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10 things marketers need to know about AI

James A. Martin | Feb. 24, 2017
AI-enabled marketing isn't just about cute chatbots. Here's what CMOs, CIOs and others need to know to make the most of AI in their marketing initiatives in 2017 and beyond.

5. Marketers have mixed feelings about AI

Eighty percent of marketing executives believe AI will revolutionize marketing by 2020, according to a Demandbase and Wakefield Research survey of 500 business-to-business marketers published in December. But just 26 percent are highly confident they understand how AI is actually used in marketing, and only 10 percent say that they are using AI in their marketing programs.

What could explain that low level of adoption?

"AI in marketing is confusing and often speculative and overhyped," says Gartner Vice President Andrew Frank.

6. Chatbots don't always click with consumers

For all the enthusiasm for AI in the marketing community, the consumer segment seems less exuberant. A recent study from the marketing firm Boxever highlights that gap.

In that survey, 79 percent of marketers said they believe consumers are ready for AI and are either "excited or very excited" about chatbots. On the other hand, nearly 50 percent of consumers say they're "very unexcited or somewhat unexcited about chatbots." Why the disconnect?

"Marketers are attending conferences, hearing pitches from vendors about AI in tangible, practical terms that apply to their work," says John Callan, Boxever's vice president of marketing. "They understand that machine learning algorithms can better resolve customer identity, aid decisions, and help you decide which offer should be delivered to which consumer based on behaviors, historical interactions with the brand, and so on."

Consumers, on the other hand, still have "fantastical sci-fi" visions of AI, often in the form of movie robots and self-driving cars, Callan adds.

While not all marketers are fully conversant about and comfortable with AI, Callan notes, they might not have to be. "Over the new few years, you'll see more people who aren't particularly tech-savvy using tools that are extremely powerful under the hood," he explains.

7. CMOs face challenges in adopting AI

The Demandbase/Wakefield Research study helps quantify some of the concerns that markets have about rolling out AI technology. In that survey, 60 percent of marketers polled said that they worry about integrating AI into their existing technology stack. Large portions of respondents also cited concerns over training employees (54 percent) and the difficulty of interpreting results (46 percent).

Frank, the Gartner analyst, also suggests that the automated technology could be seen as a threat to well-established roles within an organization.

"I think the biggest challenges CMOs and CIOs will face in adopting AI in their digital marketing efforts is grappling with loss of control," Frank says.

"Both roles are accustomed to exercising authority over activities in their respective domains -- in the CMO's case to protect the brand, and in the CIO's to enable smooth operations," he adds. "Both roles understand intuitively that whatever tricks an AI can manage, machines are still nowhere near possessing a human-like understanding of the subtleties of communication. So both roles have good reason to be suspicious of autonomous AI applications, especially where customer interactions are concerned. Getting comfortable with these systems will be a big challenge."


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