For The Love Of Marketing, Let's Stop Talking About Artificial Intelligence

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Artificial intelligence is going to change everything. It’s going to change business. It’s going to change marketing.

The problem is that we can’t skip steps and suddenly claim that all brands are AI-first (as brands like Google and Salesforce are stating). Sure, it’s commonplace to want to future-proof your business, put a stake in the ground and claim that you are technologically miles ahead of the competition. Still, the marketplace does not lie. The truth is in the marketing. The reality of what consumers see, touch and do with a brand is evident – no matter what a Chief Marketing Officer says at your local industry conference from the stage during a keynote address.

If every brand is embracing artificial intelligence, where are the signs of simple (and great) personalization in the work today?

How can any brand claim to be leading (or tinkering) with artificial intelligence, when the vast majority of their marketing materials are either not personalized at all or hauntingly poor at understanding even the basic information of their customer (gender, geographic location, last item(s) purchased, intent to purchase again, etc…)? This is not a criticism of any specific brand, but an overall indictment against our industry. It is an industry that loves to toss around buzzwords, make impressive PowerPoint decks, get lots of ink in the industry trade publications and – in general – bang a loud drum. Still, where is the proof that brands have mastered personalization – let alone have the capabilities to leverage artificial intelligence to build better engines of marketing and communications? 

Great personalization is like common sense… it’s not all that common.

A quick test: when a company lays claim to leveraging artificial intelligence to build better customer experiences, go ahead and do three things: 

  1. Sign up to their basic e-newsletter.
  2. Do some generic searches on their website. Bonus points if you add something to you shopping cart and abandon it before making a purchase.
  3. Do some searches for the brand on Facebook, LinkedIn or any other social media space.

What happens next?

Over time, is that newsletter adapting to your choices, your basic information and/or your true needs? Did those general searches suddenly trigger a ton of retargeted ads that haunt you for months, constantly and consistently? Are you suddenly seeing that brand (or their competitor) showing up much more in your social media feeds? If you are, it’s safe to assume that the vast majority of brands are practicing traditional advertising strategies in these hyper-powerful digital channels. They’re vying for the customer’s attention, because that customer – at some point in time – raised their hand. The thing is this: that hand could have been raised for a myriad of reasons. The customer could have a complaint about the brand, they may be a repeat customer, they may be doing research for a friend, and on and on. If artificial intelligence were at play, the messaging would adapt in a much more profound way to the customer’s desires and interactions. If basic personalization were are play, the messaging would be more specific and would not dampen the customer’s content experience.

An opportunity for marketing to be great.

That’s the real point here. Digital marketing was not created as another channel to annoy consumers with messaging that they don’t want. Artificial intelligence, personalization, targeting, retargeting and more is an incredible opportunity for brands to build a better (and more direct) relationship with their customers, and engage those consumers that may be interested in the brand in a more value-based and personal way. It seems like marketers are very eager to sell the idea of technology-first initiatives, but they’re backing these claims up with a very traditional attention and repetition model. The scale of digital makes that traditional formula a problem for publishers and consumers alike. Too much inventory, too much blasting and the overall value of the marketplace (content and advertising as a business model) starts to erode. Yes, marketers need artificial intelligence. Yes, artificial intelligence can be a very powerful tool to not only gain marketing budget efficiency, but to make the consumer experience that much better. But, none of that is going to happen if we can’t get personalization right. And, the time for proper personalization is now. Today.

Artificial intelligence is the future of marketing. Personalization is the present of marketing.