The CMO’s guide to AI’s marketing impact for 2018

Though AI in marketing is still an intangible concept for many CMOs, it will be here before you know it. Columnist Andy Betts explains how you can prepare.

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Given the rate of Artificial Intelligence dollars flowing into R&D — more than $30 billion a year — I think it’s safe to say we’ll be looking at a proliferation of AI-based tools in the very near future.

It’s entirely possible that we’ll see this same volume of AI tech with applications in marketing in the near future as well, but many CMOs are not for it… not yet, anyway. Recent studies by both the McKinsey Global Institute (PDF) and MIT/Boston Consulting Group reported that only about 20 percent of companies have implemented AI technology in a meaningful way.

The potential of AI in marketing is still largely abstract, but that’s okay. You don’t need to have it all figured out in the next quarter.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the AI opportunities and work through some steps you can take today to get in position for the AI proliferation of tomorrow.

1. Prepare your data and the processes/practices around it

Fake news has become so ubiquitous that Facebook has had to take steps to combat it, and even private businesses are developing opportunities around the filtering out of false information.

Gartner recently predicted that by 2022, “most people in mature economies will consume more false information than true information.” The research firm also warned that while AI is proving to be effective in creating new information, it’s equally effective at distorting data, which results in false information.

Brands are going to have their work cut out for them. As brands increasingly function as publishers and curate content to share, fact-checking and data cleaning will become more important — and resource-consuming. AI has the potential to assist in the automation of these tasks, but hybrid marketers skilled in interpreting and cleaning your data will be key.

Whatever the specific marketing application, your AI tools will need clean, optimized inputs, as well as experts in place to make sense of the outputs.

2. Prepare your people

Your AI applications will only be as good as the people who drive them. Gartner also predicted that in 2020, AI will become a “positive net job motivator,” creating 2.3 million jobs while doing away with only 1.8 million jobs. If this comes to fruition (and all indicators say it will), all of the anxiety over machines taking over will have been for naught.

Even so, the types of jobs that will be available — and the skills and competencies required to succeed in those positions — is changing rapidly. We dug into this is my September column, “Becoming a martech mastermind: Agility, proficiency and accountability.” As ad tech and martech converge and AI is increasingly thrown into the mix, the demand for specialists will decrease. Brands will be looking for people able to perform across multiple disciplines — those who are able and willing to acquire working knowledge of many platforms and disciplines.

“Because the technology is so powerful, there’s a large demand for talent that understands how to apply it,” Scott Penberthy, director of applied AI for Google Cloud, recently told Fast Company. Major tech brands are investing heavily in new AI positions. Amazon is in for $228 million, Google has invested $130 million in new AI jobs, and Microsoft is in the mix with $75 million, according to research firm Paysa.

3. Tailor your content to capitalize on the voice search opportunity

This is not a trend, and it’s something you can implement now to make your future AI applications even more successful.

Between 20 and 25 percent of queries on the Google mobile app and Android devices are already voice searches. Gartner found that voice-based search queries are the fastest-growing mobile search type and expects that by 2021, early adopter brands that redesign their websites to support visual and voice search will grow their digital commerce revenue by 30 percent.

4. Boost your content performance with AI

How can you prepare your content for AI? Your language strategy goes beyond voice search; prepare for AI technology like chatbots as well. Natural language is becoming the standard as AI tools become smarter and learn to adapt to the natural speech patterns of each audience.

This is why I advocate constantly for the application of the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) framework for new technology decisions. Marketers need to get infinitely intentional in planning, creating and promoting content. You’ll need to understand the entire customer journey, start to finish, and which content formats, platforms, channels and device targeting will get your content in front of the right customer at the right point, at just the right moment.

This is perhaps where AI will have the greatest utility in marketing — in learning user behaviors and needs at a level so granular that each consumer has a completely custom, personalized experience.

5. Examine your potential IoT and AI use cases

Tristan Greene over at The Next Web took a bold stand (and may well be right on) with his AI prediction: “Showing up in 2018 without an AI chip in your flagship device is going to get your product dismissed by the general public.”

You’re probably not manufacturing phones, but the majority of your consumers will soon be armed with AI-enabled devices.

Start with that assumption and begin projecting out from there. AI is going to have use cases inside your business, but it is also going to be the new normal for the consumers you’re trying to reach. Begin documenting the problems you believe AI may be able to help you solve — both internally and for your consumers — and examine each use case.

Smart Insights provides some great examples of use cases in the visual below by breaking down AI into three components: Machine Learning Techniques, Applied Propensity Models and AI Applications.

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AI is not going to be the answer to every challenge. Focus on your goals and utility, not just the cool factor of the technology.

Drawing your AI roadmap for 2018 & beyond

AI as it pertains to marketing is one area where it may make sense to hang back, rather than racing to be an early adopter. Those in the best position to come out ahead are simply getting to know the AI space now.

The R&D dollars being pumped into AI right now by some of search, content and marketing’s major players means there are a lot of potentially workable solutions already in the pipeline. Do you really want to be first in line for a custom solution when smart AI applications are already being integrated into marketing workflows?

Consider the success that the Washington County, Oregon, sheriff’s office is having with AI facial recognition technology. Chris Adzima, senior information-systems analyst, told Fast Company how he turned Amazon Web Services offering, Rekognition, into an application for quickly sorting through booking photos in search of matches to surveillance footage. As he told the magazine, “I am not a data scientist, nor do I have any idea how facial recognition or artificial intelligence works.”

By the way, the initial setup cost for the sheriff’s office was about $400, and the monthly bill from Amazon Web Services around $6. So far, it’s helped identify at least 20 suspects.

If you only take one thing away here, I hope it is this: You don’t have to be a trailblazer in AI. Those people and tech companies are already leading the way, and they’re clipping along at breakneck speed. The tools, platforms and applications will be here before you know it.

The CMO’s best play at this point is to prepare what you can and commit to staying on top of the news around AI applications in marketing as it breaks. The opportunity is right around the corner; get in position now to recognize it.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Andy Betts
Andy has over 15 years experience in formulating marketing, digital and content strategies for many of the world's leading brands, agencies and technology pioneers. Andy works closely with CEO and CMO thought leaders, executives and technology partners on strategic marketing, digital and content marketing strategies. He has also spends considerable time consulting, and travelling across the World, for many digital and content marketing technology startups -- working on research, event and publication projects. Andy has worked at the C-level with leading brands such as HP, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Microsoft, HSBC, United Airlines, Adobe, Apple, American Express and Fidelity International. He has also consulted on digital marketing projects with many of the world’s leading agencies such as Publicis, Aegis, Starcom, Digitas, Zenith Optimedia, GroupM and WPP properties.

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