It’s undeniable. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning have fundamentally altered the modern marketing mix in ways conspicuous and otherwise. From augmenting ad platforms to recasting the organizational relationship with first-party data, AI’s immense influence on the lives of consumers and marketers is here to stay.
On June 22, 2021 the Calgary Marketing Association and the Advertising Club of Edmonton co-hosted a panel exploring the evolving role of AI and Machine Learning in marketing and advertising, addressing how marketers can apply AI within their marketing mix and along the consumer journey.
Hosted by Marc Binkley (VP Digital & Marketing Strategy, Anstice Communications), the expert panel consisted of:
Following a lively discussion, here are a few of the panel’s key takeaways:
1. The Difference Between AI and Machine Learning (ML)
Right off the top, you may be asking: “Hold on, now. I’ve heard of AI. I’ve heard of Machine Learning. I thought they were the same. Or maybe kind of different. But still related. What’s going on here, really?”
To answer this (very good) question, Fouad provided a perfect case study from his company, Vertical City:
Vertical City is a media company that specializes in elevator advertising. A laser eye surgery clinic wanted to advertise to elevator riders wearing glasses. Using small cameras mounted in the elevator media units, Vertical City could differentiate between glasses-wearers and non-glasses-wearers. The algorithm powering that differentiation is Artificial Intelligence.
But what about people wearing sunglasses? The laser eye surgery clinic isn’t exactly interested in them. Training the AI algorithm to recognize the difference between glasses and sunglasses, and to come to its own conclusions about which is which — well, that’s Machine Learning.
2. AI As A Tool
A concept explored throughout the panel’s discussion on AI and ML was how it can have a dual existence as both a strategy and a tactic. For Alyssa, the real value in AI is how it can give marketers greater insight into their data while giving them more freedom to focus on bigger, more creative thinking.
When asked how marketers can wield AI and ML as a tool in their marketing mix, Alyssa offered the following examples:
- Sentiment Analysis – “Being able to look at social media and being able to understand what people are talking about and the sentiment around it, and the customer segmentation of who is saying what.”
- Recommendation Engines
- Automation of the Customer Experience – “I’m sure we’ve all done this with, on Uber, if you demand a refund, they auto-process it, for example. They don’t have a ton of humans in there reviewing the return.”
3. AI As A Strategy
But what defines AI as a tactic, and when does AI start becoming something greater — a higher-level strategy to build your marketing around?
On a tactical level, Vasilios described how AI is commonly used for media delivery. That includes digital ad automation, optimization and removing the guesswork from targeting.
As a strategy, AI can play a high-value role in identifying and solving for friction points along the customer journey. Vasilios provided the examples of how some brands can deploy self-serve solutions for customers who need help, letting customer success teams focus on more challenging, higher-priority problems. “…a thing like chatbot, for example, would fall into that ‘AI Bucket’, where it alleviates pressure off the contact centre but at the same time allows consumers to self-serve specific needs without tying up contact lines.” Vasilios explained.
As with all things in business, acting without a strategy in place will likely lead to failure, something Alyssa has seen time and time again when implementing AI solutions in organizations. “A lot of times where we see things fail is they haven’t considered that foundational data layer that drives all the AI piece, so that architectural piece is really critical.”
4. Benefits Of AI And ML
While the use cases and advantages of AI in the modern world are constantly expanding in new and inventive ways, there are several benefits that marketers can seize upon with relative ease. Alyssa had these to offer:
- Customer segmentation – “Machine learning is extremely good at this in terms of finding signals and data around client interactions and client data and getting to that hyper-segmentation piece.”
- Reducing Customer Churn – Predicting if a customer is likely to leave, or buy less of a specific product, and automatically intervening with appropriate, real-time marketing action.
- Natural Language Processing – Creating content that resembles what a human may organically write, taking care of more repetitive or mundane tasks such as SEO writing.
5. Downsides of AI
As with many technologies that create wide-sweeping changes across culture, AI faces scrutiny, and it is far from perfect, especially if used incorrectly. The panel dived into the downsides of AI and its shortfalls from the perspective of marketing:
- Being too reliant on AI, without considering the larger strategic picture.
- Acting without the possibility of human intuition or intervention.
- Forgetting about the customer experience.
- Not acting responsibly or ethically with data and data models – Bias is inherent in data and AI can perpetuate this bias, potentially producing harmful or even prejudiced results.
6. Will AI Replace People?
It’s a perennial question that has dogged the rise of AI and ML tools since their inception: Will these algorithms eventually rise to a level of sophistication that they can completely replace humans entirely.
The answer is ‘no’. Not even close. In fact, in the worlds of marketing and advertising, AI could help us become even more efficient, more objective and, ultimately, more creative. In fact, Alyssa, who helps organizations operationalize AI, has never heard of a job-loss. She has, though, heard people extole how they spend more time focusing on the problems that really matter.
For Fouad, it comes down to a simple but powerful truth: AI lets people be thinkers, not just doers.
7. Where Do You Start?
Without a doubt, AI is one of the most exciting and influential forces reshaping marketing today. And by not staying up-to-date, your organization runs the risk of becoming obsolete. So where do you even begin? The panel had these suggestions:
- Digital advertising platforms, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Google are intuitive, AI-powered self-serve tools that can help you find new, profitable audiences, even with small budgets.
- Consider exploring the AI tools that already exist before you jump into creating a brand-new tool from scratch — start with the problem at hand and work from there.
- The book Prediction Machines is a great primer to applying AI know-how to your business.
About the Author
Colin Christiansen is a copywriter for FKA, a marketing and communications agency headquartered in Edmonton, and the former Co-Chair of Programming for the Advertising Club of Edmonton.