In The Next Few Years, All Marketers Will Be Using AI
If you think artificial intelligence (AI) is science fiction, you’re wrong. AI has already come to marketing.
It’s already helping Netflix personalize your experience. It’s helping Amazon offer you products related to those you already purchased. It’s helping HubSpot serve up smart content to your visitors. It’s helping Facebook target lookalike audiences for social ads.
That’s not even mentioning the huge number of AI-powered marketing products already on the market, like Atomic Reach for content, Seventh Sense for email and MAXG for recommendations. Hundreds of AI-powered marketing- and sales-related products are available.
The question now is not when but how to leverage these new AI tools to drive better results.
Not sure if you’re ready (or still not sure if AI is ready for prime time)? Here are some stats from your peers:
- B2B companies that have leveraged AI in sales realized call-time reductions of up to 70% and a 50% increase in leads and appointments. (McKinsey & Company)
- A recent study found that by leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning in combination with a human touch, a large toy retailer was able to reduce shopping cart abandonment by 30%.
- According to Tractica, ample scope exists for marketers to leverage voice assistants, AI and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to drive growth.
- 61% of marketers say artificial intelligence is the most important aspect of their data strategy. (Venture Harbour)
- 87% of current AI adopters said they were using or considering using AI for sales forecasting and for improving email marketing. (Forbes)
- When AI is present, 49% of consumers are willing to shop more frequently, while 34% will spend more money. (AI Trends)
- Companies using AI for sales were able to increase their leads by more than 50%, reduce call time by 60-70% and realize cost reductions of 40-60%. (Harvard Business Review)
- By 2020, 30% of companies worldwide will be using AI in at least one of their sales processes. (Venture Harbour)
Perhaps the most interesting data point is this one: A survey by data analytics firm Teradata found that 80% of enterprise-level organizations were already using some form of AI in their business (32% of those in marketing). However, over 90% also anticipated significant barriers to full adoption and integration.
And those adoption and integration challenges are where we’ll focus our attention today. Here are the eight things you need to know to use AI to drive marketing results at your company.
1) Start With A Plan
Right now, a lot of AI software for marketers focuses on a specific tactic. There are AI products for content marketing, for social media marketing, for email marketing, for paid advertising and for organic search engine optimization.
While you could decide to tackle all of these areas at the same time, that would not be our recommendation. Focus your energy on one of these areas to start, and when you’ve mastered your new software and realized major results, you’ll know it’s time to move on to priority tactic number two.
You can make your selection based on either the tactical focus of your program or to supplement a lack of experience in one specific area.
Here’s an example of using focus to direct your AI applications.
If you lean heavily on social media to drive visitors to your website and leads for your sales team, then grab one of the social media marketing AI tools like Sensei, Cortex or TrendKite Influencer Marketing (formerly Insightpool). You’ve identified social media as a valuable channel for your marketing, and leveraging AI tools to drive additional performance is smart.
If you do a ton of email marketing but your team is a little light on email marketing expertise, then use an AI tool like Seventh Sense to help supplement your team’s skills with technology. Other email marketing AI tools include Optimail, ReSci, Return Path and Phrasee.
Once you see results from your focused effort with a single tool, you can move to another area of your marketing and tackle adding another new AI tool to improve performance in that area, too.
2) Operationalize Any New AI Tool
No matter what software you want to start using, and no matter how big your team is, you should consider operationalization as a key challenge.
Most software never fully delivers on the value proposition discussed during the sales process. That’s because using the software is much harder than purchasing it. In most cases, you have to get people to change their old behavior or habits and create new ones. This is a major issue with people — they don’t want to change.
The secret here is what I call operationalization. The web defines operationalization as the process of strictly defining variables into measurable factors. The process defines fuzzy concepts and allows them to be measured, empirically and quantitatively.
To me, this means removing all of the uncertainty associated with new software and wrapping processes and methodologies around the new software.
No matter which AI tools you buy, ask these questions first:
- “What are we going to do with the software?”
- “How are we going to use it every day?”
- “How is everyone going to know what to do?”
- “What are our expectations? What improvement in metrics are we looking for from using the new software?”
Here’s an example of how we recommend companies use MAXG to drive results quickly. This is an excerpt from a playbook for people who purchased MAXG, an AI-powered insight and recommendation engine for marketing teams.
Step 1 – Hook up your HubSpot account or your Google Analytics account to MAXG. This takes seconds.
Step 2 – Once MAXG is set up, you’ll instantly see a dashboard for your company and a list of insights, recommendations and performance benchmarks.
Step 3 – Since MAXG provides benchmark performance data, we recommend you look at how your program is performing when compared to other companies in your industry. You might be outperforming your industry peers and not even know it.
