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How AI Is Changing Digital Marketing

Sean Cotton
Sean Cotton

Top-performing companies are heavily focused on moving faster, lowering costs and predicting trends. Artificial intelligence makes all of these things possible.

  • Advances in artificial intelligence are changing the way we work, and digital marketing is no exception to the industries AI will impact significantly.
  • As AI takes up more and more space in the digital marketing sphere, marketers that push it to the side could seem out of touch when trying to reach their audiences.
  • Marketers can integrate AI in their digital initiatives and achieve lasting results in three ways

The transformative power of artificial intelligence is finally starting to reveal itself as organizations in nearly every industry seek to maximize the value of their data. The marketing and advertising space is no exception. In fact, this space is at the forefront of AI implementation: No less than 80% of the digital media market will be using some kind of AI-powered technologies this year.

That number may seem large already, but it's only going to grow. Many marketers may feel that they are losing control as AI is implemented with their campaigns and be inclined to rely on their own intuition over allowing algorithms to optimize their media. As technology evolves and gives advertisers the means to collect, store, and analyze an ever-increasing amount of customer data, attempting to reach customers without the help of AI will be a recipe for failure.

That being said, AI should not be used as a "set it and forget it" mechanism for marketing. Unique insight on the target audiences, in-depth knowledge of a client's business, and marketing talent provide the guardrails that keep AI-driven digital marketing campaigns on track. Active monitoring and optimization of media should then focus on ensuring quality and that the campaigns are delivering on marketing and business goals.

The difference lies in performance

There's one reason above all others for the explosive growth of AI in digital marketing: performance. When AI-powered technologies are effectively implemented within digital campaigns, they enhance creative impact, allow for more accurate audience targeting, make tactic optimization easier, and ultimately boost conversions, but that's not all.

In the recent past (and even today), large-scale digital campaigns would be deployed using enterprise-level campaign-management tools that allowed marketers to place a huge number of ads across a wide range of networks. The only challenge was that optimization of these placements still had to be made manually.

Add AI to the mix, and marketing programs can essentially run themselves, making optimizations in real time and unlocking efficiencies to drive campaign costs down. Just as a rising tide raises all ships, the effective use of AI in digital marketing improves every aspect of a campaign.

Some specific campaign optimizations that are particularly impacted by AI include attaining the most efficient cost per mille and cost per acquisition, delivering media proportionately throughout the sales funnel, and allocating budget wisely among tactics.

Widening technology gaps

It's not just campaign managers and media professionals who are benefiting from AI in digital marketing. The entire marketing ecosystem is becoming more data-driven, creating a need for sophisticated analytics tools in every department. Unsurprisingly, nearly one-third of marketing, creative and IT teams around the world are planning to make investments in AI technologies.

Of course, some companies have been slower to adapt than others. There will inevitably be challenges for those looking to play catch-up, the largest being a scarcity of expertise. As more companies allocate higher percentages of their marketing budgets to AI adoption, it's placing a larger strain on the labor market.

Last year, more than half of U.S. companies expanded their staff of data scientists, and almost as many created entirely new roles to support the management of AI solutions. Companies that want to follow suit must understand the talent implications as they plan an adoption strategy.

This isn't to say that every employee in your organization should be a data scientist. However, as AI plays a larger role in your marketing strategy, it is important to have teams that understand how to harness the data and optimizations that are driven by it.

One key question companies can ask themselves regarding their talent (or potential hires) is this: "Is this individual skilled at analyzing quantitative and qualitative data together?"

Following the leaders

Outside of the marketing world, companies like Amazon, Netflix and Spotify have used AI to completely change customer expectations for brands. The algorithms deployed by these companies to recommend products, movies or music have forced competitors to focus more on anticipating customer needs and transformed commerce in the process.

Media companies like Fox also rely heavily on algorithms. As most marketers know, creating quality content is often time-consuming. These companies use AI to deliver personalized, engaging content at the right time and in the right place. In fact, you've probably read some of it without ever knowing it was produced and distributed by a machine.

How to use AI in digital marketing

The above examples should give marketers and advertisers a good idea of how they, too, can get the most out of AI-powered tools. The top-performing companies are heavily focused on moving faster, lowering costs and predicting trends, and AI makes all of these things possible. With that in mind, here are a few strategies that marketers can use to achieve the same standout results across their digital campaigns.

1. Improve customer journeys.

AI allows marketers to gain unprecedented insights into customer motivations, behaviors and needs. It's also dramatically reducing the level of effort required to analyze this data and put those insights into action.

As you gradually learn more about your audience members (e.g., what creative messaging resonates with them the most), resist the tendency to think you've got it all figured out. Instead, keep asking more questions. The more answers you're able to find, the easier it will be to develop customer journeys that align with audience desires and expectations.

2. Develop more comprehensive media plans.

AI gives marketers the ability to model digital marketing campaigns on real-time signals that come from first-party data and competitive activity rather than time-consuming research, gut feelings or assumptions. This has several implications when it comes to choosing the right media tactics.

For one thing, media planners must expand their perceptions of what digital marketing can do. AI-powered and voice-enabled platforms such as Alexa and Siri, chatbots that are constantly improving the way they communicate with customers, and programs that can build customized webpages for individual customers on the fly – these are just a few examples of how AI is transforming the media landscape.

Media professionals must also think differently about the skills needed to manage AI-powered campaigns effectively. No matter how tech-driven these campaigns become, they will still require human oversight. The humans managing them must have the knowledge and expertise to test theories, garner insights, and deliver results.

3. Generate better leads. 

AI can help companies make sales cycles shorter and more cost-effective by giving teams the ability to zero in on qualified leads. Marketing automation platforms can combine countless demographic, firmographic, and psychographic data points to paint a clear picture of your ideal customer and narrow down prospects by their likelihood of purchasing.

Knowledge is power. AI offers in-flight campaign optimization capabilities that are certainly powerful and easier than ever to act on, but digital marketers who launch campaigns with a very specific audience already in mind have a head start. By constantly updating and reanalyzing the information you collect about your customers, you can ensure that your AI is always getting better at picking them out in a crowd, ultimately leading to significant efficiencies.

The use of AI in digital marketing is widespread, but we could argue that it's still in its nascent stages. That means if you haven't already invested in machine learning tools or a data science department, it's not too late to start. Whether you're outsourcing these capabilities or building them in house, you'll ultimately need them in order to compete in a rapidly changing marketing world.

If you get ahead now, you'll avoid insurmountable barriers later.

Image Credit: Rawpixel / Getty Images
Sean Cotton
Sean Cotton Member
Sean Cotton is the president and co-founder of Coegi, an all-in-one premium marketing partner for media professionals seeking a streamlined way to leverage programmatic and social solutions. Coegi enables marketers to become digital heroes among co-workers and clients by empowering them with best-in-class strategies, technologies, and expertise through simplified partnerships. Sean is a veteran digital marketing practitioner, industry thought leader, and 2017 winner of iMedia’s Industry Luminary award. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Missouri, where he teaches interactive and programmatic techniques to the next generation of marketers.