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AI and Chatbots: How Marketers Can Keep Up

Rachel Lira

Rachel Lira

The marketing world is abuzz with AI chatter. While people love to talk up AI’s potential for automating marketing, the reality doesn’t yet live up to the hype. A study from Oxford University, Deloitte and the BBC revealed that the risk of associate-level marketers losing their jobs to automation is fairly low, at only 33 percent. At the same time, new AI marketing innovations and applications appear daily, and keeping up with this evolution is essential.

What’s a busy marketer to do? According to the Walker Sands State of Martech 2017 study, marketers are feeling the heat already. When asked about tech strategies in general (AI and beyond), almost three-quarters (72 percent) of marketers say the martech landscape is evolving at light speed or rapidly. Times may be hectic, but AI is a tactic deserving special attention. Let’s go beyond the buzz:

AI’s current role in marketing

It’s easy to get carried away in the science fiction-like element of AI. Many companies gaining attention are carrying out genuinely interesting tasks, but below the surface aren’t so advanced in terms of application of the technology.

For example, IBM Watson collaborated with Marchesa to create a “cognitive dress” worn by model Karolina Kurkova at the 2016 Met Gala. IBM Watson analyzed Marchesa’s social media sentiment and changed the dress to correspond to different emotions. The dress was gorgeous, but all-in-all, natural language processing (NLP) is a fairly straightforward technology.

The changes currently brought to martech are far less glamorous, but useful nonetheless.  Open-ended technologies like IBM Watson and Salesforce Einstein allow for the development of new AI applications for marketing all the time. Here are a couple marketers have embraced so far.

  • Making processes more efficient.  Customer service representatives can deploy chatbots to speed up the gathering of customer information needed to move forward in solving an issue. For example, a customer could tell the bot her name, email, address, issue with the product or service, etc. The human marketer can then confidently move forward with finding a solution to the customer’s issue, armed with the right information.
  • Personalization.  Chatbots are becoming capable of understanding elements about the customer and making recommendations. For example, Sephora partnered with Kik, a chat app, that takes in customer data about makeup preferences and physical features to offer product recommendations and makeup tips and tutorials.
  • Form to a brand’s personality.  This is still a way off, but it’s possible that future AI will have the ability to mimic a brand’s voice. Speaking with chatbots will feel far less unnatural or robotic as they develop personality and learn to improvise throughout conversations, all the while staying true to a brand’s voice. For now though, humans supply the personality.

Marketing is one part science and one part art. Automation handles the science, and as AI programs don’t have their own imaginations yet, humans handle the art duties (the creative and innovative roles.)

Staying on top of AI

While changes to AI are small for now, the technology has enough future potential that it’s important to keep up with its progress. Marketers should familiarize themselves with emerging AI applications and create a plan for how and when their brand can begin to

incorporate the technology into larger business strategies.

Marketers should talk with their peers about plans to incorporate AI, attend IBM’s World of Watson and conferences on AI in marketing, and talk to customers about how they feel about interacting with chatbots and what their assumptions of the technology are.

If you have the means, incorporating AI where you can within your marketing will give your brand significant credibility, but the most important thing marketers can do for now is understand the tool and how it fits into the marketing space. This will set them ahead as AI continues to become more accessible for brands of all sizes.