Predictions: 9 AI trends in marketing for 2019

What difference will artificial intelligence and machine learning make to marketing leadership and strategy in 2019? CMO asks the experts

You can't talk about marketing today without the conversation steering to artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning. Once touted as a silver bullet for data collation, analysis, as well as customer service, AI and ML have grown past the original hype and smart marketers are using them as a way to amplify human intelligence, rather than as a replacement for it.

CMO spoke to various experts in the marketing field about what difference AI will really make to marketing in 2019.

1. AI will augment humans, not replace them

When AI first came out, many companies saw it as a silver bullet to replace all human interaction involved in customer care. Those a little further down the road know that’s not possible and can make you customer experience worse, not better.

It is important to know AI will augment humans, not replace them.

“When Facebook first announced chatbot integration with Messenger in 2016, many considered it the end all be all of customer care, resulting in many businesses finding them overhyped,” Spredfast and Lithium, CTO, Raju Malhotra, said. "Unfortunately, brands put too much onus on chatbots handle everything, an all or nothing approach. Artificial is not meant to replace the customer service agent, but empower them.

“Each year, customers expect more direct interaction with brands and they demand quick responses. In 2019, we will see brands truly embrace the chatbot/agent relationship to automate the boring stuff, free up time for agents to focus on customers, and master their SLAs.”

Fiftyfive5 director, Andrea Collier, said businesses will slow down when it comes to the incessant adoption of AI in marketing and be forced to think about the best value and application. 

“It’s not a matter of getting on the bandwagon and finding a use for AI, but rather assessing the problems and opportunities in the business first and identifying the decision making processes that could be improved to help resolve those problems or drive those opportunities faster and smarter,” she said.  

“Working backwards from here will determine what data insights are required to inform these decisions and how a company can supply them.  After all, the value of AI is not in the models themselves but in a company’s ability to harness these and operationalise them at the front line and throughout the business.”

2. AI will drive business growth

Of course there will be repetitive or low value tasks increasingly becoming automated by AI. For industry thought leaders, this will see AI making a significant difference to the marketer's bottom line.

“In 2019, we'll start to see a distinction between the successful early adopters of AI technology and the lagging companies who have yet to invest, or have invested hastily without a strategy for increasing ROI,” said Unbounce CTO and co-founder, Carl Schmidt.

“This is the year we’ll start to see real evidence that these early adopters are, in fact, driving business growth faster than their peers. Winning companies will become more efficient by automating previously manual or low-value tasks which will free them up to invest in other more revenue-impactive initiatives, or we’ll see these companies directly driving top-line performance by using AI to outperform competitors.”

3. AI-powered marketing attribution hits its stride

In 2019, Schmidt also expected to see AI-powered marketing attribution starting to hit its stride.

"In today’s digital environment, attribution continues to be a challenge — businesses are still piecing together data points from different platforms and many are still struggling to understand the full path to purchase — which marketing channels are driving revenue? What kinds of content help retain customers and at which stage of the customer journey? Where are customers falling out of the funnel? AI can sequence that customer journey together and identify when a customer comes to a company's site and leaves without converting,” he said.

"It's the businesses that adopt AI-powered attribution technology in 2019 that will have a leg up on the competition

4. Conversational AI as learning potential

Another area of growth is conversational AI. Schmidt saw this challenging marketing to re-think what impact their efforts can have on a business.

“Through conversational AI, we now have an unprecedented ability to learn about our customers and prospects, experiment with targeted messaging faster than ever before," he continued. 

“More traditionally minded marketers will use it to automate knowledge base lookups and provide a simplified interface to canned responses. Cutting-edge digital marketers will embrace the learning potential and use it to more deeply to understand the needs of their audience.

"In addition to the obvious partnership with sales, truly savvy marketers will partner with their customer success, product management, and user experience peers to maximise the impact of conversational AI will have on the business."

Up next: Our next 5 predictions for artificial intelligence in marketing in 2019

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5. Data morality and AI

As the hype around artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) has exploded, data ethics, trust, bias and fairness have all surfaced to combat inequalities in the process to make everything intelligent.

"There are many layers to data morality, and while ML advancements won’t cease, they’ll slow down in 2019 as researchers try to hash out a fair, balanced approach to machine-made decisions,” predicted talend A/NZ country manager, Steve Singer.

“Part of the issue with data morality with AI and machine learning is that numbers and scenarios are crunched without insight into how subsequent answers came to be. Even researchers can have a hard time sorting it out after the fact.

"But in the coming years, while it won’t lead to complete transparency with proprietary algorithms, the black box will still become less opaque as end users become increasingly educated about data and how it’s used.” 

