CMOs: This is the Year to Focus on Artificial Intelligence

January 19, 2017 Frank Grillo

execs focus on artificial intelligene

We all know by now that consumers are in the driver’s seat when it comes to marketing and the customer experience in 2017. To meet their ever-increasing expectations, we’ll need to get to know them at a deeper level than ever before and speak to them more contextually than we’ve dreamed possible.

I’ve put forth that in 2017, we will be challenged to completely rethink some of our long-held beliefs and restructure ingrained processes to cater to each individual, in the moment. We’ve established the need to think beyond one-to-one marketing, focus on the small data and provide return on attention (ROA).

The final key element that I believe needs our attention in 2017 is artificial intelligence.

Make the Move from Manual to Automatic with AI

Artificial intelligence is going to be hugely important in this process of getting to know our customers and speaking to them contextually. It will bring a whole new level of insight that we don’t have right now.

When we think about driving context with our customers, there is an infinite number of variables to consider. Currently, we have to test our own theories as to what is working and what is not. This is limited because we have to come up with and ask the questions in the first place. AI will help us to continually refine our data and our messaging by making our understanding of what’s working and why it’s working easier to uncover.

An AI engine can identify positive or negative trends or anomalies that we should pay attention to, give us the potential variables to test, and test them for us. Given behavioral patterns, an AI engine will start doing A-Z testing on its own. If you come up with some rule sets and let the engine apply and learn from them, you can get to a magical place. With an AI engine watching every set of conversations, watching everything that works and doesn’t work in those conversations, and applying the most appropriate content given the context, we can get as close as possible to personalized dialog with each individual in each moment.

This is crawl, walk, run. 2017 is the time to begin learning about artificial intelligence and planning for how your organization can integrate it beyond the simple efficiency efforts and process improvements it is currently used for.

What the Future Looks Like

Let’s bring this back to my shoe story.

If the retailer I had visited online had implemented the practices in this series of articles (think beyond one-to-one, look at the small data, provide ROA, use AI), my experience would have looked completely different.

When I visited the website and browsed for shoes, I may have received a single follow-up email reminding me about them (and possibly some similar shoes or complimentary items). If I didn’t interact with the email or visit again, the retailer would have read my digital cues that indicated I was only browsing and stopped contacting me. This would be the equivalent of picking up the shoes once in the store, declining to try them on, then leaving. Clearly, I’m not ready to buy.

On the other hand, if I visited the site multiple times and opened and clicked on the emails they sent me, I would expect a different response. This would be the equivalent of visiting the physical store and repeatedly picking up the same shoes over the course of half an hour. Or perhaps I return to the store on several occasions to look at the same shoes. In either instance, I would expect a salesperson to approach me again and ask if I am ready to try the shoes on. Similarly, I would expect to receive multiple, relevant communications from the retailer if I was actively engaged online.

Perhaps the salesperson in this story would also notice that I am dressed in business attire during my visit and tailor his recommendations to additional professional attire. Or he may notice that my young daughter is with me and that Easter is coming up and offer to show us some dress shoes for her Easter outfit. He may even notice the Runner’s World magazine peeking out of my bag and offer to show me the latest barefoot running shoes they just got in. All of these human cues are possible to distinguish and act on online, too—with the right in-the-moment data and the correct content and technology.

To be really good at this is not something and of us do overnight. It’s something we will build and then build on. And I’m more than excited to dive in head first in 2017.

About the Author

Frank Grillo

Frank Grillo, CMO, brings creativity and an emphasis on customer centricity to the Harte Hanks brand. With more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience, Frank has helped many brands expand and transition their marketing strategies through periods of significant change, innovation and disruption in the marketplace. He is laser-focused on two of our clients’ critical needs—defining solutions for digital and data, and raising the Harte Hanks profile with external audiences like media, analysts and investors.

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