In the past few months you’ve probably seen a “top marketing trends for 2018” list. No matter which list you read, you invariably saw some combination of the words, “AI”, “machine learning”, and/or “chatbots.” These innovations are becoming so prevalent that you can’t throw a rock at a marketing conference without hitting someone talking about predictive analytics engines or a “true” omnichannel approach – two of the many buzzwords that are underpinned by machine learning. AI has become commonplace in leading marketing teams who are leveraging it to inform and enrich their customer relationships, to make their workflows more seamless and optimized, their attribution more granular and predictive and their ad targeting more…creepy?
Customer experience vs. marketing efficiency
We’ve all seen an advertisement that was almost too well targeted at you, at a time that was almost too perfect and gave you an eerie sense that someone - or something- was listening to you. Perhaps you’ve visited a company’s website, navigated away from it, and a few minutes later received an email from that company asking why you left the site. Or maybe you’ve started chatting with a chatbot, only to try and find glitches in its NLP to make it say funny things. More and more, marketers are leveraging these technologies to better understand and convert prospects in order to lower human capital costs and create more personalized experiences at scale. For that reason, we're going to leave machine-assisted optimization out of this conversation since it's numbers driven and not about direct digital interactions.
To be pithy about what AI means for sales and marketing: We are using robots to better understand and connect with humans. And if you believe the hype, 85% of all customer interactions will be with a robot within 2 years. We’ve seen this in the movies, but in the real world, marketers are coming up on a real-life decision between customer experience and marketing efficiency.
Before we go any further, let’s make it clear that AI and machine learning are crucial technologies that will fundamentally transform our global economy and the marketing function is no exception. Human capital is expensive, and really smart human capital is really expensive, so it makes sense to augment our teams with the best technologies. Not only is there tremendous upside for well-crafted AI interactions, but there are already significant consumer expectations for it. 48% of US consumers expect brands to know about them and to help them discover new products and services. Intelligent targeting and ad optimization are amazing and have led me to purchase several things I never knew existed.
With a wealth of marketing opportunities comes a glut of pitfalls. Consequences from poorly managed machine interactions that could be damaging for your customer experience and your entire brand. With an outsize focus on making artificial intelligence work for marketers, it’s imperative that we don’t lose sight of what will really be driving conversions and closing business for your company: their (human) employees.
Brand authenticity and human connections
For marketers, the trend might be in AI, but the future is in making human connections more powerful. To that end, technology that helps us create better human-to-human connections is where marketers should be focusing. Creating customized content, scalable advocacy, and more powerful networking and sharing capabilities, just to name a few. Making your brand feel more human in the age of AI is more important than it has ever been.
Because if you’re reading this right now there are better-than-blackjack odds that your customers already don’t trust your brand. 54% of people simply don’t trust brands – and injecting artificiality into your brand certainly won’t help matters. Compare that to companies that are focused on creating custom content for their customers (only 22% of their consumers distrust them). Put another way, brands that are less trustworthy are also brands that are less human.
There are many content marketers reading this right now saying, “hey, I use AI to make my custom content experiences scalable!” and to them I say, “enjoy it while it lasts.” As consumers adapt to custom experiences, their expectations will quickly become unreasonable again. As technology advances, so too do our expectations, leaving marketers on the same treadmill of creating great customer experiences.
So what’s the answer? It has to be human. If your company isn’t actively trying to involve its humans in its brand strategy, it’s not only less likely to be trusted, but it’s leaving money on the table. People (especially millennials) prefer to interact with other people, not with brands. As shocking as it may sound, even digital natives prefer to pick up the phone to talk to a human at a business rather than interact with the business digitally. In fact, only 1% of those screen-obsessed millennials would prefer to deal with a brand over social media than in person. Add the fact that marketing messages reach 561% more people when they’re shared by humans than by brands and it’s pretty clear that, for marketers, the future is human.
Finding the right balance
As you’re making investments in this new wave of marketing technology, remember to keep things human, but more importantly – don’t try and fool people into thinking your robot is a human. We’re getting close to living in Blade Runner, but we’re not quite there yet. Chatbots, right-time communications, recommendation engines and the like are all transparently programmed. If you intelligently leverage AI, it can help you create great experiences. If you rely on them too heavily, they’ll make your brand feel as artificial as they are.
We put out this infographic a while ago, but it’s a good reminder that the main driver of your business isn’t Slack or your Facebook strategy – it’s simply email. Zapier recently published research that revealed an interesting trend: While team chat platforms like Slack have had a meteoric rise, email continues to grow at an even faster rate.
The reign of real, one-to-one communication appears to be aeonian. We should keep this top of mind as we embrace all of the fun and efficiency AI has to offer for our marketing programs.