What with Alexa, autonomous cars and Blade Runner 2049 replicants, we can’t move for A.I. hype right now. But how does the tech impact marketers and what do marketing pros need to know about it?
Forget 'robot marketers' – A.I. is all about making data work for you
Marketing is awash with talk of A.I. But the whole scene can seem a bit baffling, what with robot creative directors (also known as “publicity stunts”) being touted alongside chatbots and a load of experimental tech that doesn’t seem to relate to marketers’ day-to-day.
Thankfully, the reality of A.I. in the here and now, and the mid-term future, is that it’s more relevant to your Black Friday campaigns than it is to your Black Mirror nightmares.
A.I. is more relevant to your Black Friday campaigns than it is to your Black Mirror nightmares
So if A.I. isn’t a question of robots taking over our jobs and our homes, what actually is it? Tom Ormsby is an A.I. expert and data analyst at Indicia – the KMMS communications agency. He says that A.I. is essentially a system that’s able to perform tasks that would normally require human intelligence, without the need for a human to intervene.
And that’s where machine learning, a term that’s often conflated with A.I., comes in.
“Machine learning is a form of Artificial Intelligence,” says Tom. “It covers a broad range of techniques, but crucially a machine-learning algorithm can identify patterns in data in order to reach a decision by itself.”
Tom uses the example of a football game on a games console. A simple ‘rules based’ A.I would specify: ‘IF player is in the penalty box AND has the ball THEN shoot!’. Whereas a machine learning A.I. would be able to assess what scenarios led to a goal most often, and would return that as the best decision as to when to take a shot at goal.
“This ability to look at data and make a decision based on the likelihood of a result is what makes machine-learning methods really strong tools for analysis and insight,” he says. “Put another way, it’s about employing large data sets to make something dumb act clever.”
You need to build a culture that aims to enable A.I. to work for you
Now we’re on the subject of data, insight and analysis, we’re starting to talk the marketer’s language, and the great thing about it is that if you use machine learning in the right places, it can actually perform tasks much more quickly and more effectively than humans.
But to get the best from A.I., a marketing team first needs to get buy-in from the organisation from the top down.
“An A.I. approach will only be effective if you’re bought into it across the company, from the people who collect your data and build your systems, to the boardroom decision makers,” says Tom. “You need to build a culture that aims to enable A.I. to work for you by providing it with the right data, and understanding how you are going to leverage it to improve productivity, efficiency and performance.”
A.I. in the boardroom
Getting A.I. buy-in from your boss (and her or his boss) will be a whole lot easier if you really understand what your business stands to gain from it. Andy Hawkes, Indicia technical director, says A.I. has a huge role to play in making marketing more personalised and targeted – and what boardroom wouldn’t be interested in that?
“One of the most visible manifestations of A.I. for most marketers now are programmatic advertising and buying platforms that are getting better at micro-segmenting audiences and programmatically adapting creative to suit,” he says.
“Old school advertising employs a scattergun approach – hitting a lot of people and hoping someone bites. These new platforms enable a much more targeted approach that has an intrinsically higher chance of converting, as you’re dialling the creative into the individual rather than the lowest common denominator.”
Implementing more intelligent computing can help move your staff away from more ‘boring’ tasks
Tom agrees, and says that selling A.I. and machine learning as a “great enabler” is a surefire way to pique the senior leadership team’s interest. After all, many of the tasks at which machine learning methods excel are the processes that would be repetitive and time consuming for a human.
What’s more, computers consistently outperform humans in these tasks. “Implementing more intelligent computing can help move your staff away from these more ‘boring’ tasks, and free them to add value in other areas of your business,” says Tom.
Ultimately, you’re more likely to get the green light to get stuck into some machine learning projects if the powers-that-be understand you’ll be using it to help you make better decisions.
“In terms of data and insight, often the processes open up opportunities that wouldn’t be possible if you had to manually collect data,” says Tom. “It’s possible to analyse web pages and social media and pull out insights very quickly. This would be too big and abstract a task for a human to complete effectively.”
Indicia has years of experience when it comes to using machine learning techniques to understand customers and prospects. It all comes down to helping clients evolve their marketing strategy into a more adaptive, digital age proposition that focuses on the principle of “right time, right message, right offer” for each individual.