The writing is on the wall.

Marketers at all levels, in any discipline and industry, need to understand AI. Artificial intelligence is about to transform and disrupt marketing as we know it.

Why?

Because your upcoming strategic initiatives will increasingly involve AI and related technologies. In fact, they might already.

That’s a bold prediction I know and an easy one to make but I’m confident of this for several reasons.

1. AI investment is exploding.

The AI space is flush with money. There has been a 4.6X rise in deals to AI startups since 2012, reports CB Insights. In that time, equity funding of almost $15 billion has flowed into AI companies. In Q1 2017, 48% of deals were seed or angel deals, which indicates large numbers of new firms entering AI.

CMO’s around the globe are widely trying to figure out how it fits into their 2018 strategies. And they don’t want to get left behind by competitors who grasp AI faster.

Alphabet (Google’s parent), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, IBM and Microsoft are investing huge sums to develop their AI capabilities, as are their counterparts in China which is an indicator and driver of this trend as powerful as these technology galacticos are.

AI’s moment and its general public consciousness is here and unfolding before our eyes. And marketing is one of the top areas where it will make waves in 2018.

2. AI-enabled marketing companies are here.

Marketing is waking up to AI. More than 3,500 marketing leaders say AI is where they see the most growth potential in the next two years, says Salesforce.  We’re seeing more companies launch marketing AI tools or expand the use of AI in current offerings.

This reflects what happened when AI disrupted finance in the 1980s, as detailed in Scott Patterson’s book The Quants. It started when quants used algorithms to automate trading. The machines did a better job than the humans and the people who built the machines profited. Today, the majority of trades on Wall Street happen thanks to AI.

Healthcare is experiencing a similar moment now, though in a different fashion. X-ray and medical data analysis are being performed by AI systems now.

The jobs of doctors and specialists are being augmented and enhanced by AI. Spectrum is actually assessing use cases here and keeping an eye and a score to which therapy areas and specialities are being challenged by AI and who is winning.

Veeva being the CRM software platform of choice for many pharma companies could be a great long-term artificial intelligence (AI) hedge. Granted, the company isn’t doing a tremendous amount in AI right now. However, the key to AI is data – and with its growing number of applications and customers, Veeva has more data in its niche market than anyone else. One analyst asked Peter Gassner (Veeva CEO) on the last earnings conference call about the potential for the company to widen its moat over the next three to five years by applying AI to its data. Gassner said the company had plans to do just that.

As Christopher Steiner wrote in Automate This, “Determining the next field to be invaded by bots is the sum of two simple functions: the potential to disrupt plus the reward for disruption.” And the health space has all that!

It’s marketing’s turn. There exists a double incentive for AI companies to disrupt marketing. Marketing can be expensive. Cost-savings without sacrificing performance reflect well on executives. Second is that marketing activities directly impact the bottom line. For many other activities, this isn’t necessarily so pressing, for example, it doesn’t matter whether a human or AI lawyer assesses a contract, as long as it’s accurate. The cost is what matters here. But in marketing, AI has the potential to both reduce cost and improve ROI.

This makes marketing especially attractive for AI disruption. AI improves standard productivity. But it might also be able to do a better job than some human marketers at producing profit-driving results.

3. Big players in pharma marketing and sales category are becoming AI-first companies.

Pharma is already turning to AI to help revolutionise their R&D process and it won’t be long before the use of AI in how they market these developed molecules plays a part all the way through the marketing franchise.

Major marketing and sales companies are exhibiting this shift. Adobe Marketing Cloud introduction of Adobe Sensei has positioned itself as an AI player. Focusing on using AI to drive personalisation of content, this technology will begin to absorb itself into some of the uses of Adobe Campaign, Adobe Target and other in the pharma adopted marketing suite.

Salesforce is another major AI player. The company is baking its Einstein AI into every part of its existing product, and considering that Veeva is built on a Salesforce platform there’s a good chance that your marketing automation or CRM platform has AI or plans for AI in 2018 as alluded to by Veeva CEO

So, this begs the question:

Why should marketers care? AI will become widely available in existing platforms and new, accessible tools. Isn’t that enough? Why do marketers need to spend time and energy really understanding AI? Won’t the machines just help us do our jobs better?

Yes, they will. To start. But marketers need to understand AI because, if they don’t, AI could start doing their jobs next.

Why Marketers Need to Learn AI Now

AI capabilities improve year after year. Today’s marketing AI may simply augment your job, freeing you up to do the tasks only humans can do. That’s great. But next year, AI might be able to do more tasks that only humans can do. The year after, it might be able to do most of what you do today.

