Sometimes we over-complicate AI, thinking it’s too high-tech and futuristic for us to use in our everyday work.

But AI is not the future, it’s the present. In fact, it’s yesterday! Let’s not consider it an unattainable technology, because sometimes AI is so simple that we don’t even realise we’re using it.

AI in marketing is here right now. Results from our latest State of Marketing research report show the highest-performing marketers are 9.7 times more likely than underperformers to be completely satisfied with their ability to personalise omni-channel experiences at scale. Twenty-six per cent of marketers in Hong Kong use AI, and 79 per cent say personalisation improves their overall marketing program – compared to 82 per cent globally. That is what AI in marketing is all about.

“Sometimes AI is so simple that we don’t even realise we’re using it.”

So how is AI used within marketing departments, in a practical sense? It’s not so much about what a marketer does when they come to work – at least I don’t think that should be the focus of how a business utilises AI. Instead, it should be about how the brand relates to its customers. How is the marketer using data and technology to ensure that their brand and their products become more customer-centric?

AI predicts customers’ needs

You know that AI is at work in an organisation when, at any scale, meeting customer expectations of personalised, customised and perfectly timed communications is seen as table stakes – the very least a marketing organisation can deliver.

AI, used well, is not just about personalisation and it’s not just about scale. AI is about boosting the speed of insights and therefore communicating with customers in real time, and in a predictive manner. Gone are the days where we have to spend a week crunching data to figure out what the customer wants.

“Gone are the days where we have to spend a week crunching data to figure out what the customer wants.”

In that AI-enabled organisation, customers are surprised and delighted by what they didn’t yet know they wanted or needed – their future needs are predicted and preempted. The State of Marketing report found that customers are expecting an online and offline convergence of information to help the brand predict their needs. So if I walk into a telco store, I would expect that they know what happened last time I corresponded with them on any channel. I would expect that information to influence the in-store interaction and for the current interaction to influence the next one. If that doesn’t happen, I don’t feel that the telco knows who I am, so it’s not a good customer experience.

When a business utilises AI to manage its data in such a way, it can then begin to operate in a predictive way. Rather than talking about ‘data’, instead think about ‘signals’. Certain interactions with the brand on certain channels can be understood to be the equivalent of the customer raising their hand. They’re ready to be interacted with. Your brand is at the top of their mind, and what better time to react to that signal and make an interaction happen?

AI: Predict your individual customers’ needs

A great example of using signals is Ticketmaster. Whether the customer is a teenage girl or an elderly man, Ticketmaster has realised that demographic no longer means anything. After all, a teenage girl might go to an opera or an elderly man might take his granddaughter to a Taylor Swift concert.

Ticketmaster uses AI to get to know each individual personally. This changes the nature, tone, timing and content of any future interaction. It means future interactions can be predictive, telling a customer about upcoming concerts they’ll be interested in, for example.

“Ticketmaster uses AI to get to know each individual personally”

They are delivering one-to-one messages at scale. It means customers get exactly what they want, according to all of their specific nuances and as a result of the signals they’ve given in the past.

AI and privacy

The big question that comes out of this, of course, is whether AI then begins to overstep the mark in terms of privacy. In Hong Kong, 32% of marketers feel challenged to balance personalisation with privacy.

But ultimately, technology should aid governance, not hinder it.

When the EU General Data Protection Regulation came into play, for instance, our customers asked how they could use our technology to enforce the rules. They didn’t panic and consider that the AI technology was going to make them non-compliant.

AI is a technology-driven tool. As with any technology, we need to ensure there is a human layer that puts in place the right type of governance. A third of marketers in Hong Kong report that they go beyond regulations and industry standards to protect and respect customer privacy and rights. Technology helps to enforce the way that we respect our customers’ privacy and data, while bringing customers the type of personal relationship they have come to expect from great brands.

Find out how top-performing marketers globally and across Asia are using AI, download the State of Marketing report

About the Author

Jess O’Reilly is the Regional Vice President, Salesforce Marketing Cloud Asia, which is a member of the Which-50 Digital INtelligence UNit. Members provide their insights and expertise for the benefit of our readers. Membership fees apply.

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