Going Beyond the AI Hype

There are too many myths circling around artificial intelligence (AI) and its role in marketing.

It’s slanderous (to the technology industry) to denounce AI as only hype, and incorrect to assume AI is a fabrication coined by companies aiming to drum up publicity for what’s merely a machine learning, deep learning, or automation tool.

Most tech experts agree that, by 2050, AI will almost certainly handle the vast majority of routine marketing execution. And while AI won’t necessarily take your job, it already is and will continue to augment the level of intelligence marketers operate with, the insights they can attain, and the kind of incredibly individualized communication they’re are able to deliver to customers.

What’s clear is that artificial intelligence – as a marketing tool – is already being used by e-commerce companies to gain a competitive advantage. The subjects of debate – fueled by uncertainty, scepticism, and even fear – include, perhaps:

  • What, exactly, AI is – and the extent to which this cleverly named technology is actually responsible for yielding tangible business results, as opposed to some other more well-understood technology
  • Whether AI could take our jobs – how this supposed game-changing software could do the job of a human better than a human
  • Whether you need technical, developer-esque skills to use AI – how a marketer is supposed to run/set up a robot, computer, machine, or algorithm
  • Whether AI has a place in your business – whether or not AI – and a commitment/reliance to it as part of your business strategy – would produce results and ROI

The stark reality is that, today, AI-enabled technology can amplify almost every area of your business. Let’s dispel these 4 common AI myths, and explore actionable tactics to combat each.

4 Myths About AI

Myth #1: AI is marketing speak, voodoo magic, or, if it’s real, a solution

There are those who say the term “artificial intelligence” is just a suave marketing ploy; that it must be something else.

“Artificial” alone holds a sort of insincere, unnatural connotation. It implies something has been scrounged up; made of various individually insignificant parts.

Then “intelligence.” To suggest that something which is artificial to be simultaneously intelligent seems like an out-and-out contradiction.

Artificial intelligence is a broad term – but it’s not meaningless, nor is it magical. AI is built upon many different technological capabilities (which are not AI in and of themselves) like machine learning, deep learning, or neural networks, and has several marketing-related applications like natural language generation and predictive content recommendation to name a few.

It’s also important to realize that AI, as an underlying and enabling technology, isn’t a solution which can just be downloaded or installed.

Allen Nance“The biggest misconception about AI is that it’s a solution. AI is an enabling technology only. It’s a math algorithm. Without good data, it is useless. Consequently, the AI race will be won by those with the best first party data.”

Allen Nance • Chief Marketing Officer, Emarsys • @AllenNance

The key to dispelling a myth like this? You need to take a look at how AI manifests itself in numerous ways in our everyday lives (both within and outside of a marketing context).

How to combat:

Start by defining what AI is.

One of the easiest-to-understand definitions of artificial intelligence comes from Demis Hassabis, Co-Founder and CEO of Google DeepMind. He calls AI “the science of making machines smart.”

Let’s take a look at two real-life examples of AI in action (how smart machines provide tangible results), both from a “personal” and marketing perspective.

Facebook’s facial recognition ability is top-notch and one example of AI in action. It saves users time by recognizing who is in a picture, and prompting them to “tag” those people when posting a picture:

Facebook AI

Marketers are using artificial intelligence in a plethora of ways. One of the most common is to offer content or product recommendations based on individual users’ past behavior or similar items:

website recommendations

These are just two examples of AI in our everyday lives. Both showcase the predictive nature of a computer algorithm to, ultimately, enhance our lives (by saving us time and steps, and helping us find exactly what we need when browsing an e-store). This is the quintessence of AI.

Alex Timlin“The biggest misconception around AI is that people view AI as the answer, but they’re not really defining the question. We’re not yet at a stage where AI thinks freely for itself – we’re at a stage where it can solve for complex datasets and specific business problems.

