Editor’s Intro: Microsoft has been steadily making plays as an insights provider for years: Office is the most used analysis and visualization tool in the world, they launched Pulse a few years back as a qual/quant tool, they have a whole series of cloud-based analytical and visualization tools, and of course through Bing have what is actually the second largest digital ad network in the world. Add to that their utter ubiquity on all things PC and they not only have lots of tools of use to researchers, but logically are looking to expand the uses cases of their tech and others to generate business impact. This piece highlights their thinking on AI and automation from their perspective within their own ecosystem that researchers would do well to pay attention to, as more tech companies start to enter our market.
The buzz about how artificial intelligence (AI) will impact the future of marketing has reached a fever pitch of late. But what will AI’s role in marketing look like, and how can marketers start to prepare now for the future? AI is part of a larger wave of digital transformation that’s impacting businesses and consumers around the globe. This transformation is characterized in three ways.
First, technological interactions are becoming multi-device and multi-sensory experiences. A person’s experience with technology will span a multitude of devices and become increasingly more natural and multi-sensory with voice and facial recognition-based interactions. Second, intelligence will become pervasive across devices with apps and infrastructure to improve business processes and efficiencies especially through intelligent agents who can act on a user’s behalf. And last, AI will enable marketers to reason over their vast amounts of data, turning them into actionable insights to reach new audiences and assist with personalization at scale.
This new technological paradigm in which today’s marketers are operating is shaping a new set of consumer expectations. Consumers have come to view businesses as always-on intelligent entities that are hyper-focused on delighting them throughout their entire decision journey, with search as the growing centerpiece of consumer connection across intelligent apps and agents. As marketers strive to reimagine the customer decision journey in this new era, the following are three ways in which AI will transform the marketing landscape – and how today’s marketers can prepare for these new realities.
Turning Data into Actionable Insights
Advancements in machine learning, predictive analytics and powerful algorithms have enhanced our ability to draw actionable value from data. A smart data strategy is more important than ever, and to remain viable, companies will have to become more adept at creating and sharing data. Investing more in technology and data is wise, since the available data signals are multiplying far faster than our ability to integrate them into a coherent marketing strategy. Marketers will need machine learning to organize and prioritize these inputs. Below are a few examples where AI applications can be leveraged for quick wins in data collection, processing and optimization:
- Turning signals into data, and data into insights. AI allows marketers to understand their customers through more natural and conversational forms of input like text, voice, image, video and gestures. AI can pull data from many sources into coherent, insightful and actionable reports to be used for marketing decision making. Get to real-time insights by using machine learning for advanced analytics, including capabilities such as machine learning, big data storage and processing in the cloud, with the goal of helping customers make better, faster decisions to accelerate their speed of business.
- Reaching new audiences. Marketers can leverage Microsoft’s rich data graph to reach new audiences. The graph includes the world knowledge of 2.5 billion entities in Bing and 148 million users of Cortana, the professional profile knowledge we have over 500 million LinkedIn members and more than 120 million monthly commercial active users of Office 365 and Microsoft Dynamics, and the insights we have gained from more than 1.5 billion Windows users. The graph combined with advertising solutions allows markets to gain new insights on their audiences and to acquire and reach valuable customers. All of this is governed by strict privacy and data usage policy restrictions to ensure user and customer data are protected.
- Delivering personalization at scale. According to Bing Ads and PSFK, 44% of consumers are more likely to shop on a site that offers personalized recommendations. Now and in the future, success will depend on building one-on-one relationships with every customer – and that means sorting through large volumes of data to have a better understanding of your audience. Bing, one of the largest AI applications at Microsoft, is delivering personalization at scale across search results, using data and insights to curate the consumer experience and offering both content and product recommendations. Curating recommendations using machine learning and predictive analytics to eliminate choice fatigue and guide the consumer experience will be increasingly important in the future. Microsoft’s Cognitive Services enable marketers to easily add intelligent features such as emotion and sentiment detection, vision and speech recognition, language understanding, knowledge and search into their apps, devices and platform, including bots.
