Erik Hallander
Jan 6, 2017

AI is sneaking into marketing in small, invisible, ways

All the signs point to 2017 being the year that AI will start to impact marketing, but not in the flashy or apocalyptic way predicted.

AI is sneaking into marketing in small, invisible, ways

Editor's note: We'll be featuring 2017 Outlook content from the latest issue of Campaign all this week. Subscribers can see it all now in the emagazine.

Despite futurists, analysts and agencies having done their best to convince us that 2016 was the year of VR, we’re still a while away from it having genuine consumer impact. Don’t get me wrong, I’m impressed by the growth and talk of VR this year, but there’s definitely time required before it becomes part of a normal customer’s reality.

So, if we said that 2016 was the year of VR (It wasn’t), what’s on the radar for next year?

In my mind, there’s no other way to answer that question but with two ominous letters. AI. I know, I know. Future robots taking all the jobs and so on. But it’s not that, not really. It’s the smaller things. The automation potential. Allow me to elaborate.

The topic of AI for many brands has quickly gone from ‘seems hard’ to ‘seems interesting’ and for a good reason. Wrapping your head around deep learning, neural networks and the broader concept of AI is hard for pretty much anyone, but more and more businesses are looking at the outcomes that AI can enable and not so much the technology itself.

The reality, though, is that budgets are tight. There’s not much wiggle room for seemingly multi-million dollar investments in complex concepts like AI, especially when ROI is hard to point to. But, marketers, CIOs and COOs are catching on to the smaller things that AI can enable. While there’s genuine transformational power at hand, there are also very small and targeted outcomes that are surprisingly effortless. This seems to be the path a lot of brands are taking. Validating the impact, testing the waters and finding confirmation for investment, much in line with the 70-20-10 model.

Deep learning enables computers to ‘learn’ through training. For example, Facebook is investing in deep learning to understand how it can curate better content feeds for its users. The classic “If you liked this, chances are you’ll also like this” section that is all over the web very often relies on elements of deep learning. In some places, rudimentary, but more often than not, quite sophisticated towards enabling ecosystems to analyse behavior, traffic and trends to better recommend the right related content. North Face for example, are using AI to recommend better products to its customers.

AI is also having a large impact in the areas of Marketing Automation, where it's used to analyse behavior to better guide customers through the sales cycle and follow-up content.

Another excellent example of a field where AI & algorithms is becoming quite prevalent is in pricing products. You might already know that all plane tickets you’ve bought in the last decade, the price was set by a computer, not a human. This has since grown to concerts, taxi rides (think of Uber's surge price), hotel room pricings, and much more.

Beyond ‘reactive’ uses, marketers are also relying on AI for data analysis, sales forecasts and automated reporting. This enables a brand to quickly make decisions on its marketing and product decisions based from real customer data. Data governance is something big brands are still struggling with, and it’s no surprise to see AI being used to help.

But perhaps the most rapid move into AI for marketers has been customer service. Through chat bots and other forms of communications, AI is starting to make a real dent in the art of answering questions from customers. The linked article is over a year old, and shows how much of this has happened almost invisibly, behind most marketer’s backs.

Today, it’s increasingly common to be speaking to a bot when interacting with a site’s conversational interface, or through Facebook and Facebook Messenger. You might not have caught on, since there’s clever routing happening when topics get too complex for the bots, you’re seamlessly passed on to a human being

Now, back to the topic. 2017.

Will 2017 be the year of AI? Look. despite it might seem like I’ve been trying to make an argument that was this year, we truly haven’t seen nothing yet. We can expect a much more sophisticated 2017. A more tuned, automated and accurate 2017. To me, next year will be the year where no one in this industry can choose to ignore AI any longer. We will go from ‘seems interesting’ to ‘how did my brand get so far behind’.

I hope that bringing attention to how much traction AI has had already makes anyone who read this article keen to do more research, and maybe even find ways where AI can add value to their own organization. Remember though, when people speak of the AI apocalypse and robots taking over the world, just make them watch this video

Erik Hallander is regional mobile and innovation director, Isobar Asia-Pacific.


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