The editors at The Economist once said that “data are to this century what oil was to the last one: a driver of growth and change.” But data, according to former Columbia University professor, Eric Siegel, “in its raw form is boring crud.” What really drives growth and change is “what’s discovered therein”—the insights. Taking it up a notch, insights that are actionable and predictive have already started to take the business world by storm.
Predicting the future using data from the past is nothing new, but the biggest game changer today is Artificial Intelligence (AI). A type of computer science that enables technologies to understand, learn, and act based on the information provided, AI drives scale, speed, and application—the true value that companies need today as they operate in increasingly competitive environments.
The availability and accessibility of AI explains why its many use cases have been experiencing rapid popularity, development, and adoption. This year, the focus of AI in business, especially marketing, will not only draw on present trends, but also shift from technology to opportunity, and from infancy to maturity.
1. More SMBs can discover and target the right customers
The power of AI is no longer concentrated in the hands of big companies. Its democratization, along with computing power, big data, and low-cost technologies enable small and medium-sized businesses to both offer and use AI tools to their advantage—without the need to spend big budgets on expensive software and data scientists.
Most small and medium companies have the data, but they don’t have the resources to uncover insights from it. With AI tools that are affordable, it is easier and faster to determine the marketing indicators which reveal relevant data points that have the highest parallel to an ideal customer base, and powerful predictive insights about who is likely to buy.
In fact, Forrester predicts that AI will reshape analytic and business innovation, with AI making decisions and providing real-time instructions at 20% of surveyed companies. Moreover, the Insights-as-a-Service (IaaS) market will double, with 80% of firms relying on insights service providers for some portion of insights capabilities in 2018. IaaS refers to cloud-based, action-oriented, and analytics-driven solution that creates and delivers insights from data.
2. Stiffer competition to hire “superhuman marketers” but improved sales and marketing alignment
Even with the widespread availability of AI, McKinsey & Company reveals that most companies are capturing only a fraction of the potential value from data and analytics. One of the challenges that they face is finding the right talent and acquiring the skills needed to derive insights from data.
In fact, this is one of the concerns of some CMOs like Raja Argamannu, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Mastercard. For Argamannu, there is “a looming crisis in the talent area. Given the unprecedented complexity and accountability of marketing, we are looking for superhuman marketers that possess both the classical training and the contemporary know how, as well as the ability to grasp technology, data, business, financials etc.—and they are almost impossible to find.“
However, alongside this challenge, is the massive opportunity to align sales and marketing. With data-driven processes powered by AI, it is easier to onboard both sales and marketing—from goal setting and targeting leads, all the way to implementing campaigns and evaluating results. For instance, by providing the context behind the predictive score and making the exogenous data available within the CRM, sales are armed with greater insights for each lead and account and understand why they are most likely to buy.
Simply put, AI allows companies to have transparency across departments and teams which is critical not only in achieving growth and revenue targets, but also amplifying and retaining talent and skills within the organization.
3. Faster delivery of customer needs with adaptive segmentation and personalization
The more centralized and entrenched AI becomes across the organization, the easier it is for innovation to take place. And in an ever-changing and competitive market, constant, adaptive, and customer-driven innovation is a competitive advantage.
Many recent headlines highlighted the threat of workers losing jobs over AI or robots. But human workers and machines (such as those powered by AI) seamlessly working together increases productivity and facilitates innovation. A Dell study suggests that human workers’ reliance on machine learned systems makes it possible for organizations “to find and deploy resources rapidly to wherever they are needed, whenever they are needed”. In other words, to be more proactive, agile, and adaptive.
With AI, marketers can not only know the ideal customer but also their level of engagement across the sales cycle. This enables better segmentation of accounts and prospects, and creation of relevant campaigns, collaterals, and messaging. Knowing these minute details empowers marketing and sales to discover and deliver customer needs faster, in real-time.
Taking it a step further, companies can use the insights gathered from AI-enabled market segmentation and customer personalization to create continuous value with highly targeted, innovative products and services.
4. More data from internet-connected things to fuel cross-sell or upsell opportunities
Gartner predicts that as the Internet of Things (IoT) proliferate, there will be a shift from stand-alone internet-connected things to a swarm of collaborative internet-connected things. In this model, multiple devices sharing data with one another creates a powerful source of intelligence that offers countless possibilities.
AI comes into play as it enables companies to gather this intelligence from first, second, and third party sources, use it to cross over barriers, formulate actionable insights, and identify what customers want—even before they know it. This is a gem for marketing and sales because it increases the opportunities to get to know the customers better.
Matching prospects to the products that they are most likely to buy, enhancing every potential customer engagement touchpoint (among numerous internet-connected things), and having an integrated view of both existing and potential customers. These make not only cross-selling and upselling, but also expanding customer and market base, less challenging and more exciting.
5. Once again, customers at the center of everything
Along with AI, predictive analytics and modelling made big waves in marketing and sales last year, offering opportunities to better understand and target customers. With AI, companies can not only provide the right offer, the right product, and the right content to the right prospect at the right time, but also to do it at scale and near real-time—which is what Mintigo is doing.
This year, companies will have to prepare for what Deloitte calls “adlergic epidemic,” with 10% of North Americans over age 18 predicted to engage in four or more multiple, simultaneous advertisement-blocking behaviors in 2018. What this emphasizes is the need for companies to dig deeper, to a more individualized level, to explore avenues that truly synchronize with changing customer behavior, and to offer genuine value—all of which, AI can help. Otherwise, it will be increasingly difficult for companies to attract, engage, and retain customers.
PricewaterhouseCoopers Director Joseph Voyles shared that to deliver an AI solution, data “is needed in large volumes, high quality, and it needs to be aligned to the objective. If data is not aligned with consumer priorities in mind, organizations will begin at a disadvantage and find it difficult to deliver consumer-centric solutions.”
Thus, the bottom line is: The better a company’s connection to its customers, the more success it will gain from any AI solution it chooses to adopt and implement. With AI-powered predictive marketing and insights, companies (both small and big) can scale their marketing and sales efforts, discover and target the right customers, improve marketing-sales alignment, create adaptive segmentation and personalization, and grow markets successfully—as long as the customer is at the center of it all.