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The use of artificial intelligence is growing quickly, especially in marketing. Industry leaders, bloggers, and many others are discussing the dramatic changes AI could bring. In fact, cmo.com found that 15% of enterprise companies are already using AI, with an additional 31% planning to start in the next year.

That is huge. With enterprise companies investing heavily in AI, we can expect it will continue to advance and further improve marketing performance.

Although AI technology will change marketing significantly—and soon—it's not time to rush in yet. Here are four considerations before diving into the AI pool.

1. Ensure your data is ready

Are you capturing the right data?

Without the right data, you won't get the results you need from AI.

For example, say you launched a new e-commerce store that's generating revenue and bringing in new customers. But your analytics platform shows that those customers aren't returning. So you invest in software that specializes in providing recommended products through email to drive repeat business.

For that solution to work, it needs more than the user's email address. It needs data from past purchases, including product category, item, price, and your inventory. In fact, the software may even use actions from people with similar purchasing behavior or demographics to help narrow down which products to recommend.

Without good data, the system has to guess, potentially serving irrelevant products to users, which could end up doing more harm than good.

If transactional or user data isn't being captured, your company is a while away from being able to make AI work for you.

Is your data clean?

Because machine-learning relies heavily on data, the cleaner and more accurate the data is, the more likely it will provide a realistic results, especially in low volumes. Outcomes from machine learning will only ever be as good as the data provided. If you are not 100% confident in your data's accuracy, develop a plan to get clean data.

Key takeaway: The results will be only as good as your data. Without clean data, accurate outcomes are dramatically reduced.

2. Consider whether vendors are using technology to its full potential

A client was looking for a more automated form of personalization through use of complex datasets to provide a unique experience to website users. The client was focused on the use of AI. However, after vetting and speaking to representatives at dozens of leading companies, we found that the reality was that AI was not actually a key component of most products.

We were even able to get one of the highest-ranking companies in the space to admit that many out-of-the-box solutions don't use AI to automate and serve personalized experiences. Even after having demos with those companies, we could see that the processes were still fairly manual and AI wasn't being used to improve performance or increase efficiencies.

We didn't find that too surprising: AI is such a hot topic that it's natural for companies to want to mention it as part of their product.

Does that mean companies won't be using AI to create more automated experiences? No. In fact, large companies such as Amazon and Apple have started to open-source their software and publish their findings to help the community advance.

You can expect to see top marketing software companies begin to adopt and use technologies and findings from companies such as Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook in the near future, but be wary of how they are being applied.

For the time being, it's "buyer beware" on actual AI integrations and applications.

Key takeaway: Expect companies to tout the use of AI in their products, but really push them to understand exactly what that means and how it will help you, the user.

Reports from Forrester—as well as its background research for those reports—are a great resource to discover top companies within the space. You can also partner with an agency that has prior experience working with software that uses AI technology to help guide you to the right solution based on your needs.

3. Ask whether your marketing stack will integrate with AI solutions

Because AI relies heavily on your data, you'll want to be aware of what integrating your data sources looks like with your AI solution.

While vetting the different AI platforms, we found that the available integrations varied pretty significantly. Some platforms integrate only within their own suite of products, while others offer a native connector or connection through their API.

Knowing that integration capabilities vary by platform, you'll need to have a solid plan and the right team in place to account for the potential complexities.

Key takeaway: Have a solid understanding of your current marketing technology stack and the ways AI platforms will have to connect to it. Check to see whether the AI vendors offer direct integrations or have documentation that you may be able to pass on to your developer or partner agency.

4. Consider whether there are other areas where you could see more immediate ROI

AI is a shiny new toy that some companies feel they absolutely need, but you may want to consider whether there are other opportunities that could provide ROI that your company can more quickly capitalize on. They may not be as fancy or trendy, but they could provide great results.

Here are a few cost-efficient and potentially high-ROI opportunities:

Website CRO testing. Conversion rate optimization testing can generate significant impact when focused on key business aspects. Some of our clients have seen incredible results by testing variations of their marketing efforts.

Lead nurturing with marketing automation. Marketing automation is a great way to keep your prospects engaged with your brand. Test, optimize, and continue to build if you already have a lead nurturing program.

Paid and programmatic advertising. We have seen tremendous success with paid advertising across Facebook and Google AdWords, and we believe that will only continue as those companies invest in AI for their platforms. Ad opportunities on connected TV and radio can also be worth the investment, particularly if you have the automation and scoring in place to nurture awareness-level contacts generated by such advertising.

Key takeaway: If you're not capitalizing on some successful and fundamental tactics in marketing, you may see greater immediate success by implementing a tactic such as lead nurturing with marketing automation rather than pulling out the big guns with AI.

Only fools rush in

Yes, AI is likely to change everything—not just marketing—in the near future. And, in some cases, it might be the right move for your business. But no matter where you stand, make sure you're not just rushing into AI merely because it's new and interesting. Make sure it can help you today and it can provide the ROI that would make it worth the effort.

AI is coming, and you definitely need to be ready. But you can't rush it. Do the research. Do the legwork. You won't regret it.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Tim Morse

Tim Morse is digital marketing manager at Element Three, a full-service modern marketing agency.

LinkedIn: Tim Morse