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The Future of AI in Marketing Looks A Lot Like the Present

Artificial intelligence: so HOT right now.

From robots disguised as customer service agents helping customers troubleshoot to a phone that will use your face to unlock itself, the machines are learning and marketers are salivating at the possibilities. There’s no question that artificial intelligence can vastly improve processes and take consumer data even further, but even the smartest simulation can’t make up for those processes and data being flawed in the first place.

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Like marketing automation and CRM before it, AI is simply a really amazing tool that is only badass if it works. And, like its technology peers, I suspect many organizations will jump at the chance to incorporate fancy AI into its data collection and campaigning efforts without a solid, human foundation in place. Marketers love to complain that their tools are defective – it’s practically our favorite pastime along with looking for a new piece to add to the stack in the hopes of making it all better. Just because you buy the tech, doesn’t mean you’re an AI company or you’re any more data-driven than before.

Machines have the capacity to know what tactics are most effective at generating quality leads, getting responses and growing customer relationships. They also can just as easily drive you down the wrong paths more quickly than ever if your data foundation isn’t rock solid. I can’t tell you how many times organizations mess up the basics; things like standardizing contact job titles, purging and de-duping contact lists and regular database scrubbing amount to you generating the rules that the machines will play by. Do you know what a quality lead looks like? As in, can you personally describe one? If you can’t, and therefore can’t build a profile from which AI tools will learn, there’s no way the machines will know what to look for.

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Technology like artificial intelligence is expensive, and CEOs in organizations that have scaled to any decent size just don’t have the level of insight needed to make tech buying decisions. Trying to convince leadership that you need to build a really complex AI system is much more difficult than focusing on areas of improvement and using AI to help with specific, known issues.

That’s why benchmarking the right data is so crucial. Marketers know that their biggest channel for generating qualified leads is referrals and word of mouth, which are almost impossible to measure all the time. Still though, if you don’t know where a big bucket of your leads are coming from and how they’re performing, then all of your other metrics are thrown off. Making AI investments in areas only where you have all the data isn’t actually helping you tell a complete story. The programs have to be designed around your operations, not the other way around. Automated pieces can assign leads after you understand how they got into the system.

The same idea holds true of personalization. Artificial intelligence is already masterful at tracking consumer behavior online and generating relevant content. But as machines become even better at mimicking actual conversations and interpreting human emotions and intent in real-time interactions, marketers will face even more pressure in making sure they truly know what their audiences want. Companies cannot afford to get lazy and make robots the first and last lines of defense against frustrated consumers. It’s hard to imagine marketing reduced to a future role of simply managing their AI systems while disconnecting from their audiences, so be careful not to fall into that trap now.

No matter how sophisticated a machine gets with predictive analytics and real-time feedback to enhance customer experiences, it’s still pulling from data that human beings decided was important. Marketers who thought CRM would do the job of managing their key accounts for them are probably still looking for that magic technology bullet that will never appear. In many exciting ways, AI is that magical piece of technology, but it’s not unlike anything we’ve ever been exposed to in marketing and sales before. Data drives the ship, and marketers set the course. Don’t be left cursing your robot friends because of foundational mistakes you didn’t correct before adopting an AI platform.

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