This article is part of an occasional series from leading voices about key issues facing marketing today.
Artificial intelligence promises to bring change to nearly every industry—and digital marketing, in particular, will undergo major upheaval from AI sooner rather than later.
Why is online marketing poised to be heavily influenced by AI? Already, many marketing initiatives are automated. And automatable processes can be managed by AI technologies relatively easily, as long as those systems have large data sets from which to draw inferences.
In addition, companies will eagerly drive the adoption of AI-powered marketing tools. That's because AI promises to improve the performance of marketing campaigns across all channels, accelerating the enterprise sales cycle and boosting revenue.
The effect of AI will be so profound that in the near future "intelligent" digital marketing will be the default and today's status quo will seem clunky and cumbersome.
Here are the three areas of marketing that will be affected first.
1. Campaign Optimization
Digital marketing campaigns are already deployed at scale. Enterprise-grade campaign management tools let marketers place thousands of ads across multiple ad networks—but doing so requires significant manual effort.
What will change, as AI becomes infused into enterprise software, is that these programs will effectively run themselves, learning over time what works and what doesn't.
Expect AI to not only uncover new tactics and methods for campaign optimization but also lower the cost of running campaigns. Today, campaign optimization demands the talents of at least one marketing analyst; as a result, 8-10% of a big brand's media spend will typically go to management. It's here that AI can have a major impact on the bottom line. Soon, AI technologies will be able to optimize campaigns with minimal human involvement. Simply define 10-15 parameters—such as which sites to place ads on or how much to spend—and the AI will figure out how much money to put where.
The result would be greatly increased efficiency and return on ad spend. Google is already incorporating some deep-learning technologies into its small-business marketing suite, having just released a "Smart campaigns" feature aimed at local advertisers. By automatically optimizing the placement of local search ads, Google claims Smart campaigns delivers three times the performance of the AdWords platform it replaces.
Personalizing marketing messages is about identifying who the prospect is, what message will resonate with that person, when it should be presented, and which channel should be used. As with campaign and bid optimization, orchestrating all of this demands a lot of input.
AI will automate those elements of marketing personalization, speeding decision-making and helping marketers act faster on the data they have available.
Today's enterprise-grade marketing platforms already automate outreach, depending on persona, funnel stage, account actions, and many other triggers. When AI is fully infused into marketing automation tools, those tools will optimize for each of these factors in real time, constantly testing and iterating to maximize conversion.
All marketers will have to do is define the touchpoints involved in the purchase path and the parameters that describe the target customer; AI will then take over to define what kinds of personalization works best for different segments, and then automate outreach completely.
3. Data analysis
Marketing, website analytics, and monitoring tools provide enterprises with millions of data points to analyze. That wealth of information can unlock better decision-making, but the sheer volume of data makes gaining insights a challenge.
AI promises to influence data analysis for the better. It will take over the process of ingesting, cleaning up, and parsing enterprise data, throwing out exceptions and enabling faster, more accurate analyses.
AI tools will completely take over journey analysis and mapping, and they will make recommendations to optimize individual journey steps.
Because it works at scale, AI can deliver recommendations nearly instantaneously. Large websites—such as those in e-commerce—stand to benefit the most from this kind of AI-driven decision-making. The laborious process of site optimization, involving painstaking page-by-page improvements, will be greatly accelerated because businesses will know which changes will have maximum impact.
AI will even be able to show marketers what they don't know that they don't know. By unlocking previously hidden insights, AI will help enterprise marketing teams develop strategies that are fully informed by data.
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The primary challenge for companies in the age of AI will be training their AI systems. AI needs feedback to "learn" patterns and optimize processes, and developing meaningful feedback loops demands large data sets. Which is why businesses like Google and Facebook, with their huge data troves, are today's AI leaders.
Still, as artificial intelligence proliferates across the marketing landscape, even small companies will benefit. Keep an eye on AI in marketing: It's coming sooner than you think.
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