What comes to mind when you think of a door-to-door salesman? Or, a car salesman? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that terms like “phony” or “artificial” come to mind.

Now contrast that with something as basic as your Netflix or Amazon subscription. The words phony and artificial probably aren’t on your radar when a movie or product suggestion pops up on your phone or computer, right? In fact, it’s quite the opposite. As consumers, we generally trust that these accounts, curated with information about us, are actually fairly well qualified to make recommendations and influence our media consumption and purchasing decisions.

Netflix and Amazon recommendations are one of the most basic examples of the use of artificial intelligence (aka machine learning) in marketing.

If you attended Inbound 2016 in November or read any news from the conference, then you know that AI was a major theme as a marketing game changer.

Expands Marketers Horizons

HubSpot generally defines AI as an area of computer science that makes machines do things that would require intelligence if done by a human. This includes tasks like learning, seeing, talking, socializing, reasoning, or problem solving. And while AI is still a fairly new concept to business and marketing, it can actually be traced back to the 1950s when computer scientist Alan Turing developed the Turing Test to compare a computer’s ability to learn as compared to that of a human child’s.

Even Turing, who predicted that by 2000 computers would be able to fool 30% of human judges, probably couldn’t have fathomed the ingenuity of the likes of a Bill Gates, Elon Musk, or Stephen Hawking — who are just a handful of the brilliant minds currently driving AI forward.

Earlier this month, Hawking and Musk endorsed a set of 23 principles designed to ensure that thinking machines don’t run amok and act in the best interest of humans. (Hmmm, sounds a bit like the three laws in I, Robot, right?) Whether or not you believe the Hollywood tales of the subversive potential of AIs like VIKI or HAL is a topic for another blog. Still, the brightest minds have told us that it’s not a matter of if AI will reach human intelligence levels, but when.

So if all of the buzz around this topic has left you wondering whether AI is something to be feared or embraced in inbound marketing, I would pose the following question: What if AI could actually make your marketing efforts LESS artificial and MORE intelligent?

Early indications, as evidenced by the simple examples of Netflix and Amazon, indicate that AI can do precisely that. Besides recommendations and content curation, marketers are reaping the benefits of AI in areas including:

  • predictive customer service
  • language and speech recognition
  • ad targeting
  • customer segmentation
  • dynamic price optimization
  • website design

Marketers are even seeing the potential of AI in basic content generation with platforms like Wordsmith, which automatically generate articles from data sets such as financial reports.

Improves the Conversation

If inbound marketing is in fact a conversation between brand and customer, then we stand to benefit from AI’s ability to help us improve that conversation. AI has the potential to eliminate many of the mundane tasks of the marketing funnel, thus allowing brands to extract knowledge from data in order to focus on the creative storytelling that connects them with their audiences. By automating some of the smaller tasks, marketers can spend more time looking into the human element of patterns and behavior, and adjusting their messages accordingly.

AI has the potential to eliminate many of the mundane tasks of the marketing funnel, thus allowing brands to extract knowledge from data in order to focus on the creative storytelling that connects them with their audiences. CLICK TO TWEET

For example, the potential of AI in persona development is something that’s currently getting a lot of attention, largely thanks to IBM’s launch of Watson. IBM describes Watson as cognitive technology that can think like a human by analyzing and interpreting data, including unstructured text, images, audio and video.

Through its understanding of a user’s personality, tone and emotion, Watson provides personalized recommendations. It also has the potential to help brands grow the SME within apps and systems, according to IBM, and through the creation of chat bots with which users can engage in dialogue.

Makes Content More Personal

A number of brands are capitalizing on this AI tech, including Under Armour. UA is combining customer data from its Record app (which tracks and analyzes fitness activity) with third-party data on fitness and nutrition to deliver relevant and personalized training and lifestyle advice based on that aggregated information.

IBM gives the following example: “A 32-year-old woman who is training for a 5km race could use the app to create a personalized training and meal plan based on her size, goals, lifestyle. The app could map routes near her home/office, taking into account the weather and time of day. It can watch what she eats and offer suggestions on how to improve her diet to improve performance.”

Pretty cool stuff, indeed.

We’re still in the early stages of AI in marketing, but this will be an ever-evolving marketing element that will offer up new opportunities as fast as we come up with ideas to maximize their potential.

Done right, AI will help marketers personalize their brands with increasing complexity and change the way they do business.

To help us navigate the path, Paul Roetzer, CEO of PR 20/20 and author of The Marketing Performance Blueprint has developed the Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute (MAII). We encourage you to check it out.

If you’d like to learn more about how Inbound Marketing with automation and SMART Content can help improve your marketing efforts: