IBM dishes on the ins and outs of A.I. marketing

More than three in four marketing execs say A.I. will revolutionize the industry by 2020.

From targeted digital ads and chatbots to voice assistants and Amazon’s impending home robot. Artificial intelligence has surfaced in a wide range of ways and as it continues to evolve, it will transform both marketers and their agencies, says IBM’s Jay Henderson.

"I tend to think of artificial intelligence around two lines," said Henderson, director of Watson Marketing at IBM. "Marketers are going to be able to infuse A.I.-technology to create more personalized, informed interactions with customers and it will help companies work smarter and be more efficient and effective with their efforts."

According to a recent report from eMarketer, 80 percent of b-to-b marketing executives believe that A.I. is going to revolutionize the marketing industry in the next two years. The report, called "Artificial Intelligence for Marketers 2018: Finding Value Behind the Hype," highlights Garner’s prediction of worldwide spending on A.I. technology to grow significantly in the next four years, with an estimated $6 billion in investments this year and $29 billion by 2021.

A.I. isn’t especially new, but Henderson said it’s a special time right now because the technology has been getting into the hands of more casual users rather than only those of data scientists

"The average marketer doesn’t have a PhD in data-mining or statistics, and the answer can’t be for every brand or agency to hire 50 data scientists," said Henderson. "The technology has to get easier to use and exposed in a way that business users can take advantage of it – and that’s what is exciting about what’s happening right now."

With any new technology comes challenges. Brands are dealing with having way too much data and the explosion of digital channels, while consumers expect brands to understand them, but are reluctant to share personal information.

Henderson believes that A.I. will help brands respond to these challenges. On the marketer side, A.I. technologies can help augment what humans do. "Instead of replacing the human, it becomes man and machine working together – it’s a trusted advisor to the human," he said. It can also eliminate low-value tasks from an employee’s duties, allowing him or her to focus on more high-level responsibilities.

When it comes to privacy issues, Henderson said people get upset when there isn’t transparency about what happens with the information they share with a brand. In the case of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal, information was collected and then shared more broadly without consent.

"One of the most important things brands can focus on and be transparent about is value exchange," said Henderson. "Consumers are often more than willing to share information with you as long and they feel they’re getting value in return."

Henderson said we’re seeing A.I. technologies being used today in a variety of ways. There are the A.I.-powered chatbots, like the one from 1-800 Flowers, which provides gift advice based on a few simple questions, and then the more subtle integrations, such as personalized ads or emails sent to consumers based on their interests. And, of course, there are personal assistants like Siri, Google Home and Alexa.

With Amazon already working on a home robot, West World’s futuristic amusement may only be a few steps away.