Artificial Intelligence Is Transforming Your Marketing Career in 2020 – Updated October 15, 2020
Some call it the quickening.
Innovation leaders live by the mantra that change is only constant, and the rate of change is constantly accelerating. One of the main lessons we can take from the COVID-19 era is that this acceleration of change does not follow a predictable curve. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in his company’s first pandemic-era quarterly report, “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”
An even faster acceleration curve shows how quickly traditional commerce became ecommerce in 2020. Ecommerce experienced 10 years worth of growth during the first three months of the pandemic, according to research by management and consulting firm McKinsey. While the shift to digital commerce channels is significant for its remarkable speed, the online research, shopping and buying behaviors consumers are now developing will still be in force long after the pandemic is behind us.
Source: Bank of America; Forrester Analytics; ShawSpring Research; US Department of Commerce; McKinsey analysis
And while marketing teams were among the early artificial intelligence (AI) adopters in many organizations, the pandemic has further accelerated efforts to build AI-powered marketing and sales capabilities. Before the pandemic, many marketers believed that the unprecedented change in today’s business environment is primarily driven by twin forces:
- Emerging and converging technologies, such as AI, big data, and cloud computing
- Soaring customer expectations for availability, speed, and service
But many organizations are learning that change isn’t just accelerated by proprietary algorithms and converging technologies. The digital adoption curve for ecommerce went nuclear when the world’s brick-and-mortar businesses shut down — and as noted, many B2B and B2C consumers won’t be returning to in-person transactions anytime soon.
Perhaps the biggest change for marketers in 2020 is the accelerated adoption of AI by customer-facing teams, including sales and customer support / success. The massive adoption of solutions like virtual assistants and AI-powered customer chatbots across organizational teams underscores the importance of sales-marketing alignment. In siloed organizations, reliable customer messaging has been a concern for years, but consistency across digital channels is more important than ever.
And though its capabilities are often overhyped, AI may be the most transformative technology of all, driving change through every marketing organization. How big is the impact of AI on the future of work?
- More organizations are investing in AI-powered marketing tools. By 2021, spending is expected to reach $52.2 billion, a 46.2% growth rate from 2016 to 2021, according to the International Data Corporation.
- The fastest-growing investments in AI include customer service and sales process recommendation and automation. The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of AI-powered chatbots that can learn from every user interaction — and help marketers learn from every user interaction as well.
- The global economy will grow by $16 trillion by 2030 because of advancements in AI, according to the World Economic Forum.
- AI milestones and advancements seem to arrive well ahead of schedule. It was estimated that AI technology would surpass humans at the game of Go in 2027, and that already happened in 2015. The same research estimates AI could replace all human workers by the year 2141.
- Research shows a growing gap between organizations that are simply aware of AI and those using it productively. The rapid pace of AI adoption and implementation—270% in the last four years, according to a 2019 Gartner survey—shows that organizations who are behind the adoption curve may have trouble keeping up with their AI-powered peers.
The future looks bright for AI in marketing.
But how about human marketers?
Today’s business media is filled with stories of how quickly AI is encroaching on formerly human domains. Are we facing a grim future where millions of human marketers are automated out of their jobs? Or will AI free future workers from the drudgery of repetitive manual tasks, to be more creative and improve customer experiences?
If you’re in sales and marketing, the AI stakes couldn’t be much larger. According to McKinsey & Company, AI will unlock the most value in marketing and sales – between $1.4 Trillion and $2.6 Trillion.
Three ways marketers can capture the value of AI in 2020:
The soaring expectations of today’s consumers set a high bar for marketers to meet. With sales, marketing, and customer success channels all online, marketers must plan a customer journey that begins to build trust and loyalty on day one.
One-size-fits-all marketing messages were a source of frustration in the past. In post-pandemic times, non-relevant and non-personalized marketing content is a fatal error. AI-powered personalization offers a way for modern marketers to create personalized communications at scale, to engage and customers, and start the know, like, trust and transact cycle that all platform businesses need to win.
