Getting Your Company Ready For AI

When I first started in media and advertising in the ‘90s, the divide between creatives and media buying portrayed in the show Mad Men was still strong.  That divide became a chasm with the advent of interactive media and then programmatic. Roles and departments for technology had to be created and rarely did they interact with the “idea” people. Creatives developed brand stories that were still one size fits all. Now, AI or artificial intelligence, is infiltrating the creative process with huge implications. 

Machine learning, the discipline of AI that addresses marketing needs, promises to bridge that chasm and create marketing that is not only relevant to a shopper’s demographic and purchasing behavior, but visually and tonally appropriate to that person in real time. Mad Men was about the era of mass culture and mass marketing.  In a world of ad avoidance and media fragmentation, AI drives the engine that will revolutionize creative and deliver the ultimate in personalized marketing experiences. 

To get a greater understanding of where the marketing world is in respect to AI, we commissioned IDC to interview nearly 500 marketing executives globally: Can Machines Be Creative. We wanted to know just how much they knew about AI, how it was being implemented in their companies and what immediate priorities were. For the majority, some level of creative optimization is happening now:  87% said that their company currently uses digital technologies to personalize their communications to some extent. Out of those, 34% said that they did it to a great extent.

More than half (58%) said that they were personalizing images and taglines (57%).  An equal number were using personal naming (57%) and formatting (55%). Almost half (49%) were optimizing creative and 46% were personalizing the call to action. The greatest satisfaction in effectiveness was in those personalized calls to action. What’s more telling is that 30% or more of respondents who weren’t doing it now, planned to.

The next step is to employ machine learning, or algorithms that become smarter over time without additional programming, to automate personalization.  Huge amounts of agency time on creating, testing and optimizing can be saved with machine learning. Here, awareness was high: only 17% had no familiarity, while actual implementation was relatively low:  only 14% were using today. Wow. There is huge room for improvement.

Marketers believe that AI can do what creative has always been supposed to do: drive positive brand association and increase sales.

AI and machine learning will also bring about a more efficient world of advertising from both a production stance and shopper satisfaction level.

So what do you need to do now?  A few simple steps:

  1. Educate your staff: Lack of internal expertise may be your biggest impediment to moving forward.  Indeed, it was the top factor holding companies back cited by marketers in the IDC survey. Hold an AI day with vendors present. Circulate educational materials and create incentives for participation. Make sure that all departments participate so that the geeks and creatives together understand where this can be applied.
  2. Break down silos:  AI and machine learning will never work to their fullest potential if data on offline and online shopping activity is separated.  Realize that shoppers are really ‘omni-shopper.’ They use a variety of devices and channels to interact with retailers and brands.  Machine learning will help in the process of parsing disparate data sets and informing creative with that advanced knowledge.
  3. Separate the AI-lite from the real deal:  Just about everyone is claiming some level of AI implementation.  What are the true capabilities of the systems a vendor is offering?  Do they have real world approaches to demonstrate or are they just masters of the jargon.
  4. Test and learn: Set aside 10% of your budget and do A/B tests of campaigns that use machine learning vs. a more traditional approach. Determine the improvement seen in performance and process optimization.

When 2018 draws to a close, we will be in a better and much more creative place with huge efficiencies achieved and a better shopper experience. We just have to make it happen.

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