Step 4 – When you check your MAXG dashboard, the insights and recommendations are prioritized based on what’s going to have the biggest impact for the least amount of effort. You should consider using this prioritization methodology to assign work out to others in your company, if that’s an option. If that’s not an option and you’re a one-man or one-woman marketing department, just start at the top of the list and work your way down. This ensures you’re always working on the most important recommendation.
Step 5 – In the software you can assign recommendations to other team members in your company. By doing so, they’ll be alerted, and they can see the insight and recommendation assigned to them directly in MAXG. You can have as many people in the product as you want. Pricing is based on portals and websites under management, not people on the platform.
Step 6 – If you’re planning work in sprints, either weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, you’re going to want to use the recommendations from MAXG to plan your sprints. In some cases, you might be able to make very lightweight adjustments immediately, but generally stack up the recommendations and plan to work them into your next sprint.
Before you lock in the work planned, checking in with MAXG is a great way to ensure that you’re doing the right work, in the right order. This is going to immediately improve the program results, the efficiency of your marketing and the satisfaction of executives at your company.
Step 7 – MAXG has a slick new Chrome extension (illustrated in the picture above). This allows you to simply visit your website and (as long as you use the Chrome browser) see what adjustments should be considered. As you move through your site, you’ll see recommendations on pages, pillar pages, blog pages, landing pages, etc.
If you are working on site optimization, this is a great way to know where to start, and this is a great way to optimize site performance quickly. If you are working on specific campaigns and you have campaign-specific pages on the site, this is a great way to optimize campaign performance quickly.
Step 8 – Because there are always areas for improvement, you should consider checking MAXG as frequently as you’re planning work. Our team checks MAXG weekly, but we check monthly to start planning our sprints and then right before we do backlog grooming and sprint planning.
If you expect your team to simply start using your newly purchased AI software without any direction, expectations or guidance, you’re setting yourself up for a situation where you’ll probably be canceling your subscription in a few months because very few people used it and you saw very little value.
This is going to be an operations failure, not a failure of the software.
Creating a playbook for how you want your team to use your new AI software is going to ensure you get to change their habits to include your new intelligence.
Consider getting feedback from your team, and be prepared to iterate on your playbook over the first few weeks after you’ve started using your new software. It might take a number of adjustments to work out the kinks and drive optimized program performance.
3) Leverage AI To Improve Personalization
You can create a strategy and a focus that is broader than a single tactic. This is a highly effective strategy.
Today, all the data shows people want a personalized experience with your company. Cookie-cutter customer experiences just won’t cut it. And personalization, once seen as a competitive differentiator, is now a strategic imperative.
Consider this: Nine out of 10 marketers say their customers expect individualized experiences. And according to Gartner, organizations that have fully invested in online personalization will outsell those that haven’t by more than 30%.
When it comes to adding more strategic personalization to your marketing efforts, try not to boil the ocean. In other words, start slowly and selectively.
Applying personalization across all relevant channels – so customers are recognized, with content served up to them that is contextual and relevant – should be the goal.
To do so, companies need to be able to:
- Track an individual’s behavior across different channels
- Merge that information with pertinent customer data from other systems
- Automatically interpret the data to determine affinities and intent
- House everything in a central place – creating a single, unified profile for each person
- Act on all of the data in real time
The most important element – and an essential part of all five steps – is, of course, data. Your personalization strategy is only as effective as the data informing it. Even the most advanced algorithms can’t work their magic if they have incorrect, inadequate or outdated data.
But I do not recommend that you wait to start personalizing until you have cleaned up all of your enterprise data. If you do, you will be waiting a very long time.
Start with your digital channels. It’s easy to leverage a next-generation personalization platform to start bringing in deep, contextual, real-time and accurate behavioral data from your sites, apps and email.
You can use this data in your personalization platform to create terrific results. Then leverage this success to start bringing in other enterprise data sources one by one, cleaning them as you go.
If you want some actual AI software tools that help with personalization, click here to check out this post.
4) Leverage AI To Improve Automation
Like all software, taking mundane tasks and applying AI to make those easier for us to execute is a fantastic application for this new machine learning. Most marketing automation platforms promise complete or at least semi-automation capabilities, such as automation with regard to automated email, lead scoring, instant CRM data synchronization, lead nurturing, publishing cross-platform and more.
A Gartner study noted that by 2020, 85% of customer interactions will be handled without a human.
Specifically in the area of automation, which by design should make marketing, sales and customer service teams more efficient, Accenture found that current AI technology can boost business productivity by up to 40%.
Almost all of the CRM solutions have automation capabilities, and all of the marketing automation platforms do too, so to list all of those platform options seems a bit unnecessary. However, other tools provide additional automation capabilities for both sales and marketing that can drive significant program performance.
