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Although Artificial Intelligence (AI) has a very rich history, it wasn’t until the 20th century that the technology began to move forward at a significant pace.
In 1914, the first chess playing machine was created; and by 1997, AI was sufficiently developed to defeat Garry Kasparov, a chess grandmaster and widely considered one of the game’s greatest players.
Even before it became an everyday reality, the concept had acquired a rich and diverse history; everything from the evils of Skynet to the comforting sight of Big Hero Six’s Baymax have become synonymous with AI.
Today, that potential is starting to be realised: AI is progressively becoming a fundamental part of many business strategies. In fact, within the most innovative organisations, AI usage has become a central part of their current strategy. Google uses Rankbrain, for example, to decipher natural language search queries while website design platform, The Grid, uses AI to automate several of the usually tedious coding processes.
Aiming to capitalise on our digital-first world, many marketing teams have earmarked AI as potential cornerstone in their future strategies. Indeed, a report late last year found that 68% of CMOs are now planning for business in the AI era, while a further 55% expect the technology to have a bigger impact on marketing and communications than social media.
However, despite its rosy long-term outlook, the immediate future of AI is far from clear. The same research found that nearly two-thirds of global consumers (64%) are becoming increasingly concerned about the use or adoption of AI – with worries centring on the expected loss of privacy.
Most interestingly, more than half of Chief Marketing Officers (58%) believe that within the next five years, companies will need to compete in the AI space to succeed. Excited by the power of AI, marketing departments are looking beyond the usual fears of job losses and seem optimistic about its potential in mapping out customer lifecycles with a level of granularity that has never been possible before. With plans to develop a deeper understanding of market segmentation and customer preferences, marketers hope AI will unlock a new level of personalised, targeted engagement.
Despite the phenomenal strides AI has made and the potential impact it could have in revolutionising the world, the fact remains that most marketing departments are worlds away from delivering AI-led outreach campaigns. While it is heartening to see the industry becoming so enthused by the prospect of AI, it is important that plans are not rushed.
With plans for impressively complex and sophisticated AI-based engagement strategies already being drawn up, I would first urge caution and advise that organisations spend time ensuring they have the foundations in place before they begin building for the future.
Without the basic tactics in place, it will be impossible to make the best use of advanced technologies such as AI. Here are four top tips to help marketers prepare for the rise of Artificial Intelligence:
1. Make sure you know what you’re doing. And why you’re doing it
Like any marketing tool, AI can only be powerful if marketers know how to use them. With the wealth of intelligent technologies at their fingertips, it is crucial that they fully understand the tools currently available before integrating with new software.
An example is dotmailer’s self-learning Data Watchdog technology which prevents a user from sending emails that may cause complaints and issues, by detecting and quarantining suspicious contacts. In addition, it is important to ask questions such as ‘how will this impact my marketing strategy’, ‘what will be the outcome’, ‘will this deliver the expected outcome’ and so on.
2. Good things come to those who wait
Implementation will always lag behind innovation; yet a common mistake is to rush and invest in the newest technology before optimising the potential of what an organisation currently has. Taking the time to identify what new tools match with the business' ambitions will improve integration and help avoid unnecessary spending.
3. Get the basics right
If marketers are not making the most of email marketing automation tools, they should prioritise this first and focus on understanding and harnessing the potential of their current marketing solutions. AI – and other innovative technologies – can then be used much more efficiently.
4. Keep everyone looped in; but do it safely
AI relies on data. With consumers increasingly building virtual lives through devices such as smartphones, organisations are generating huge volumes of data which can be collected and analysed to yield insights. Sharing data is a must and it will be important to ensure that information can flow freely throughout the organisation, allowing AI systems to build as complete a picture of the customer as possible.
Of course, this brings with it its own challenges: notably in keeping this data secure, without compromising its availability for the wider business. To this end, your organisation must be water-tight, and marketing departments will need to work closely with IT managers to ensure that information – particularly when it comes to customers – is shared in a safe and secure way.
Without a doubt, the convergence of AI and email marketing is a mouth-watering prospect. Taking customer targeting to unprecedented levels, the technology has the potential to deliver the hyper-personalised style of marketing that was previously thought possible only in science-fiction. Moving from making predictions about broad groups of people, to targeting the individual: it’s possible to imagine a world in which one-to-one, contextually linked messaging is directed by specialist algorithms that can recognize that individual’s normal behaviour.
We are, however, still some way off this world becoming a reality. Until then, we must stay grounded, avoid getting swept up in the excitement, and ensure that we’re making full use of the technologies already at our disposal.