AI in Marketing – Be very afraid or aim to raise pulses 

June 20, 2017

By: Andrew Chaplin

We all love an epic horror movie. It’s guaranteed to play to our greatest fears and phobias, whether that’s the fear of death, the mysterious dark corners or the creepy crawlies that lie in wait. Anticipation and anxiety rage, dependent on your levels of bravery – but we all know it will happen. And when it happens? We jump out of our skin and get an immense satisfaction. Could the same be said for artificial intelligence?

Possibly.

Hang on – this isn’t just another piece of AI hype.

And there’s been a lot of that recently. Why? Because it’s only now that computing power has accelerated enough to bring AI into the mainstream. From Amazon’s Alexa to Apple’ Siri, AI platforms can now respond and engage so well, it feels like conversation.

Your smartphone will see you now

Machines have been building up intelligence on all of us, noting our preferences and sending us relevant offerings at the right time. Well, sometimes it might feel more like bombardment… Let’s call that a glitch.

But, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Or is there? It might be OK for the background information, but how do we feel about having a conversation with a “thing”? Babylon has just released an AI-based app that will help you self-diagnose and get access to a doctor within minutes. The app is removing the need to physically go to a doctor’s surgery, and it’s highly efficient and patient-centric. The reality of “your smartphone will see you now” has arrived.

So, like all technologies, if it has a genuine use then people will adopt it. If it isn’t useful, then it’ll just become the next Betamax, Sega Dreamcast, or even Sinclair C5 (remember those?). All are useful, but were out-marketed or out-thought.

With the birth of Siri, Cortana, Alexa, Future, HAL, and any other bizarrely named electrical AI interface, it’s imperative the technologies are taken to market with care. And this invariably means great education and awareness.

Most of us are curious

As marketers, we’re often criticised for creating hype. And the truth is that AI is fuelling our marketing curiosity. We’re definitely interested because we want to “innovate” and we don’t want to risk missing out.

Yet do we really want to bet our precious – scarce – marketing budget on an AI-based element within a programme that’s ultimately ineffective? Probably not, as reputations are hard won.

Alexa, get me a Porsche 

Of course, there are limitations with AI. We hear stories of schoolkids treating Alexa like Santa Claus and racking up huge bills for their parents. We hear stories of driverless cars struggling to cope with the presence of other road users.

AI can hit or miss, but it’s early days. It will need so much data if it’s to iron out glitches. This suggests that we should limit AI intervention on A to B decision making (or supervised learning). But it’s certainly evolving at pace, and it’s clear that it can impact society and B2B marketers.

So, we need to help our clients navigate AI. That’s what we’re good at, right? It’s our job to help our clients cut through the noise. And AI is generating a fair amount of noise now.

AI could take two forms: how you market yourself (such as IBM and Watson, a cognitive business platform), or how you introduce new services (like Sage and Pegg, an accounting chatbot). But one thing is certain: how it’s used must be relevant.

This is why I’m excited about AI. Now it’s time to explore how AI can be used to improve our clients’ campaigns, or how they market their AI solutions. If it’s the latter then we are best placed. This is critical because humans like to feel in control: if you get the expectation and education about a service wrong, you could end up being the next Microsoft Tay. And more importantly, people won’t trust AI and let it into their lives. Recent research suggests that 36% of people think that AI poses a threat to the long-term survival of humanity, suggesting there is a fair amount of caution.[1]

For most, AI is intriguing. As B2B marketers, what we can do is help our customers educate the world about their AI technologies. Of course, we can create AI-based solutions to form a core part of a marketing programme, but that’s risky, expensive and could be completely irrelevant to the prospect or customer.

But marketing AI solutions and technologies is another thing. This is what we should be doing. After all, knowing what you are doing is going to be important for humanity because in the wrong hands, AI could be a destructive force. As marketers, we have a responsibility to ensure AI is a creative force and nothing more.

Scared witless or uncontrollably excited?

As for day-to-day business, how will AI shape what we do as marketers? Well, we only have to look at the core challenges we face every day. With AI, we can achieve sales and marketing alignment and become more personal. We can solve a whole host of issues.

So, going back to the horror movie – are you scared witless, or uncontrollably excited?

Hopefully it’s the latter. Our digital specialists are busy finding the angle that works for our customers, to help bring AI into the fore in simplest, most relevant way. Even the smallest elements of AI can help to achieve that elusive thing called marketing innovation.

The technology innovation is not a problem, as digital specialists have the tools to make “things” happen. The real value is in the thinking behind “why” are we using this and how do we excite and educate audiences? And it’s here where the real marketing value is generated. Great thinking will always shift perceptions and as marketers, we need to rise to the challenge.

And don’t forget, there is also the ethics, governance, trust and accountability to deal with. Either way, it should not stop us helping our clients to explore audience engagement in different, more captivating ways that will deliver a truly great experience.

If we get this right, AI can be a great asset in how we shape the market and go to market with our clients, both directly and indirectly. It just might take a little investment, commitment and some thinking to make sure everything we do is relevant.

How do we feel about having a conversation with a “thing”?

Yet do we really want to bet our precious – scarce – marketing budget on an AI-based element within a programme that’s ultimately ineffective?

So, we need to help our clients navigate AI. That’s what we’re good at, right?

As marketers, we have a responsibility to ensure AI is a creative force and nothing more.

[1] British Science Association/ YouGov, 2016

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