“I was chatting with this robot BradTron yesterday, and it told me the funniest joke…” There’s a turn of phrase you’re probably not used to hearing. The robot part isn’t surprising– Roombas have been keeping our home’s tidy since 2002– but a robot being funny? With advancements in artificial intelligence, chatbots, and other AI taking heed in the business world, this turn of phrase may soon become a staple among online consumers.
Last year, I talked about chatbots and their innovate yet slow-moving progress in the “intelligence” department, turning up frustration more often than not when used for customer service and marketing. 2017, however, is a different story: Gartner has predicted chatbots to be one of the biggest players in AI in 2017, along with tons of other artificial intelligence use cases for marketing that are sure to pick up steam throughout the year.
Here’s what to expect from AI for business in 2017, and how your small business can get in on the action.
Where there’s intelligence, there’s data. One of the most important parts of being able to benefit from AI comes from the amount of data you’re able to collect and use. From there, predictive analytics– being able to predict what your consumers want before they ask for it– is only a step away.
“There’s a lot of talk of ‘Big Data’ in the marketing world, but it takes more than just quantity to make predictions insightful enough to give a competitive edge. That’s where artificial intelligence comes into play. AI technologies open the floodgates of data-based insights, enabling marketers to more quickly and effectively make the massive quantity of raw data they’ve collected actionable. Instead of days or even weeks of manual analysis, they can uncover patterns in behavior that form the basis for predictions about future behaviors.
He continues, “as AI technologies for data analytics mature, we expect to see more advanced capabilities for capture and analysis. For example, a marketer could collect data based on a specific action performed by a particular user segment and then respond in real time.”
Similarly, AI expert and Chief Scientist at Inferlink Matthew Michelson agrees with the importance of data analysis and its usefulness for AI. “This may seem obvious, but AI is being used more and more to make inferences about individuals and customer segments. For example, by linking in data from numerous sources and performing some analysis of commonalities, an AI can infer that a particular group of VIP customers are moms that live in major cities and enjoy wine. The ability to make these ‘inferences’ involves AI that can identify patterns and correctly link together disparate data sources.”
According to a Gartner report on personalization, “research shows that customers want and expect a personalized experience, and, in many cases, are willing to pay more for a personalized experience. This is creating demand for personalization and the rise of personalization engines.”
Personalization as a trend in marketing is becoming more important in order to stand out from the onslaught of marketing messaging being flung at consumers, and AI is becoming one of the best ways to hone in on the individual.
Says Matthew Michelson, “I think there are a number of ways in which AI benefits marketers, and it’s generally tied into either data analytics or marketing automation software.”
When it comes to personalization, he notes that “marketers use AI in order to serve up more personalized recommendations (such as product recommendations or media recommendations), but also may even personalize around what type of medium one likes to be contacted, what time of day one responds… That is, one area where AI (and in particular reinforcement learning, which is AI that adapts depending on your feedback) shines is in personalizing content and communication.”
In this sense, the opportunities seem endless for using AI in ways that give users exactly what they want, in the format that they want it.
Personalization can be anything from personal product recommendations, to something even more innovative, like delivering a product tailored to a specific need.
A great example of this from a B2B perspective is a software called Heek, which helps companies build an entire website from a simple chatbot conversation. Says Heek CEO Nicolas Fayon, “AI is starting to stir things up by taking advantage of mass information to provide specific actions according to individual usage… At Heek, we bring AI to the marketing industry… through a chatbot interface that can discuss easily with users who have no web expertise…” After a quick discussion with the chatbot and answering a few questions, the final product is a website tailored to the client’s specific industry and individual company needs.
As predictive analytics and personalization are put into practice, being able to manage customers throughout their entire lifecycle will become a lot easier than it has been in the past.
Says Matthew Michelson, “increasingly, AI is also used to manage customers throughout the customer lifecycle. This generally happens in one of two ways. First, firms may use AI to predict when a customer is likely to “churn” (e.g., stop being a customer). In this case, the AI might flag potentially churning customers so that marketers can hit them with some incentive to remain a customer. The second way in which firms use AI is to manage the lifecycle as a whole, that is, sending the customer the exact right message at the right point in the lifecycle. This, in turn, depends on an AI to predict what stage of the lifecycle the customer currently is in.”
When it comes to marketing specifically, it can also help in determining who the right customers to target are. Sean Zinsmeister, VP of Product Marketing at Infer, a predictive sales and marketing platform, says “while AI can help with a company’s inbound flow, businesses must determine where the best next opportunities lie in order to drive efficiencies across the entire funnel… however, you have to first curate a target account-list. AI helps with this by identifying accounts that look like your best customer, and completes your market analysis so you understand where to point your outbound efforts for the best outcome.”
Futurist at mobile marketing platform TUNE, John Koetsier also recognizes the huge benefits of AI for the customer journey: “AI will help marketers open a black box with gold in it: the buyer’s journey. Marketers rarely understand the buyer’s journey, because it’s so complex, multi-platform, and apparently random. One enterprise company I know mapped 500 different points on their buyers’ journey!
“But AI that’s connected to a measurement partner and aware of touches on a brand’s website, app, ads, white papers, social outposts can piece buyers’ journeys together with near-infinite detail and patience. That will unlock huge value as B2B and B2C companies understand more about who their customers are, why they choose the products they choose, and what steps on the path are most influential.”
We’ve already heard about the potential that chatbots offer for customer service, but artificial intelligence chatbots will play a role in marketing too. Says Gartner, “conversational artificial intelligence (AI) platforms targeting consumers and marketers set up conditions for conversational agents to interact with each other as proxies for their end users.”
Some companies like H&M and Sephora have already made use of chatbots for marketing via messenger services like Kik, and as mobile phone messaging apps become a growing target for marketers, more and more chatbots will start popping up in this hyper targeted form of communication, providing suggestions or sending offers directly to consumers.
Aside from marketing, chatbots will continue to play a role in online commerce and, of course, customer service.
How can small businesses use AI?
AI might seem like a pipe dream for many small businesses, but it doesn’t have to be.
Advice from Sean Zinsmeister?
“Start small. First, take a look at your business and figure out what activities make sense to automate with AI. For many, it may be expansion, inbound, or nurture. For example, some small businesses need help architecting personalized nurture programs but lack the sophistication to build them. Perhaps this simply equates to adopting simple website Chatbots that provide frontline support and help customers shorten the distance between question and answer…
“The key is to look for manual processes that would be better served with AI versus trudging through them manually. This is especially helpful because it’s common for small business pros to wear multiple hats. If you evaluate where your time is getting lost in your marketing efforts, then you can begin to assess where it makes sense to apply AI to drive the most value.”
If and when the time is right, it can even be used for expanding the business.
Depending on your expectations, artificial intelligence may have gone a lot further than you’d expected it to be at this point. Or it could be less advanced than you’d hoped. The point is that regardless of what stage you think the state of AI is at, it looks almost certainly like it’s here to stay. If you want to start early, keep in mind that there are ways for even the small business owner to make use of AI for marketing.