Omnichannel customer experiences
Sales, marketing, and customer success teams were among the first to learn how quickly customer behavior changed as the pandemic progressed. As marketing teams rush to deliver seamless customer experiences across channels, it quickly becomes apparent that traditional approaches don’t scale.
Without AI and machine learning to provide real-time insights on customer behavior and preferences, creating memorable customer experiences (CX) would be impossible. Customers expect reliably fast and responsive service no matter what channel they choose, but even some of today’s premier brands have trouble delivering consistently through online and in-person channels. Although 89% of customers use at least one digital channel, only 13% find that channels are appropriately aligned, according to Accenture research.
In addition to personalization at scale, AI-powered platforms can help marketers better understand customer behavior by tracking channel interactions of prospects who turned into customers and brand advocates. The omnichannel strategy becomes even more important considering that just over 12% of customers are digital-only, according to the same Accenture study.
Research and optimization
In general, marketers who know their audience best, and use that knowledge to deliver relevant value and experiences will win. But tasks like keyword and topic research, competitive analysis, and content optimization are time-consuming and simply don’t scale. Simply creating enough original content for brand awareness, evaluation, and decision stage audience members can be overwhelming. That’s why many content marketing teams are challenged and become stuck in production mode — by the time the content is planned, created, and launched, there’s little time for experiments and optimization.
With little time for content distribution, promotion, and ongoing optimization, many organizations are adopting AI-powered tools to help streamline tasks including content audits, topic analysis, and search intent insights. More advanced platforms such as MarketMuse leverage AI to streamline many of these research, competitive analysis, and optimization tasks to match customer intent and provide the answers and information they seek.
Search and customer intent
It’s funny how some search engine marketers seem ambivalent towards the use of AI and machine learning. About 5.6 billion searches per day are powered by Google’s RankBrain, a machine-learning algorithm that helps marketers better understand user intent. RankBrain analyzes complex queries in the context of previous searches to better understand the searcher’s intent and desired outcomes. RankBrain learns on its own and continually tweaks its algorithm as it learns more about human search behavior. The algorithm also is adjusted by wicked-smart human Googlers, but it learns a lot on its own, including how satisfied users are with their search results.
In an era where every organization competes on user experience (UX), marketers can learn about customer intent and satisfaction based on their search behavior. You can measure and improve the quality of your content by analyzing search behavior such as click-through rate, “dwell time” spent on search results, and “pogo-sticking” between several different search results. You can gain additional insights from Google Analytics Intelligence, an AI-powered platform that helps marketers better understand their analytics data.
Analytics Insights is very proactive, offering up helpful information about customer behavior and website performance without any manual labor. You can ask Analytics Intelligence questions about your data in conversational language, and Intelligence will also surface insights on significant changes and opportunities to optimize your marketing content.
With any transformative technology, it can be difficult to separate the signal from the noise.
And though Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been called overhyped, that hasn’t stopped businesses of all types from eagerly embracing it — and changing our professional lives forever.
How big is the impact of artificial intelligence on the future of work? There certainly are signals indicating that the AI future may be arriving much sooner than many people think.
- Global spending on AI technology is expected to rise from $6 Billion in 2018 to nearly $29 Billion in 2021, according to Gartner group.
- The global economy will grow by $16 Trillion by 2030 because of advancements AI, according to the World Economic Forum.
- AI milestones seem to be arriving well ahead of schedule. AI technology was supposed to surpass humans at the game of Go in 2027. That already happened in 2015. The same research estimates AI could replace all human workers by the year 2141.
So, great outlook for AI. What about humans?
That question has prompted a lively debate. Are we facing a grim future where millions of humans are automated out of their jobs? Or is the AI future one where workers are freed from the drudgery of repetitive manual tasks to be more creative and experience a better quality of life?
Whatever the case, today’s business news is filled with stories of how quickly AI is encroaching on formerly human domains.
If you’re in sales and marketing, the AI stakes couldn’t be much larger.
