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Why Marketers Need to Understand AI and How to Get Started

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The writing is on the wall.

Marketers at all levels, in any discipline and industry, need to understand AI. Artificial intelligence is about to transform and disrupt marketing as we know it.


Because your upcoming strategic initiatives will increasingly involve AI and related technologies. In fact, they might already.

That’s a bold prediction, but one we’re confident in for several reasons.

1. AI investment is exploding.

The AI space is flush with money. There has been a 4.6X rise in deals to AI startups since 2012, reports CB Insights. In that time, equity funding of almost $15 billion has flowed into AI companies. In Q1 2017, 48% of deals were seed or angel deals, which indicates large numbers of new firms entering AI.

Anecdotally, we've had dozens of inquiries into the Marketing AI Institute from executives who want to understand AI. They are trying to figure out how it fits into their 2018 strategies. And they don't want to get left behind by competitors who grasp AI faster.

AI's moment is here and unfolding before our eyes. And marketing is one of the top areas where it will make waves in 2018.

2. AI-enabled marketing companies are here.

Marketing is waking up to AI. More than 3,500 marketing leaders say AI is where they see the most growth potential in the next two years, says Salesforce. Six marketing/sales companies with $500 million in funding topped CB Insights' 2017 AI 100 list. We're seeing more companies launch marketing AI tools or expand the use of AI in current offerings.

This reflects what happened when AI disrupted finance in the 1980s, as detailed in Scott Patterson’s book The Quants. It started when quants used algorithms to automate trading. The machines did a better job than the humans and the people who built the machines profited. Today, the majority of trades on Wall Street happen thanks to AI.

Healthcare is experiencing a similar moment, though in a different fashion. X-ray and medical data analysis are being performed by AI systems now.

The jobs of doctors and specialists are being augmented and enhanced by AI.

So are the jobs of lawyers. JPMorgan has used AI to automate low-level legal work. That frees up expensive lawyers to perform high-value work for high returns.

As Christopher Steiner wrote in Automate This, “Determining the next field to be invaded by bots is the sum of two simple functions: the potential to disrupt plus the reward for disruption.”

It’s marketing’s turn. There exists a double incentive for AI companies to disrupt marketing.

First, like law and medicine, marketing can be expensive. Cost-savings without sacrificing performance reflect well on executives. This is the same incentive that led JPMorgan to reduce legal fees using AI.

Second is that marketing activities directly impact the bottom line. It doesn't matter whether a human or AI lawyer assesses a contract, as long as it's accurate. The cost is what matters. But in marketing, AI has the potential to both reduce cost and improve ROI.

This makes marketing especially attractive for AI disruption. AI improves standard productivity. But it might also be able to do a better job than some human marketers at producing profit-driving results.

3. Big players in marketing and sales are becoming AI-first companies.

Major marketing and sales companies exhibit this shift. Marketing automation platform HubSpot has positioned itself as an AI player. The company acquired chatbot maker Motion AI to bring chatbots to its platform. It also snapped up Kemvi, an AI-powered sales tool. Expect to see these, and other AI capabilities, integrated into HubSpot's platform.

Salesforce is another major AI player. The company is baking its Einstein AI into every part of its existing product, and it's formed a partnership with IBM to tackle enterprise AI.

In fact, there's a good chance that your marketing automation or CRM platform has AI or plans for AI in 2018.

So, this begs the question:

Why should marketers care? AI will become widely available in existing platforms and new, accessible tools. Isn't that enough? Why do marketers need to spend time and energy really understanding AI? Won't the machines just help us do our jobs better?

Yes, they will. To start. But marketers need to understand AI because, if they don't, AI could start doing their jobs next.

Why Marketers Need to Learn AI Now

AI capabilities improve year after year. Today’s marketing AI may simply augment your job, freeing you up to do the tasks only humans can do. That’s great. But next year, AI might be able to do more tasks that only humans can do. The year after, it might be able to do most of what you do today.

How do you create value in the marketing world a few years from now? Chances are, you don’t just do one thing in your organization. You might create and promote content, schedule social promotion, and measure performance. You might also run paid and email campaigns, score leads, or drive marketing strategy.

Now what if AI can do all that? Where does that leave you?

It's the future we're approaching at a headlong pace. And it's possible, actually, highly probably, future AI-empowered marketing teams can do more with fewer people.

Marketers must evolve to meet the approaching age of AI. They must learn to master the machines, rather than the other way around. And they must use AI to drive performance, rather than sit on the sidelines.

AI champions within organizations will become indispensable. They will guide executives on how to harness this technology for massive gains.

Change is happening fast. But there’s good news.

You don't need to learn how to program or build AI systems to become knowledgeable. You can start becoming a recognized AI authority in your company by taking these steps:

1. Start with use cases.

Too many people start out with AI by trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. AI isn't the right fit for every marketing use case, so don't try to use tools only because they're AI. Instead, identify the marketing problems you're trying to solve in your organization.

What do you struggle with daily? What strategic priorities are important for the next couple quarters? What are your performance goals (New leads? Visits? Higher sales?). What activities take you away from the work you should be doing?

Make a list of these. Then begin your research by searching for these terms or problems and including the term “AI.”

2. Begin experimenting.

There are dozens of AI marketing tools you can start testing for free. Our site has profiled dozens of AI providers. Check out a few below. These profiles are a great introduction to what’s possible and what’s available:

Start by signing up for trials and demos. There are a lot of hyperbolic claims out there about what AI tools can and can’t do. And they’re not always accurate. You’ll need to do your homework and see for yourself what a company offers and how it can help you achieve those goals.

3. Talk with people who understand what they’re talking about.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions of solutions providers. The marketing AI community is full of people who are passionate about AI's potential. Most are happy to talk through your questions and use cases, even if you're not ready to buy.

Don’t hesitate to shoot an email to a contact at an AI company or ask a sales rep questions you’re interested in. Also, don’t hesitate to contact us here at the Marketing AI institute for any of these needs either.

4. See what your current tools have to offer.

There’s a good chance your marketing automation or CRM system incorporates AI in some way. Search online for ways your software uses AI. (HubSpot's AI page is here. Salesforce's is here.) You might also ask your account rep how each tool uses AI or what the company's AI roadmap looks like.

5. Play around with the AI in your personal life and understand better how it works.

You’re almost certainly already using or benefitting from AI in your personal life. Netflix recommendations use AI and machine learning. So do Amazon product recommendations. Siri or Alexa voice assistants use AI technologies to field and respond to your queries. Google search relies heavily on AI to suggest the best results.

Start researching how these everyday tools do what they do. There are tons of resources out there on popular tech tools and how they use AI. Everyday AI tools give you an accessible way to start understanding the technology.

Related: How invisible AI shapes our brand relationships

6. Rely on the right resources.

Like we mentioned, there’s a ton of AI hype out there. Like any popular subject, sensational headlines abound. On any given day, there might be hysteria that AI will turn into killer robots. Or that it will make everyone jobless starting tomorrow.

AI is powerful and transformative. But most headlines and stories on it want you to click, not think.

That doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of quality information available. Sometimes, you just have to dig for it. But find the right information, and you'll save a ton of time. You'll also gain a solid grasp of what AI actually can and can't do. This will help you connect the dots of what's possible in your own business.

We rounded up our favorite AI resources for marketers here. We also gathered some top articles on the subject here.

Lastly, we encourage you to subscribe below to the Marketing AI Institute. We regularly publish actionable advice on how to accelerate your career using AI. Our subscribers get this advice first.

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