The world of marketing is awash with conversations on emerging technologies, apps, and innovations that will disrupt the way we do things. In 2017 one specific topic dominates the conversation: artificial intelligence. So what is the role of artificial intelligence in technology, society, and our future.
Before we start concerning ourselves with singularity and Terminators taking over humanity, there is a more immediate question. What affect will artificial intelligence have on our processes as marketers, and more specifically, our current use of marketing automation?
This conversation yields a much less “gloom and doom” outlook, after discussing it with some experts in the field.
In coming years, artificial intelligence will act much more as a friend to marketers, rather than an enemy or replacement for human marketers. We as marketers are collecting tons and tons of data, and this data “will simply be the fuel for AI,” says Mark Schaefer in a recent article on shifts in marketing. AI can process faster and more efficiently, even without the need to spend time cleaning up the data, says Schaefer. It will even be able to answer questions based on data trends. Imagine being able to simply ask natural-language questions and get immediate answers based on the data.
Christopher S. Penn, Vice President of Marketing Technology at Shift Communications, actually says that implementing artificial intelligence could greatly benefit B2B marketers. “Unsupervised machine learning, sifting through and self-identifying large quantities of data, is really going to benefit B2B marketers. It is extremely difficult for us to do it reliably at scale.” Chris also points out that artificial intelligence can lower the barrier to entry, as marketers won’t have to figure out how to do this stuff themselves, but rather just to tell the computer to do it. The templatized, repeatable processes, however? Those will be quickly disappearing to machine learning in the coming years.
This is a future imagined by Scott Brinker, cofounder and CTO of ion interactive and Chairperson of the MarTech Conference, as well. “I think AI will make the user interfaces for marketing automation systems simpler for us humans, while at the same time, under the covers, it will make the actual mechanics of marketing operations much more complex.” He envisions no longer having to navigate menus and dashboards. Simply ask questions and get answers. This will significantly shorten the time it takes to inform data-driven marketing campaigns and tactics, and hopefully allow marketers more time to be creative and inventive with their campaigns.
Marketers still have plenty of work to do before the benefits of AI come to fruition, however. Judy Shapiro, CEO and Co-Founder of engageSimply, does not currently see a wide enough adoption of marketing technology in corporate America. She sees a lot of deployments, but not many functional use cases across the board. Judy says AI may help with adoption though, as it “may make marketing automation easier for companies to adopt or [assist] in delivering personalized experiences.” Removing the learning curve of a new marketing technology is a significant barrier out of the way, and increasing real personalization means improvement for the consumer side as well.
Artificial intelligence is a capability within the world of MarTech, not a solution in and of itself, she says. We can neither look to A.I. to solve all our marketing challenges nor replace human marketers completely. It can, however, overcome our limitations as humans. Scott Brinker notes, “as we let AI algorithms take over applying personalization rules and divvying up audience segments dynamically, we’ll bust through” the limitations of what we can do manually as humans. The down side to that, he adds, is that it will become harder for us to fully understand exactly how those campaigns are operating.
There are some other concerns to add to the above. Mark Schaefer warns that, once artificial intelligence begins making marketing technologies easier to use, there will be a shakeup in the industry. MarTech brands must find new ways to differentiate themselves, or risk getting lost and ignored. The proliferation of marketing technologies (approximately 3,874 and counting), as has been documented every year since 2011 by ChiefMartec in their now-famous supergraphic, has already created intense competition. AI will increase that.
As a consultant, Mark did express a slight concern when we discussed IBM’s Watson. “It can take all this disparate data, make sense of it, and even tell you what questions you should be asking. That’s my job!”
Scott Brinker’s final prediction is, “Ironically, I expect there may become a little cottage category of MarTech solutions that use AI to monitor the AI activities of your other marketing systems — to make sure they aren’t algorithmically going off into the woods.”
“Just get on board,” says Chris Penn. It’s not as intimidating as you think because “if you have ever created a rule or algorithm, you’ve already dipped a toe into machine learning.” He recently wrote a primer post to help marketers get started, which we may all want to bookmark—because it is currently a race to be first, or a race to be best.
(Full podcast with Christopher Penn)
Judy leaves us with a question for us to ponder: “What are best uses of AI within existing marketing platforms like CRM, email or marketing automation?” We should take a proactive approach to use the new technology to make ourselves even more indispensable, rather than concern ourselves with being replaced.
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