6. AI will tame the unstructured data beast

Fiftyfive5's Collier said getting a handle on unstructured data, which comprises 80 per cent of the world’s data, is a problem facing all businesses in 2019 and one that AI will finally help solve.

Unstructured data refers to data sets that do not contain a ‘set record’ format such as documents, social media feeds, digital pictures and videos, audio transmissions, sensors used to gather climate information. These will provide richer insights into customer behaviour and perceptions, helping marketers to get closer to their customers.  

“AI will draw insights from voice, image and text analysis and help marketers synthesise these disparate data sources to deliver insights on behavioural patterns of consumers that remain otherwise elusive," Collier said. "Furthermore, even greater value is extracted by combining a business’ structured data with unstructured data. Marketers will glean insights they have never had before to help improve targeting, creative and, indeed, the overall value proposition for customers."

As examples, she noted analysis of images loaded to Instagram, call centre call recordings analysed for sentiment and themes, and categorised verbatim comments in feedback surveys will all help marketers uncover insights previously not possible. 

"AI enables this analysis to be undertaken at scale and improve day by day as it is exposed to more and more of the same data," Collier added. "Spikes in images loaded here, unprecedented 'likes' there, and sentiment peaks across the data sources, be they voice, text or image, all combine to enrich our understanding of the consumer and help us make better informed decisions.” 

7. Marketing intelligence replaces business intelligence  

With data accuracy and rigidity being significant pain points associated with current BI solutions, artificial intelligence-enabled marketing intelligence (MI) platforms have become the panacea for modern marketers. Rather than provide a historical snapshot of data, MI platforms provide marketers with the data accuracy, flexibility, real-time insights and ability to scale that’s been sorely lacking.

Because of this, we see marketing intelligence disrupting business intelligence (BI), said Datorama chief marketing officer, Leah Pope. 

“BI lacks the marketing expertise required for a marketing-facing solution. This means BI has fallen short of meeting marketer’s expectations. Now that MI has arrived though, a paradigm shift is set to start playing itself out next year,” she predicted. 

“Many popular BI tools currently lack the agility to integrate data sources from across the various point solutions within the typical marketing technology stack. With enterprise marketing departments already trying to make sense of more than 90 source systems, that number is only expected to grow in the coming years. 

“This is a foundational problem that has yet to be properly addressed by most technologies in the market today.”

8. AI further empowers the marketer

Again, however, it's the human element that comes to the fore as AI powers more transparent marketing platforms and programs.

“Today, the power of artificial intelligence is augmenting how marketers reach their goals from data integration to real-time insights," Pope said. "Although industry pundits and Hollywood would like the general public to perceive this as the age where there’s a rise of the machines, that couldn’t be further from the truth. That’s because AI will not replace marketers at the end of the day, it is only there to further empower teams in their respective efforts."

Take, for example, many marketers’ day-to-day routine, which largely consists of cleansing and preparing data for analysis. "In 2019, AI-powered solutions will continue to gain market share, allowing marketing teams to focus more of their energy on the strategic and creative tasks critical to their function - and bottom-line growth,” Pope said.

 9. AI for better customer journeys

What's more, in the not-too-distant future, AI-powered data integration will become the norm for marketers looking to accurately track customer journeys, Pope said.

"As consumer expectations have changed, they require personalised marketing treatments. 'Spray and pray'  type of communications are no longer acceptable,” she said. “Marketers must deliver programs that reach buyers with the right incentive at the right time on the right channel. Anything less is not going to entice customers to adopt any businesses respective product or service."

In order to be successful in this hyper-competitive landscape, Pope advised marketers of all stripes to turn to marketing intelligence to better understand their programs and to push/pull the correct levers to improve upon their respective key performance indicators (KPIs).

Employment Hero CMO, Cat Prestipino, also expected to continue to see marketers integrate machine learning into campaigns. 

“For example, we rely on machine learning to help us make smarter decisions on how to reach our customers, the messages to send them and where our sales team should focus their team. We’ve seen huge success with small machine learning tests run in 2018 and we’ll be doubling down on those in 2019,”  she said.

On a final note, head of marketing Asia-Pacific for Quantcast, Rachael Townsley, said marketers will continue to look to automation to increase efficiencies and personalisation. 

“AI and ML technologies that help marketers to automate will continue to grow. With budgets tightening, automation will help marketers scale more effectively, help inform decisions quickly and reduce operating costs. And with AI and ML driving increasingly more efficient data analysis, marketers will find it easier to deliver hyper-personalisation to their customers, from content creation to unique customer journeys,” she concluded. 

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