your most-valued customers will be key," according to See. "AI will help marketers find those folks and give them a different level of treatment. It will help them deliver a differentiated experience that will in turn build customer loyalty. And it will do it at scale and cost."

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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