How do you create value in the marketing world a few years from now? Chances are, you don’t just do one thing in your organization. You might define strategies, create and promote content, schedule social promotion, and measure performance. You might also run paid and email campaigns, score prospects or drive marketing optimisation.

Now, what if AI can do all that? Where does that leave you?

It’s the future we’re approaching at a headlong pace. And it’s possible, actually, highly probably, future AI-empowered marketing teams can do more with fewer people.

Marketers must evolve to meet the approaching age of AI. They must learn to master the machines, rather than the other way around. And they must use AI to drive performance, rather than sit on the sidelines.

AI champions within organizations will become indispensable. They will guide executives on how to harness this technology for massive gains.

Change is happening fast. But there’s good news.

You don’t need to learn how to program or build AI systems to become knowledgeable. You can start becoming a recognized AI authority in your company by taking these steps:

1. Demystify the bulls**t

Like many of the buzzwords that surround our industry, AI is an easy one to latch onto and band around without a great deal of understanding to what it actually is. Artificial intelligence (AI) is a broad term that refers to the process and result of teaching machines to perform intelligent tasks. “Artificial intelligence,” far from being just a branch of computer science, is an umbrella that covers many different fields and technologies, including machine learning, deep learning and the programming of neural networks. Yes, the topic can be complicated but seek out help to get down to the basics and principles that will help with the knowledge adoption of this for you and your peers. We have run some really useful and simple ‘AI Introduction workshops’ with clients that are wanting help to understand the foundations and a starting point of this a bit more.

2. Start with use cases.

Too many people start out with AI by trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. AI isn’t the right fit for every marketing use case, so don’t try to use tools only because they’re AI. Instead, identify the marketing problems you’re trying to solve in your organization.

What do you struggle with daily? What strategic priorities are important for the next couple quarters? What are your performance goals (New leads? Visits? Higher sales?). What activities take you away from the work you should be doing? Make a list of these. Then begin your research by searching for these terms or problems and including the term “AI.”

3. Begin experimenting.

There are dozens of AI marketing tools you can start testing for free. Start by signing up for trials and demos. There are a lot of hyperbolic claims out there about what AI tools can and can’t do. And they’re not always accurate. You’ll need to do your homework and see for yourself what a company offers and how it can help you achieve those goals. Run a small pilot to prove a hypothesis. This is a great way to test and learn before you commit resource to accelerate here.

4. Talk with people who understand what they’re talking about.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions of solutions providers or your digital agency partners. The marketing AI community is full of people who are passionate about AI’s potential. Most are happy to talk through your questions and use cases, even if you’re not ready to buy anything.

Also, don’t hesitate to contact us here at Nitro DIgital for any of these needs either.

5. See what your current tools have to offer.

There’s a good chance your marketing automation or CRM system incorporates AI in some way or will be soon. Search online for ways your software uses AI. You might also ask your account rep how each tool uses AI or what the company’s AI roadmap looks like.

6. Play around with the AI in your personal life and understand better how it works.

You’re almost certainly already using or benefitting from AI in your personal life. Netflix recommendations use AI and machine learning. So do Amazon product recommendations. Siri or Alexa voice assistants use AI technologies to field and respond to your queries. Google search relies heavily on AI to suggest the best results.

Start researching how these everyday tools do what they do. There are tons of resources out there on popular tech tools and how they use AI. Everyday AI tools give you an accessible way to start understanding the technology.

7. Rely on the right resources.

Like I’ve mentioned, there’s a ton of AI hype out there. Like any popular subject, sensational headlines abound. On any given day, there might be hysteria that AI will turn into killer robots. Or that it will make everyone jobless starting tomorrow.

AI is powerful and transformative. But most headlines and stories on it want you to click, not think.

That doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of quality information available. Sometimes, you just have to dig for it. But find the right information, and you’ll save a ton of time. You’ll also gain a solid grasp of what AI actually can and can’t do. This will help you connect the dots of what’s possible in your own business.

Lastly the phrase ‘Leaders are readers’ is ever so true. There are some great books available on the general AI topic if you want to throw yourself in and get ahead. Here’s a short list of some of our teams recommended favourites;

The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World by Domingos, Pedro (September 1, 2015)

Automate This: How Algorithms Took Over Our Markets, Our Jobs, and the World

Surviving AI: The promise and peril of artificial intelligence