As marketers we need to set the parameters to the problems – you can’t ask AI to simply tell you everything you need to know about your customers. You need to “frame the question” to “what’s the most common product for first time buyers to buy”, “what’s the lifetime value of a defecting customer”, “recommend the right 3 products from a catalogue of 1 million products for Alex”.

If we start with clarity on the problem we’re solving for and apply the might of machine learning and AI to crunch those data sets and generate those outputs, we’ll succeed as marketers and provide customers with a great experience.”

Alex Timlin • VP, Global Client Success, Emarsys • @ARTimlin

It may be more appropriate to say AI won’t necessarily take your job. But it really depends.

Myth #2: AI will take your job

John Freshley, an Account Executive at Emarsys, equates AI’s role in marketing to how a carpenter would use a nail gun to make his life easier.

John Freshley“Over time, this process [of building] was augmented, mechanized, and enhanced (and, in some ways, automated) with the advent of various modern tools. While in the past every nail was driven by a hammer, nail guns now deliver much better results, quicker, and at scale. Nail guns didn’t eliminate the fact a nail needed to be driven, but they removed the need for the carpenter to focus on how to hit the nail, how hard, and exactly where to drive it home. That’s what AI does for marketers.”

John Freshley • Account Executive, Emarsys • LinkedIn

Chances are good that, especially looking decades into the future, any commoditized, menial tasks which can be automated or operationalized are going to be intelligently programmed for a machine to accomplish.

Related Content: How AI Will Augment – Not Take – Our Jobs

How to combat:

The key to resisting this myth is understanding the areas that AI will eventually mechanize and automate, and recognizing its limitations.

AI will help marketers save time, increase efficiency, and reduce manual labor when it comes to certain tasks, like:

  • Data organization and analysis
  • Campaign planning, drag-and-drop tasks, and database segmentation
  • Email campaign execution
  • Content tagging, organization, and attribution

But AI will never (or certainly not in our lifetime) fully be able to generate your marketing strategy, be a creative entity (like a copywriter, graphic designer, etc.), be able to completely understand changing brand sentiments of users, and certainly not comprehend the very human emotional motivations which compel us on the deepest level.

Sanjay Castelino“The creative exercise of developing impactful experiences that take prospects further down the funnel, from awareness to consideration, is still better informed by marketers than machines.” (Via Entrepreneur.com, October 2017)

Sanjay Castelino • VP Revenue Operations & Marketing, ‎Spiceworks • @SanjayCatelino

Myth #3: You need technical competency or special skills to “do” AI

Marketing jobs which require unique creative expertise or emotional labor – the writers, graphic artists, videographers, strategists of the world – will always have a place.

AI will simply unlock the full potential of these kinds of capacities. AI will enable machines to achieve repetitive tasks which are currently taking up time from thoroughbred creatives.

AI readinessRecent joint research from Emarsys and Forrester, Building Trust And Confidence: AI Marketing Readiness In Retail And eCommerce showed that misconceptions of tech skills “required” for AI marketing hinders mainstream adoption.

Only 29% of end users feel they lack required technical skills, and 66% of business decision makers said their staff lacks the technical skills to leverage AI marketing technology. Where does the disconnect come from?

This misconception is largely based on the implication that since AI itself is a complicated technology, we must need data scientists and developers to make it work.

How to combat:

AI (and AI in marketing) drives much of our online, daily lives. In many cases, its presence, woven into many of the media portals, social media platforms, and websites we use every day, is completely machine-driven. Marketers at these companies are focused almost entirely on creating better content and better user experiences.

Mike Kaput“One of the biggest misconceptions I see around AI in marketing is that many marketers either fear artificial intelligence or believe it to be a technical subject that doesn’t affect their work. In fact, marketers (and the general public) use AI dozens or hundreds of times per day in the form of Siri, Amazon recommendations, or Netflix movie suggestions. And the AI technologies behind these popular systems are now impacting the marketing industry. Far from fearing AI, marketers should embrace it—and better understand how to use AI technologies to augment and transform their work. You don’t need a technical background to start using these tools today.”

