Artificial Intelligence is changing the world. We’ve all heard scare stories about the machines taking over jobs in many industries. And now, AI has arrived in marketing. Will marketers’ emotional creativity be rendered obsolete by the cold, steely logic of machine intelligence?

Not in our lifetime.

What AI brings to the table is complementary to what marketers do best. It can free their time to be creative, save them from the drudgery of less imaginative tasks which, though important, are proving harder and harder for humans to handle effectively at the levels of complexity, scale and change we see in today’s world.  

AI understands the individual customer

In earlier, simpler times, small businesses knew each of their customers and learned to anticipate their needs. Today, even in modestly-sized businesses we see the customer as a series of data points – a complex and constantly-changing set of data points – with our customer base represented by a huge and complex body of data. We marketers, with our human limitations, struggle to work with that. We reduce customers to averages. We superimpose static and shallow assumptions of “segments” upon the data and work with those in bulk, as a poor proxy for addressing the individual.

Artificial intelligence thrives on the volume and complexity of data. It automatically finds key characteristics, patterns and relationships, and from these learns to make accurate predictions: about which customers will be susceptible to which offers; through which channel they’ll be most receptive to receiving it; which way of presenting it will hook their interest; and even at which time they’ll be most likely to respond positively.

This combination of data attributes and predicted propensities gives a unique profile for every customer – the enabler for genuinely personalised marketing. Segments still feature but these, generated by automatic clustering algorithms, are more subtle and complex – and it has to be said, objectively meaningful and significant – compared to the simplistic a priori rules marketing typically uses. And it’s no longer a case of reducing an individual to just which segment they’re in. AI can auto-segment the same customer base in many ways – for example by purchasing behavior, channel activity or demographics – and for each customer, membership of clusters simply adds to and enriches their unique, individual profile.

AI learns continually

We live in a world that is changing more quickly than ever before – due to fashions, trends, social media sensations, new products, changes in the competitive landscape… Even if a marketer understands their market and their customer base perfectly (and which of us would claim that?), their knowledge will be completely out of date next year. Or in six months. Or in some markets, next week.

This is where we see the power of technologies that are data based. AI continually monitors incoming data and quickly learns the patterns of emergent customer behaviour, modifies its predictive models, and ensures that its decisions and recommendations are always up to date.

AI can help feed creativity

AI isn’t just learning ways to predict and act on customer preferences. As it does so, it’s unearthing insights that can help marketers design and develop their content to be a perfect fit.

Cluster analyses show what groups there really are in the customer base; marketers can design offers that specifically target these. Profiles – data signatures that distinguish likely responders from non-responders – can help them fine-tune their messaging.  And AI can discover sequential patterns over time, so marketers can understand actual customer journeys – as opposed to the ideal ones they’d like to lead the customer on – and create content to address the customer at key points on those.

So the AI-enabled marketing organisation of tomorrow – or rather, of today! – is a good place to be. Marketers can focus their creativity, informed by insights from AI-based analysis of customer data, on developing the very best content, materials and campaigns. They can leave the smart execution to AI which, scaling true personalisation across the largest customer bases, ensures that the right offer reaches the right customer, at the right time, through the right channel.  With marketer and machine both playing to their strengths, we have a winning combination that raises marketing effectiveness – and returns – to previously unobtainable levels.

Author: Colin Shearer

This blog post is the first in a series about Artificial Intelligence and Marketing by Colin Shearer. Click here to read the second blog Artificial Intelligence in Marketing: Where does the Value come from.

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