According to McKinsey & Company, AI will unlock the most value in marketing and sales– between $1.4 Trillion and $2.6 Trillion.
Are sales and marketing careers in danger?
If you’re a marketer in a data-driven industry like retail, manufacturing, travel or ecommerce, you can expect a double dose of transformation. Industries driven by the analysis and processing of large datasets stand to gain the most, and change the most, from the use of AI.
AI is the leading technology where marketers expect the most growth over the next two years. Marketers anticipate AI use will grow by 53% – a much higher rate than any other tech type. – Salesforce
And it’s clear that AI is quickly becoming a key advantage for some of the world’s most innovative organizations.
Companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, Netflix and Salesforce are all heavily invested in AI and compete aggressively for talent. High-performing companies are more than twice as likely to use AI than low-performing companies, according to Salesforce.
Anyone looking for insights on the future of AI should watch how these companies leverage the technology internally and what types of AI-powered products and services become publicly available. To learn more about AI and digital transformation, check out Future Ready: A Changemaker’s Guide, by Nick Davis and Charles Warnock.
So, transformation is under way and the rate of change is increasing. But what skills should sales and marketing leaders develop to join the innovators and avoid disruption?
You will have your career disrupted. So you have to either proactively turn the impending change into something more enjoyable and fulfilling, or you sit in fear of the inevitable day when the hatchet comes your way… – Jay Samit
While it’s impossible to predict exactly which sales and marketing roles might be eliminated, it’s safe to assume that all roles will change. Here are some hard and soft skills that can be learned to minimize the impact:
Commit to lifelong learning
In sales and marketing, a good start is to read up and absorb everything you can about artificial intelligence and predictive analytics. There are a number of blogs that cover AI developments from a sales and marketing perspective, including:
- The Content Marketing Institute
- Deloitte Marketing Blog
- IBM research on artificial intelligence – see the featured projects section for uses cases
- The Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute
If you kicked ass in calculus or have a technological bent, check out Google’s free Introduction to Deep Learning course and the same Machine Learning Crash Course they provide to their own engineers. Sales and marketing pros don’t necessarily need to become Python experts, but it couldn’t hurt.
Stay AI alert
One of the most powerful free tools available for sales and marketing is Google Alerts. These useful alerts can be set up in minutes and can save you hours by sending curated content straight to your inbox or RSS feed.
For example, say you are a content marketer in financial services and you want to keep up with what’s going on. Simply visit the Google Alerts page and enter the topic you want to follow. In the settings, you can choose options like how often you’ll receive alerts and which sources you prefer. Some examples might be:
- “content marketing” AND AI
- FinTech AND AI
- “AI news” San Francisco
- “your brand” + AI
- “competing brand” + AI
Setting up alerts will enable you to see real-world use cases and how competitors and related industries are using AI.
Speak the language
It’s important to be fluent in AI terminology, for the ability to separate business value from buzzwords, and to understand AI projects that use a combination of technologies.
AI terms are sometimes tossed around and puffed up in the service of sales and marketing. For example, the terms AI, machine learning and deep learning are often used interchangeably. But as you can see in the image below from Nvidia’s blog, both machine learning and deep learning are subsets under the AI umbrella. Marketing and sales pros should understand which types of AI are at work and what value they bring to their audience.
Other key areas for sales and marketing leaders to understand include chatbots, computer vision, natural language processing, and neural networks.
Artificial intelligence + your natural intelligence
The best way to avoid being blindsided by the growth of artificial intelligence is to grow your natural intelligence. Become a lifelong learner on the subject of AI and related disciplines.
Recently, Google Research changed its name to Google AI to underscore their commitment to CEO Sundar Pichai’s promise to make Google an “AI-first” company. It’s a clear sign that Google’s innovation is now clearly focused around artificial intelligence and machine learning. Amazon, Microsoft and IBM are following similar strategies of reinventing their companies around AI.
Clearly, the world’s most innovative and successful organizations are leading the way on AI. Today’s most innovative sales and marketing teams may do well to learn from that data and take action.