Harvard Business Review’s ‘The Business of Artificial Intelligence’ points out that over the last 250 years, the fundamental drivers of economic growth have been general purpose technologies, such as the steam engine, electricity, or the internal combustion engine.
In this context, authors Eric Brynnjolfsson and Andrew McAfee define AI or, more specifically, machine learning (ML) as the most important technology of our era.
What is machine learning?
ML relates to a machine’s ability to keep improving its performance without humans having to explain exactly how to accomplish all the tasks it’s given. In other words, machines are now learning from examples rather than being specifically programmed.
It can be likened to superhuman performance and speed in processing information and solving problems while making continual improvements to the outcomes – for example detecting fraud, or diagnosing and even preventing the spread of diseases; issues that currently take years of human processing – ‘simply’ by recognising patterns in data.
ML is already in the mainstream in the form of Siri and Facebook image recognition, however while thousands of companies are in the early-stages of adopting the technology, most of the big opportunities remain nascent.
Against what has typically been a shortage of data scientists (thank you Google/Facebook for the monopoly), what lies ahead looks more promising. AI and ML skills are spreading quickly, with universities now investing in, educating and providing more data scientists and ML specialists than ever before.
In addition, as Google, Amazon, Microsoft and others vie for customers they are competing to make powerful AI infrastructure available via the cloud, so the technology will become increasingly accessible. And in good news for smaller organisations, you may not necessarily need massive data sets to start making productive use of AI to improve business performance in the near future.
Why should marketers care?
But while the bots are well and truly here, they won’t be taking over (just yet). Debunking the theory that we will all be replaced by robots, the Harvard view is that AI does not replace the entire job process or business model, rather it complements human activities, making us more productive.
Think Facebook recognising familiar faces, saving you time spent tagging friends, or online retailers making recommendations based on previous purchases, allowing you to make faster, more accurate decisions.
Add to this Dev Mookerjee’s (APAC Technology Executive IBM Watson) observation:
“The way we interact with each other has dramatically changed in the last decade. The consumer’s expectation of what technology can do and how much information I’m prepared to share about myself has changed. Notions of privacy have been changed and challenged.”
For example, in the context of healthcare, patients actually prefer the anonymity of sharing sensitive information with chatbots, and in the instance of telcos, it can be easier to quickly ask a chatbot “when’s my contract up?” or “how much data do I have left?”.
Smarter content outcomes
So, what are the implications for marketers with improved, faster access to real-time customer information?
There are obvious practical benefits, not least the fact that marketers will no longer have to crunch big data by themselves to make sense of customer behaviours – from customer journeys to keyword campaigns – all our jobs just got a whole lot easier.
In a world where people now expect brands to know what they’re looking for, taking cues from browsing patterns, purchase habits and even colour preferences via data gleaned from multiple platforms will allow us to customise content campaigns around audience intent.
So smarter customer intelligence can only enhance content and communication strategies and, in turn, improve customer experience by driving relevance at scale.
Because there’s often still a gap between what brands want to say, and what their customers would like to hear from them. By making data-led decisions, organisations can target relevant content to niche audience segments, ensuring high engagement and fundamentally, conversions. In other words, they can get better results by giving people what they really want.