With One Key Element, AI + Machine Learning Are Digital Marketing Game Changer in 2017

Artificial Intelligence (AI) may be one of the most exciting – and promising – innovations in martech to date. There's a lot about AI to be excited about. For example, an AI-powered digital experience has the ability to radically transform the customer experience.

From recent industry analyst forecasts, there is a massive market opportunity for AI. IDC reports that adoption of cognitive systems and AI across a range of industries will drive global revenues from nearly $8 billion in 2016 to more than $47 billion in 2020.

While jumping into AI-powered martech platforms might be tempting, it is not advisable. For one very good reason: AI is highly complex and multifaceted but if it is adopted and integrated into the martech stack before it is fully understood, it could prove to be a deep money pit.

AI is already serving consumers more personalized experiences, hyper intelligent chatbots and dynamic websites; however, before you buy and implement AI as part of your customer experience and other digital marketing platforms, there is one very important step you need to take.

Really know your customer: it's all about the data
Fully embracing and reaping the benefits of AI relies on having a full grasp of who your customers are, which includes their online behavior as well as their shopping intentions. Although the tools are available to gather this data, many companies are using outdated techniques, such as using general demographic data gleaned from basic site testing, for example, to create a picture of their customer that is not quite accurate. Supplying this basic and inaccurate data to AI-powered digital marketing systems will produce some disappointing results: less than meaningful customer experiences, irrelevant product recommendations and clueless chatbots, to name a few.

To gather a complete customer profile, data must be mined from numerous sources, such as purchase history, in-store behavior, real-time customer feedback and website analytics. Once this data is gathered and analyzed, you'll come away with a much more accurate picture of who your customers are and what they really want.

AI is data hungry and the more quality data you can throw at it, the more likely it is that your AI initiative will succeed. The collection and storage of data to create "deep context" for each customer should be your number-one priority before committing to any AI-powered digital experience platform.

Although we're just scratching the surface of what AI can do, the technology already is being used in some very exciting applications. Macy's department store rolled out "Macy's On Call" last fall. Powered by IBM Watson's machine learning and cognitive computing technology the new feature acts as a customer service "representative" while the customer shops in the store. Customers simply type in questions, such as, "Where are women's shoes?" and Macy's On Call will answer.  Amazon Go's "Just Walk Out" technology also promises to completely transform the in-store shopping experience with the help of AI and smartphones.

The beauty of AI is that it's able to uncover untapped opportunities that are buried and then can take action on these opportunities automatically. One example of how this might work is that AI-powered machine learning can identify underperforming segments, such as users browsing in the French language version of a retail site in Canada as compared to shoppers using English language browsers. The French group of users was identified, a new segment was created and the retailer is now aware that they were under investing in language translation. This led the retailer to increase the investment for product copy language translation.

Brave new world
We are only scratching the surface when it comes to the opportunities that AI can bring to online and in-store retail. We have a long way to go before AI completely transforms the shopping experience and the retail industry as a result.

However, with the right approach AI will completely change a customer's digital experience. It promises to completely eliminate meaningless customer experiences, while ensuring the right products, offers, content, advice and sites are served up to every customer, all the time, across every channel.

AI is a new frontier that's exciting and well worth the time, effort and resources it requires. AI is no "flash in the pan" trend – it's an extremely powerful tool that will indeed revolutionize the retail industry. Like any breakthrough, it's important to get the fundamentals down first. Knowing your customer through a comprehensive customer portrait – built by data – is the key to monetizing your AI-powered digital marketing and retail initiatives.

Graham Cooke serves as founder and CEO at Qubit, the pioneer in data-first customer experiences. Cooke has been working with web technology since 1995, designing and building websites with emergent technology. Prior to founding Qubit, Cooke spent five years working at Google where he was a leader on Google's strategy for conversion rate improvement. This involved working with Google's largest and smallest customers to improve their online conversion rates as well as developing the Google Conversion Professional program. He also worked with product management and engineering teams to deliver tools to build more effective marketing solutions with the AdWords auction system as well as management of campaigns with millions of keywords.

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