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What Is Image Recognition and Why Should You Care?

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Certain types of AI are going to transform your career in marketing and sales sooner than you think.

We talked about how voice recognition is going to completely alter the search landscape for marketers.

Image recognition is another AI technology that is going to impact your work and career, too.

Image recognition is the ability of a machine to process and analyze the content of photos.

If an image recognition system is able to accurately analyze what it sees, it opens up a whole world of possibilities—because the technology is versatile.

Image recognition powers Facebook’s ability to recognize you or people you know in photos. It’s also used by content providers to identify inappropriate content in images. And it’s even able to analyze X-rays as well as doctors.  

This adaptable tech is also going to change how brands do business and marketers do their jobs.


Because, chances are, you use or rely on a ton of images in your marketing—or you market to buyers on platforms that rely heavily on visuals.

When image recognition is turned loose on these visuals, it can offer marketers some serious insights into what consumers share, buy, and click.

By analyzing the millions and billions of visuals that people share everyday, machines are, in fact, able to make your marketing far more intelligent and far more human.

Note: The analysis of video or real-time environments is called computer vision. It uses the same principles of image recognition, but has its own set of massive implications for professionals—so we’re going to dedicate an entire post to it in the near future.

How Image Recognition Works: A 2-Minute Explainer

Most marketers don’t need to know the technical complexities of image recognition to actually take advantage of it.

We want you to get started with AI as fast as possible, so, instead, we’ve created a two-minute explainer to teach you what image recognition is at a high level.

Ready? Let’s go.

Image recognition is an AI-powered technology that understands the content of photos.

AI is an umbrella term for a series of related technologies that use large datasets to make predictions. In this case, image recognition predicts what it’s seeing in a visual—and these days, it’s usually right. (Image recognition systems have become very accurate since breakthroughs in 2012…)

When image recognition “sees” an image, a complex series of algorithms trained to recognize certain patterns analyzes the image at the individual pixel level. The image recognition system has been trained on large numbers of images (thousands, millions or billions), so it knows, with a high degree of accuracy, what objects actually are.

The image recognition system takes that trained knowledge, then applies it to new images. Then, it predicts what object it is seeing in the image.

Additional machine learning is then used to analyze the outputs of the image recognition system, offering insights into the sets of images you give it.

Why does this matter for marketers?

Because image recognition systems can identify what’s in a single image. But with additional machine learning capabilities, they can then extract insights from thousands, millions, or even billions of images. 

What Does Image Recognition Mean for Your Marketing?

Image recognition is here, and it’s used across countless platforms you interact with everyday.

Social media alone is going to change thanks to image recognition. The major platforms already use it to improve the user experience. But these platforms are enormous image repositories, too. When you have this much image data available, AI-powered technologies like image recognition might be able to work wonders.

In fact, tools exist today that analyze images on social media and across the internet, then extract insights from those images.

These insights can tell you a lot about consumers, like what brands they share or what content resonates with them. This affects how brands market to consumers, where marketers run campaigns, and even what products your business may want to create. These insights can even inform how you create ads and social media posts, since AI-powered image recognition can tell you which images and visuals produce the best results.

Basically, if you rely on visual social or advertising to drive business, you should be looking into image recognition.

This is all about competitive and career advantage.

Right now, a lot of social media and advertising creative is crafted based on gut. It’s subjective, created based on a sense of what looks and feels right, then gets approved by a team. It may, in an ideal world, be informed by customer research and digital marketing data.

But no human has the ability to analyze billions of images online, then extract insights about why certain images get clicked on, viewed, or engaged with more than others. It’s just not possible.

That’s because effective human-driven image analysis is functionally impossible in an age with more than one billion Instagram accounts alone are active each month.

There’s just too much data, and marketers are drowning in it.

With the data, comes expectations.

Brands are expected to increasingly personalize and target their offerings. Marketers are expected to run data-driven campaigns that perform. And visual content is a key component of most modern campaigns.

Artificial intelligence isn’t just fun to read about.

Brands that rely on visuals actually need it to survive and thrive.

We often talk about the business use case for AI as one of either cost reduction or revenue enhancement.

In this case, it’s both.

Image recognition and related AI technologies have the ability to save brands tons of wasted dollars on social and advertising, by pinpointing what actually works and what doesn’t, backed with datasets big enough to matter.

They also have the ability to dramatically increase revenue. The billions of online images at your fingertips represent a goldmine of data, just ready to be mined for insights into how your prospects and customers buy. Image recognition analysis of physical goods in stores is also producing in-person data on how people buy.

Social and ad campaigns powered by these insights have the potential to turn every dollar you spend into a money tree.

This is just the beginning. Brands need to start understanding what’s possible.

What Does Image Recognition Mean for Your Career?

As a professional marketer, artificial intelligence in some form is going to transform your career.

Image recognition, specifically, could have serious implications for social media marketers and advertising professionals.

We don’t see image recognition replacing what social media marketers and ad pros do everyday. Like we mentioned, image recognition actually does things no human can. But it will change the game for these marketers and force them to level up.

First, it will require these marketers to become familiar with artificial intelligence. As brands learn what’s possible with image recognition, we expect executives to demand that teams plan for and pilot AI-powered technologies.

Those that fail to adapt risk becoming irrelevant when stacked up against teams empowered by AI.

Make no mistake:

Talented social and advertising professionals will still have the core competencies needed to succeed. But AI provides such a competitive advantage that they’ll be unable to keep up with even less skilled professionals armed with the technology.

Second, we expect the market will require social media and advertising professionals to get even more creative than they are today. Right now, these pros straddle the line between analyst and artist, collecting some data on what works and using it to inform creative.

But, with technologies like image recognition, the data part is going to be completely outsourced to a machine. Your AI coworker will show you what works best with which audiences. It will be your job to take those insights and build incredible creative work that actually resonates with audiences.

In today’s world, you can get by with good targeting and decent creative.

In tomorrow’s world, where everyone is armed with AI-driven targeting and insights, your ability to make consumers feel something profound is going to be in even higher demand than it is today.

Finally, you’re going to have to adapt, no matter what comes your way.

The reality is, you’re probably not just going to be a social media or advertising specialist anymore in an age of AI.

AI is going to automate and augment the daily tasks that marketers do. If audience targeting or analysis is a big part of your job, AI probably will do it better. That means your job will still exist, but it’ll change.

You’ll have to find other ways to create value—and they may be outside whatever traditional job description you have internally.

In the end, this isn’t meant to scare you. But it is meant to motivate you.

The marketing industry is on the cusp of a profound transformation. With transformation comes both creative destruction and serious opportunity.

The good news?

It’s still early days—and you have the tools available to start understanding where this is all going, so you can build a competitive advantage in your company and career.

What Should You Do Next?

It’s clear AI and related technologies are changing the game for marketers and brands everywhere.

You need to be ready for what’s coming.

We’re here to help. The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to AI in Marketing, a free resource with 100+ articles, videos, courses, books, vendors, use cases, and events to dramatically accelerate your AI education. Click below to get free access.

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