Mike Kaput • Director, Marketing AI Institute • @MikeKaput

With an advanced, AI-enabled marketing platform, the machine does the heavy lifting, freeing marketers to refocus on strategic items. You don’t need a technical background for AI to work.

While a software programmer skillset isn’t a prerequisite for implementation of AI solutions, the reality is that minimal technical competency among your team will be helpful in getting the most value from an AI engine. In most cases, learning to use the technology is easy.

The SaaS itself will “run” on its own, but to fully take advantage of all the AI capabilities/platform, it wouldn’t hurt to dedicate one team member (marketing technologist, e-commerce manager, etc) to really owning the process.

Myth #4: AI is still in the early stages and doesn’t have a practical place in my business just yet

We’re still in the top of the first inning in terms of the advancement and potential of AI marketing.

But it’s a misperception to think that just because AI is still in the early stages, it’s an immature technology. Brands that refrain from AI because of uncertainty are missing out on opportunities that other companies are already exploring and driving ROI from.

Tim Dileo“Small, early-stage companies can experience the same AI benefits as larger corporations, so it’s crucial that all marketers embrace AI from the get-go, no matter their company size. In fact, companies and their marketing teams can’t afford not to start using AI, because those that fail to leverage the technology to meet their unique needs risk losing out to competitors.” (Via CMSWire.com, January 2017)

Tim Dileo • CCO, Grey Jean Technologies • LinkedIn

How to combat:

If jumping in head first and investing full-throttle off the bat seems too daunting, don’t. Consider piloting, testing, and fine-tuning the AI-enabled technology that best suits your needs.

Paul Roetzer, Founder of the Marketing AI Institute identifies “5 P’s” of marketing AI:

If jumping in head first and investing full-throttle off the bat seems too daunting, don’t. Consider piloting, testing, and fine-tuning the AI-enabled technology that best suits your needs.

  • Planning, which involves predicting consumer behavior, and allocating resources
  • Production, meaning the generation/optimization of content like emails and social posts
  • Personalization, which super-charges a company’s e-commerce presence with “recommended for you” products and individualized, right-time incentives
  • Promotion, allowing brands to automate cross-channel targeting and digital advertising
  • Performance, helping to take the manual work out of lead scoring, data analysis, and campaign monitoring

Related Content: Warning Signs That Your Marketing & CRM Strategy Need an AI Boost

Karola Karlson“AI can help you enhance your visitor experience with intelligent personalization on your site. Intelligent algorithms can help personalize the following: The website experience – By analyzing hundreds of data points about a single user (including location, demographics, device, interaction with the website, etc.), AI can display the best-fitting offers and content. Push notifications – Thanks to behavioral personalization, push notifications can be specific to individual users, delivering them the right message at the right time.” (Via ContentMarketingInstitute.com, August 2017)

Karola Karlson Founder, Aggregate blog • @KarolaKarlson

Buying AI tech is a lot like buying the year’s hottest new car. You wouldn’t make that kind of purchase without at least taking it for a spin around the block. Get a sense for what you need, then explore your options.

Application of Artificial Intelligence in Digital Marketing

The aforementioned joint research from Emarsys and Forrester gave context to how, exactly, retail brands are getting past these myths and using/planning to use AI – 82% agree that AI will reinvent the way marketers work.

Marketers surveyed also lent insight as to when they plan on implementing specific AI-related technologies:

AI tech

To let so-called “myths” about AI impede your organization’s piloting and eventual adoption of the technology is to let a major, tangible opportunity slip by the wayside.

Today, AI exists in a marketing sense to help do two things: increase efficiencies and create more targeted customer experiences. Pair that AI-enabled potential with the ability of creative marketers to craft the perfect campaign, and you’re set for success.

► Take our 5-minute, interactive AI Readiness Assessment to learn the next best steps for your company’s AI adventure.

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