AI and the Future of Marketing

Joel Davis, CEO and Co-founder of Mighty Social –  looks at what AI offers marketers today and where the technology could take them tomorrow

Marketing has reached a tipping point This year businesses and brands will spend more on digital advertising than traditional forms. Total digital ad spending in 2017 will equal $77.37 billion, or 38.4% of total ad spending, while TV ad spending will total $72.01 billion, or 35.8% of total media ad spending, according to eMarketer. The fastest growing component of internet ad spend will be social media, which will grow at an average rate of 20% a year globally to 2019 when it will hit $55 billion, according to Zenith.

So although programmatic advertising on digital media sites has long been heralded the future, the smart businesses are looking to social. And together with artificial intelligence (AI) it appears set to transform how companies connect with their target markets.

The distinction between social and digital media has become increasingly blurred with more and more websites incorporating social elements. What started out with blogs and Twitter feeds has moved on to include social functions such as linking, sharing and commenting to drive interactivity. Now more and more companies are integrating social logins, such as Facebook.

The result of this is an explosion of data being collected about consumers. Not just behavioural information on their site activity, but granular detail around who they are, where they are from, and their preferences (from movies and music to holiday destinations and more).

However, the amount of data accumulated has been so large that, until recently, it has not been possible to use it to drive accurate advertising performance. Those who have used the growing number of tools that are now out there to tap into this social data have found that it doesn’t only establish a customer’s profile, but can also help to better identify purchase intent – gold dust for marketers. Critically, AI is key to uncovering this insight, and we are only scratching the surface of its potential.

We’re currently at the first level of AI, where data and algorithms can be used to set rules to decide how to apply customer data, such as collecting social data on consumers who share a company’s brand values. This can then be combined with those who are looking to buy a particular product or service, gauged through their social activity, such as those looking to renovate or move homes, in order to target people with a likely intent to buy a company’s products. This technique was recently used by the Social Insight Engine to power a Facebook Paid Media campaign for a blinds manufacturer that achieved an impressive ROI of up to £13 for every £1 spent.

Arguably more significantly this drove value across different key aspects of the business – recruitment, brand image, brand awareness, conversion and offline events – and at a time when other media channels being used by the company were declining in performance. The results changed the company’s approach to marketing and advertising.

Another AI-driven marketing tool that is rapidly growing in popularity is the automated computer programme, best known as the bot. A chatbot uses AI to ‘talk’ with customers, and one way in which bots are being used currently is to predict the success and popularity of social media posts.

The New York Times used Blossom, an intelligent bot within the messaging app Slack, to predict how articles or blogposts will do on social. Facebook posts recommended by Blossom on average have been getting 120% more clicks than non Blossom-powered posts. Bots are now becoming so popular that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella claimed that ‘bots are the new apps’.

However the real future of transformational marketing lies in the second level of AI. This includes machine learning, where computers learn through trial and error to work out the next step to take, and deep learning, in which programmes mimic the human brain allowing scenarios to be intelligently mapped out and the most appropriate one chosen. This will lead to quicker, smarter data processing. It will also deliver huge strides in image recognition, which could result in tools that can read people’s facial expressions and identify if they are in right frame of mind to make a purchase.

Social channel Pinterest already uses object recognition to identify which products appear in pins that are liked, pinned or re-pinned by users. It then uses this technology to boost pins and recommend relevant pins and advertisements to individual users.

It’s vital for businesses and brands to remodel their marketing and advertising towards AI-powered social strategies. This will enable them to make the most of the growing amounts of valuable social customer data that can be mined to drive more accurately targeted and ultimately better performing campaigns. Embracing the first level of AI now also means brands will be primed to make the most of the next stage and take their marketing to new heights.