- Accessibility and intelligent search. AI technology makes more interaction and accessibility possible through search as well. Personalized Intelligent Search across Microsoft 365 allows marketers to search across content and contacts using Microsoft Graphs. By integrating AI into Microsoft Office, search and discovery become part of your everyday work, rather than a separate function. This helps streamline and simplify routine tasks such as finding the right version of a document, getting back to a presentation you were editing, or learning about an unfamiliar topic by locating experts and content. AI technology is helping search in SharePoint become faster, too – with search results now personalized for each user by the Microsoft Graph, which takes insight from the people, sites and documents each user works with and then produces relevant search results. On the accessibility front, Office 365 also offers closed captioning and translation functionality.
In the future, AI will be used to create the face of your brand. Customers are increasingly expecting the brands they interact with to deliver personalized and convenient experiences, if not anticipating what they want and need. A smart consumer engagement strategy is important to connect data to more personalized and engaging experiences. Developing intelligent apps and agents with cognitive services, bots and voice skills allow you to engage more deeply and personally with customers.
AI can help marketers humanize the consumer experience and create more “wow” moments throughout it. Advanced CRM and marketing systems learn a consumer’s behaviours and preferences through repeated interactions to develop a detailed shopper profile that’s used to deliver proactive and personalized outbound marketing, including tailored recommendations, rewards or content. You can also leverage machine learning on top of your CRM system to personalize your marketing touchpoints.
Consumers don’t recognize marketing channels – they recognize your brand and anticipate having a seamless experience regardless of where they are. Seventy-five percent of consumers expect a consistent experience wherever they engage (on websites, social media, mobile or in person), according to Salesforce. AI can help you create experiences that represent the face of your brand and integrate your brand easily across channels and into the daily life of your customer.
Consumers also expect to engage with brands on every channel on their own schedule – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Conversational AI in the form of intelligent agents (digital assistants and chatbots) elevate the marketing experience to meet that expectation – it’s not a means of automation, but a conversational way to engage with customers and create a deeper relationship. Forty-four percent of consumers have used a chat interface in a retail store or on a brand’s website, and 43% of consumers say that their overall chat experience positively impacts their perception of the retail store or brand, according to Bing Ads and PSFK. Fifty-two percent of global smartphone users want a voice assistant to help them navigate and find products while they’re in a store, according to Adweek and Accenture Interactive, and by 2020, the average person will have more conversations with bots than with their spouse, according to Gartner.
For marketers, this means that you should:
- Empower your customers to connect with you directly through chatbots. Bots can be used to make communication more effective within your marketing department, as well. Microsoft Teams, the communication hub for Office 365, uses bots to help supercharge group chats and online meetings.
- Streamline the path to purchase and the path to action. Think beyond bots as a conversational platform dedicated strictly to question and answers, instead think about how bots can engage on a deeper level to help your customers interact and take actions. For instance, take the information gleaned from bot conversations and integrate it into your marketing campaigns or future customer targeting efforts.
- Humanize your chatbot by adding emotional intelligence, or EQ, to its knowledge IQ. Depending on your brand’s personality, this can mean adding funny phrases or helpful trivia to your bot’s responses. Always remember that there’s a human on the other end of the interaction.
Several statistics prove that AI is already transforming the workplace for the better: 77% of companies believe that automation will result in better job performance, according to Bersin, and Gartner predicts that by 2020, algorithms will positively alter the behaviour of more than 1 billion global workers.
AI creates more efficiency in business operations through marketing automation and optimization, takes in vast amounts of data, detects and predicts patterns more accurately and expedites smart decision-making to optimize strategies across campaigns and channels. Within digital marketing, AI has been integrated across elements like audience targeting, remarketing strategies and bidding algorithms. AI also enhances internal communication. For example, Microsoft’s digital assistant, Cortana, is integrated into Teams, so that intelligent search not only searches the web’s knowledge graph, but can also search across a business’s content and people, to help streamline communication within marketing departments. By saving time and making campaigns more efficient, AI frees you up to do what you do best: focus on creativity.
AI is set to completely transform the way marketers work with each other and communicate with consumers. By understanding how AI will impact our daily lives and how it can enhance and accelerate our productivity, we can prepare for the future and harness more AI to work efficiently on our teams as we reach our customers in newer, more imaginative ways.
The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association’s Emerging Leaders Blog publishes this and more new and innovative work here.