Will 2017 Bring AI Powered Marketing Mainstream?

AI isn't just in the movies.

If you’re hoping for a comforting pat on the shoulder and assurances that online marketing will stay the same in 2017, I’ve got some bad news. AI powered marketing is already here and our soon-to-be digital overlords are outpacing human capabilities in some key areas.

The fact of the matter is, a lot of us are already using AI in some way, whether we’re asking Siri for directions to the nearest pub or scrolling through the curated content on our Facebook feed. Marketers are also leveraging this technology in new and interesting ways to drive when, where, and how they sell you products and services. And what have we learned?

In come cases, machines are better at marketing than we are.

The AI revolution already happened and it's in your pocket. Click To Tweet

Before we continue, I want to make sure that when we talk about AI, we aren’t picturing this:

AI Powered Marketing is not The Terminator

… or this…

AI Powered Marketing is not Hal 9000

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get started.

AI Powered Marketing: A Brief Introduction

This isn’t the AI we pictured in the late 20th century: It’s much more useful, much less malicious and (thankfully) not obsessed with its own self preservation. Jokes aside, the point I’m trying to make is that intelligence exists on a sliding scale. When we talk about AI powered marketing, the intelligence on display does not have an organic equivalent — comparing artificial intelligence to human intelligence is a lot like trying to compare apples to oranges.

Intelligence (n) The ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.

Most examples of modern AI involve highly complex pieces of software that are built to analyze and detect patterns in large sets of data. Depending on its level of sophistication, the software can then draw conclusions from that data. The people working on these learning algorithms have aptly referred to their creations as a form of artificial intelligence — after all, they acquire data and then apply it, either through detecting patterns or making recommendations based upon a set of predetermined variables.

Why is this useful? Because when it comes to data analytics, a well-programmed AI can do in minutes or hours what would take an army of highly paid data scientists days or weeks. But before we lump artificial intelligence in with other job-killing calamities such as automationindustrialization, and the cotton gin, let’s look at the benefits:

The AI Revolution Already Happened

That’s right! It’s already happened. You missed it.

The fact of the matter is, we’ve already let AI take over in some significant ways and we’re realizing that artificial intelligence really isn’t something to be afraid of. In fact, most of us use it all the time whether we know it or not:

An AI for Everyone

“Hey Siri…”

“Okay Google…”

“Alexa…”

The ability for modern software to understand human language and almost always deliver the correct result is staggering, when you stop and think about it. If we want to see, hear or read a piece of information, most of the time we don’t even have to use a mouse or keyboard — the AI finds it for us. For most people, that’s where the interaction stops.

But what about all that data? Marketers are paying close attention to what people are searching for and how they interact with various platforms. And every time we say “Hey Siri” or “Okay Google”, that request is yet another data point. Businesses that found themselves plugged into this deluge of information needed a way to make sense of it, and hiring an army of data scientists wasn’t exactly cost-effective.

AI Powered Marketing and Data Analysis

Analyzing large sets of data and taking measurements on a predetermined set of variables — this is where AI eats humans for breakfast. Whether you’re trying to find the perfect title for your next marketing email or you need to test multiple versions of your website home page to determine which is most effective, artificial intelligence is going to do it better than a human. Road Warrior Creative is a digital marketing agency and this post is starting to sound like we’re trying to put ourselves out of business, but here’s the thing:

It still takes human intelligence to talk to a business, understand their short-term and long-term goals, and connect them with intelligent digital solutions that will get the right results. While AI is powerful, it still takes a human expert to connect all the dots and make the really complex decisions.

gary-v-business-innovation

The Personalized Web Experience

You’ve probably noticed that platforms like Netflix, Facebook and Amazon tell you to

“Watch this, because you liked that…” 

or

“You might want to buy this thing, because you bought that other thing…”

This is what I’m referring to when I say personalized web experience. It is among the more important shifts we’ve seen online over the last decade.

The upside of a highly personalized web experience is that it keeps us coming back, which is exactly what marketers want to happen. Sophisticated marketing AI can also help us to anticipate consumers’ needs in new and profound ways. But, there are some downsides: We found WSJ’s Blue Feed, Red Feed to be a great example of what two personalized experiences might look like on opposite sides of the political spectrum. This showcases one unintended “consequence” of using AI to create personalized web experiences.

One thing is for sure: AI is uniquely suited to this type of role. Based on the sheer amount of data, it would be literally impossible for humans to do this job.

AI should remove human limitations from marketing, without removing the human element. Click To Tweet

answer-the-public-website

AI Powered Marketing: What’s Next

We’ve written about Grid.io before, because the idea of an AI web designer is compelling. The Grid has been around for years in a pre-release state, but recently they’ve started taking steps to get their platform out into the public on a small scale. Based upon what myself and others have seen of the platform, at this point it’s certainly capable of displaying text and images in a variety of styles and formats that are pleasing to look at.

However, after the initial shock and awe wears off, it becomes clear that the Grid’s AI is still working within a fairly constrained set of variables (circles versus squares, red versus blue, serif vs sans serif). In addition to some key features still being worked on (such as eCommerce), the ability for web tinkerers to meaningfully customize their content stops at the macro (site-wide) level.

All of the micro-decisions are left up to the AI and the human element is (mostly) out of the picture, except supplying the content and hitting a few toggles for different stylistic preferences.

Giving the AI too much control is a Hollywood trope that marketers can learn from. The most successful companies in the next decade will use AI as an enhancement to the products or services they offer. Maintaining a human element and avoiding the pitfalls of the uncanny valley will be critical as AI powered marketing becomes more and more sophisticated. AI’s unprecedented ability to find previously undetectable patterns in sets of data will continue to revolutionize not just how we sell goods and services, but also how we live.

AI will continue to revolutionize not just how we sell goods and services, but also how we live. Click To Tweet

Don’t Panic!

None of this should be scary. It should be exciting! The creation of increasingly sophisticated AI software will enable us to reach further beyond our own preconceived notions as to what works in marketing. There are a lot of hidden gems within the vast oceans of data at our disposal, and artificial intelligence is one window through which we can hope to gain new insights.

What do you think? Is AI powered marketing going to change things for the better? Leave your thoughts in the comments.