Like my peers, as a longtime CMO, I’ve learned to deal with rapid technology change.  But, each new technology can create fear, uncertainty and doubt until we understand it better.  No doubt, AI, with all its hype and science fiction legacy, fits this bill.  But to remain current and relevant, CMOs must quickly understand and begin to apply AI.  To help, from one CMO to another, here’s a short AI CMO Primer.

Can I put off AI until tomorrow, next month, next year?

The answer is no, no, and no. AI is here. Waiting to deal with it risks putting you well behind the curve. As you can see below, leading businesses are already either using AI to great effect or actively planning for it.

• Amazon, the company that wants to eat everyone’s lunch, is already driving a third of its business from a AI-powered function: its recommended purchases.
• In a June 2016 report, Weber Shandwick found that 68% of CMOs report their company is “planning for business in the AI era” with 55% of CMOs expecting AI to have a “greater impact on marketing and communications than social media ever had.”

To wait is to get left behind. Fortunately, getting started doesn’t have to be painful or costly.

What is AI and how does it differ from machine learning, and cognitive intelligence?

Academic experts might hate my explanation, but differentiating between AI, machine learning and cognitive intelligence from a practical CMO perspective isn’t necessary. I use AI as an umbrella term that refers to software that carries out a task that normally requires human intuition, including learning and problem solving.

AI can be thought of as a set of repeatable steps, and so while AI doesn’t technically replicate free-will and decision making, it does map out these steps and uses computer processing speed to make its way through them to come to an outcome. And it often can do this much faster while considering far more relevant data than a human might.

Why is AI ready for marketing now?  How can AI be applied to marketing?

AI has the potential to revolutionize engagement, customer service, and automation. It can enhance the way we communication with new, current, and past customers, and automate admin functions in the backend. In other words, it can help make marketing more efficient and effective.

AI can far more accurately predict next best interaction, by churning through (in seconds) all relevant data about the customers – purchases, interactions, social media posts, email exchanges and then learn from the results and do it on a scale not possible previously.

For example, let’s say you have a few million customers and want to communicate with them as if you know them very well, and offer them something of value – specifically to them.  AI can enable that level of personalization at a scale of millions and in near real time.

In short, AI can save marketers time and bring companies far closer to our customers.

Do I need to become an AI expert?

The short answer is no.  AI systems shouldn’t require you to become a mathematician. With good AI systems, you’ll be able to focus on the results not the process of churning through of thousands, millions or trillions of data points and arriving at the insights you need.

How much will it cost?

Surprisingly, AI systems can reduce costs and eliminate waste.  AI systems can significantly reduce the number of data engineers and data scientists required today to prep data and create insights. I’ve seen AI projects deployed within weeks with yearly costs less than that of a single data scientist.

And AI can take wasted effort out of the system by providing a deeper understanding of what your customers want and how to interact with them effectively.

How do I get started?

First, start exploring today. Read, talk to other CMOs and marketing technologists), and evaluate first hand – select a contained, but impactful area. A subset of your customer loyalty system could make a great initial project. Loyal customers should be the life blood of your company, but often are underserved, because it’s so difficult to pull together and analyze all relevant data in a timely manner. This is a perfect fit for AI, as compared to prospects, there’s typically a lot more known data for AI to analyze. And it’s a project where you can start seeing high-impact results in weeks.

Summary

AI is unavoidable and should be desirable. Its critical to research and experience it first-hand. And the results might surprise you. Unlike other systems that can take months and cause havoc (e.g. CRM systems), working with ZyloTech, I’ve seen companies deploy AI in a matter of weeks, without needing technical expertise, and experience eye-opening results.


Jeff Whitney is a marketing partner in TechCXO’s Boston office.  View his full bio here.