5) Leverage AI To Analyze Data
A CEO once told me early in my career that you want to create the business that will one day put you out of business. Today, marketing agencies help clients know what to do, how to do it and why they’re doing it. They gain insights from the data and use those insights to drive recommendations that improve program performance.
The challenge is that these insights only come from years of practical experience. You can’t read a blog, watch a video or attend a conference to learn what the data is telling you. You can’t learn how to structure the data to uncover those insights. You need to have the 10,000 hours of experience that help you know what to look at, what the data is telling you and what to do about it.
This is an excellent opportunity for AI to step in and help. Very few AI software tools today are looking holistically across your entire revenue generation efforts to provide you insights and recommendations.
As we mentioned earlier, most AI tools look at specific tactical performance like content, email, lead scoring and lead nurturing. Only a handful look across your entire effort.
This is the key use case and challenge MAXG was designed to deliver: Scanning your data, identifying the insights and then providing the recommendations you need to take action. The action plan tells you what to do and when to do it. Those recommendations are designed around your goals, your data and your company.
What had been very generic recommendations are now very personal. This is how you improve results.
6) Leverage AI For Production
Creating stuff in marketing today is a huge challenge. Yes, quality is important, but quantity is too. You need video, e-books, whitepapers, website pillar pages, blog articles, infographics and social posts. Plus, everything you create has to be engaging, SEO optimized and as creative as possible.
Today, producing content is dependent on your team of designers, writers and editors. Even if you’re using an agency to help with content creation, you’re reliant on their team. The promise of AI-generated content has always been at the top of the AI wish list for marketers.
AI has made significant inroads in the production area with products like Ceros, which helps produce e-books, and Powtoon, which helps produce animated videos. While these products and others do cut corners and make producing this content easier, people are still needed to finesse what these products produce to get them ready for prime time.
Consider that you’re probably going to need expertise to finish the production of educational assets at this time.
7) Test And Experiment
Today’s SaaS world make testing AI software easier than ever before. Almost every product has a free version and a free trial that includes a full set of features.
Even AI software has dropped dramatically in cost. Most tools are a few hundred dollars a month, and certainly less than $10,000 for the year. Even better, they come with month-to-month contracts you can cancel at any time, and they allow you to pay for the tools monthly.
Bottom line, there is almost no risk to try and test a wide variety of different products. I personally know a number of CMOs who are actively adding one new tool a month. They run tests with the new tool, add it into their tech stack and then evaluate the lift from the new tool.
That tool either sticks or gets replaced with a new tool. Over time, this produces a fully integrated and orchestrated tech stack that has every tool providing value, or else it’s out.
Almost any organization with a MOPS (marketing operations) or a SOPS (sales operations) team could execute a tool-sampling program like the one described above.
8) Stay Tuned Into The Latest New Product Releases
New AI tools for marketers come out every single week. It’s very challenging to keep up with the latest and the greatest, but a handful of excellent resources can help you stay tuned into the latest and greatest new products.
Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute – Their mission "is to make AI approachable and actionable for modern marketers, so they can build a powerful competitive advantage with this technology.
"Marketers who can harness the power of artificial intelligence will be able to do more with less, run personalized campaigns of unprecedented complexity and transform business as usual through new methods of machine-intelligent marketing. The opportunities are endless for marketers and entrepreneurs with the will and vision to transform the industry.
"The Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute features news, trends and resources, as well as regular spotlights on the companies and products using AI to drive innovation within the marketing industry.
"[They] talk to companies and thought leaders transforming how marketing works with artificial intelligence and bring exclusive content not available anywhere else."
G2 Crowd – "Until recently, selecting business solutions was hard, risky and inherently biased. G2 empowers business buying decisions by highlighting the voice of the customer. [Their] review platform leverages more than 800,000 independent and authenticated user reviews read by more than three million buyers each month.
"[Their] model brings transparency to B2B buying, changing the way decisions are made. G2’s mission is to provide the insights business professionals need to gain confidence in their buying decisions and become more successful in their roles at their companies."
Gartner – Founded in 1979, Gartner is the self-proclaimed leading research and advisory company. They’ve expanded well beyond their flagship technology research "to provide senior leaders across the enterprise with the indispensable business insights, advice and tools they need to achieve their mission-critical priorities and build the organizations of tomorrow."
You have a lot to consider. Many use cases and applications exist for AI in marketing. Tons of software tools (and even more people) pretend to be experts in the area of AI.
You have to leverage the resources available to you, make your own decisions and consider your company’s specific requirements. That will guide you, and as long as the tools deliver improvements in performance, you’ll be an AI superstar in no time.