Artificial intelligence strikes some people as scary. It’s only a matter of time, they fear, before AI replaces many of the tasks performed by humans – and takes their jobs.
Marketing is one of the areas where AI and machine learning are making inroads. I’m frequently asked whether these technologies will eventually automate the entire marketing process.
My response: No way. Stop worrying and start getting excited.
AI takes marketing automation to another level
We already love marketing automation, right? It puts computers to work performing a variety of manual tasks that we don’t like to do in the first place (think of the soul-crushing email list management process). It also helps us save time, target more effectively, and optimize all stages of the customer experience. AI can push it even further.
Take, for example, that email process, which is still often done manually, with people segmenting lists and sending the messages based on broad buckets such as personas or ZIP codes. With AI, machines can more easily find smaller groups of like-minded people or “micro-segments” combining elements of a person’s profile and their behavior — so marketers can deliver a message that resonates the most.
So a team may make the choice based on gut instinct and hit “send” to the entire contact list at, say, 9 a.m. on a Tuesday. Next, they might try 10 a.m. to see if they get better open rates. Over time (if they can find the time), they analyze the results to see what time works the best and standardize on that specific day and time. AI can do all of that, without needing humans for hand-holding.
Best of all? Then people can focus on crafting better content rather than the mechanics of emailing.
Think of AI as making a good thing better. For all of marketing automation’s benefits, customers today are leaving massive digital trails as they go from device to device consuming information and making purchasing decisions. It’s become increasingly difficult for existing automation platforms to sift through all this data and turn it into actionable insights. AI can pick up the pieces existing systems miss.
AI enhances the art of marketing
AI’s intelligent algorithms provide powerful new ways of harnessing data from website visits, email click-throughs, and other interactions to make sure marketers are deploying the right messages and tactics at the right time through the right channels.
But marketing isn’t just science — it has been and will always be an art, too. While it’s become a truism that “data is everything and everything is data,” nothing can replace the human element in crafting strategies to establish and nurture relationships.
Computers can’t replace marketers’ intuition, experience, acumen, and ability to read the customer, understand the competitor landscape, and forge emotional connections.
AI solutions offer the best of both worlds — the ability to analyze vast amounts of data on the fly faster than humans can, and the capacity to help humans leverage that data for more creative precision marketing.
AI’s benefits are anything but artificial
Personalization has become a defining characteristic of exceptional digital marketing. Customers don’t want to be splattered with generic messages that seem ill-suited to their needs, likes, and habits. They gravitate to those that feel authentic. AI filters through the data, provides intelligence, and can even recommend the best course of action. From there, it’s up to marketers to use their smarts to execute in the most effective ways.
Another area where AI can help marketing teams is in the realm of social media, from making recommendations on the best time to post to sentiment analysis.
AI also can help companies better understand which leads are most likely to convert to sales. Marketing always wants to send sales those leads that have the strongest possibility of buying, but that can be difficult to evaluate. With adaptive scoring capabilities in AI, marketers can categorize and score leads based on different behavior in real time.
It’s still up to marketers to stretch creativity
Of course, despite the advantages of AI, it’s still the marketers’ job to use their skills and intelligence to create the right messages, drive quantifiable results, integrate with the broader company strategy, etc.
In this way, artificial intelligence paves the way for more interesting uses of human intelligence in reaching targets in the ways that are best for them. AI helps clear the path for human connection, which is the ultimate goal of all marketing.
And you don’t even need a team of data scientists to do it: Marketing automation platforms are building AI capabilities in ways that are easy to use, so even a smaller marketing department in a medium-size business can take advantage of them.
Thus, people who wonder whether artificial intelligence will kill marketers’ jobs are asking the wrong question. In fact, AI is less about replacing marketers and more about doing more with available resources in the extremely demanding digital environment.
Change is scary, and AI is a big change. But as the physicist William Pollard said, “Without change, there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement.”
Change is the one constant in the workplace. It’s time we embrace it.
Michelle Huff is chief marketing officer at Act-On Software, a marketing automation provider.