Here are the top four advertising/marketing AI tech startups, as agreed on by CB Insights and Fortune magazine.
This column is jumping the gun a bit, I admit it. But in the last two weeks people have started sending me links to stories about the crazy near future that are, like, totally blowing their minds, man. First, everyone is writing about the rise of artificial intelligence. Then there are "one step beyond" stories, like Bill Gates talking about taxing robots and using the proceeds to support the people they've thrown out of work, or Elon Musk's "neural lace" startup (which has catapulted into the popular press speculation about smartphones evolving hard-wired connections to your brain).
March was a milestone month for artificial intelligence M&A. There were a cool dozen deals in March 2017, roughly double last year's monthly average. But this month's big milestone was the first deal for AI technology to top $1 billion: Intel acquired Mobileye, a maker of machine-learning-infused autonomous driving systems, for a breathtaking $15.3 billion.
Earlier this month, I co-moderated a roundtable with about a dozen prominent marketers and influencers from the Bay Area to discuss how AI is fitting into their plans. While AI is still in the early stages of deployment for most of these marketers, it is high on their agendas, and they are actively figuring out their next steps.
For the latest/greatest marketing technology -- and, more to the point, still-emerging machine-learning capabilities -- to really create awesome value, marketers must connect it to brands' emotional roots. Only by combining technology with core insights about the emotions motivating human behavior can we genuinely touch hearts and minds -- and thereby influence behavior.
Of course, better brands already think carefully about their raison d'etre, their Purpose (with a capital P) and related core values, and they act mindfully to imbue that Purpose and those values into all aspects of their operations - with marketing, advertising and customer interaction rising to the top of the list, not necessarily in that order. But the supersonic train freighting artificial intelligence and machine learning down the line suggests the rest of us are going to have to move a lot faster, and more authentically.
While I came across only six artificial intelligence/machine learning acquisitions last month, at least half of them should be of keen interest to marketers and media moguls. And if you're still on the fence about how big a deal artificial intelligence is, check out this list of February buyers (in alpha order): Apple, Baidu, Conde Nast, Ford, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Meltwater Group, the media analytics firm.
Narrative.io is a tiny, not-exactly-stealth start-up that could play a possibly large role in the future of AI by arranging access to the data that is all-important to making AI effective.
For brand marketers looking for ways to engage more deeply with customers, conversational marketing is near the top of the list of options to consider. There are a number of AI-based technologies that make natural language interactions at scale possible without adding bodies to the equation.
Everyone who cares about artificial intelligence and machine learning in marketing is no doubt aware of the big players' recent acquisitions. Seeing how Google and Facebook create magic via AI technologies, all the usual suspects are using M&A to catch up. Ultimately, marketers will find many companies competing to provide the magic.