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In the midst of all the hype about artificial intelligence, you may occasionally pause to ask: “What’s new here?” After all, did we not have machine learning applications 10 (or maybe even 20) years ago? In the marketing domain specifically, you may be asking how today’s AI is different from, say, an application that has been personalizing real-time content insertion for several years.

The best way to answer that could be to consider the evolution of AI in the areas of driving and transportation. In the past, the applications of AI included driver-assist features such as self-parking and advanced cruise controls. These could be described as using AI at the “edges” of the driving experience. On the other hand, the future is all about fully autonomous self-driving cars, where AI is at the core of the driving experience.

AI-first: From the edges to the core

This shift from the edges to the core can be described as “AI-first.” Google has already announced that it is rethinking all of its products for the AI-first age. There is no better reflection of the shift of AI from the edges to the core than the fact that even Google, a company that has long been a pioneer in using machine learning and AI, thinks that its products need to be reimagined.

What does this mean for the world of marketing? AI-first marketing and customer engagement will no longer be about edge use cases like bid optimization or dynamic content insertion. Instead, AI will power the core of the customer journey. In other words, AI in marketing will follow the same evolution as that from driver assist to self-driving cars. Brands that adopt this paradigm will be able to offer their customers an AI-powered drive through the ideal customer journey. AI-first tools will help marketers scale their storytelling.


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Making AI-first marketing a reality

Self-driving cars are on the cusp of becoming the norm, but it took several years of technological advancement to get to this point. Perhaps counterintuitively, the biggest advances in those years came not from new algorithms, but from better data and better resources for computation.

According to a detailed review of self-driving car technology, “the key to Google’s success has been that these cars aren’t forced to process an entire scene from scratch. Instead, their teams travel and map each road that the car will travel. And these are not just any old maps. They are not even the rich, road-logic-filled maps of consumer-grade Google Maps. They’re probably best thought of as ultra-precise digitization of the physical world, all the way down to tiny details like the position and height of every single curb. A normal digital map would show a road intersection. These maps would have a precision measured in inches.” In a similar vein, AI-first marketing platforms will follow these two principles.

Understand and unify your customer data

In the world of customer engagement, this involves building a 360-degree customer profile. In addition to customer attributes, the profile would also consist of every customer interaction with products in a catalog or pieces of content, as well as the time, location, and channel of the interaction among other data. These customer profiles feed into a massive graph of customers and content that intersect through behavior as well as attributes like channels, times, and more. The customer graph and the computation serve as the ultra-precise map for understanding how customers might react when presented with different offers, at different points in time, or different channels.

Drive customers through the ideal individualized journey

With the richness of customer data, AI can now guide the customer on their journey with your brand. Decision engines powered by AI can go beyond insights to action, and time the drive to the perfect time for each customer, as well as select the right stops for each customer to explore relevant content. The self-learning components of AI can continuously optimize the customer journey.

An AI-first world builds a new battlefield

According to Gartner, customer experience is the new battlefield for competitive advantage. In the AI-first world, the only survivors on this battlefield will be the ones who embrace AI at the core of their marketing and customer experience strategies.

Vijay Chittoor is the chief executive officer and cofounder of Blueshift, a company pioneering AI-powered marketing.

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