Be ready for the next-gen systems that are already disrupting marketing practices today
Our mission as marketers is to entice a prospect into deeper engagement by showing how our solution meets their wants, needs and demands. Our ultimate goal is that we forge long-lasting relationships between buyer and brand. While providing quality content does help prospects understand products the value and capabilities of our services, it may not necessarily answer the right questions at the right time in order to convert a lead into a customer.
As we move through 2017, search engine algorithms are shifting once again, now harnessing the concept of machine learning and artificial intelligence, and marketers need to take note. We’re on the cusp of the proliferation of bot-driven websites that will interact, predict and guide the customer experience in order to maintain SEO ranking and marketplace relevance. If we thought content marketing caused significant disruption, we’re in for a big shock.
Data-Driven Learning Systems Are Here, Now
To understand the role AI will play in marketing, you must first understand the concepts behind data-driven learning systems. These are computer programs that rely on data—instead of code—to answer questions. Data-driven learning systems not only efficiently and effectively answer questions such as: “Who are my current prospects in a given marketspace?” but they determine follow-up questions, such as “Where are these prospects in the funnel?” “What systems are these prospects currently using?” “What is their satisfaction level?” and more. And then these systems go on to answer those questions, supplementing their own data, formulating tight connections between buyer personas and proposed solutions.
You might say to yourself, “This process sounds a lot like what I’ve done as a marketer for my entire career.” You are correct. The game-changer here is that these systems will be able to make these determinations on a wider—even global—scale, with greater accuracy, in a fraction of the time it would take a team of marketers.
Predicting the Future of Marketing Tools
There are many changes looming on the horizon of technology, both on the consumer side and on the marketing tools side that will take advantage of data-driven learning systems.
Consumers will see a rise in websites that communicate directly with them, answering their questions and posing solutions. These bot-driven systems will be built into website search bars, navigation and pop-up chat windows, and they will provide real-time, machine-based interaction with the prospect. A person visiting this new type of site will be driven to the content that best answers their questions. The site will feed the user information that fulfills their wants, needs and desires without the user spending valuable time sifting through information that might not interest them.
The increase in customer satisfaction will ensure increased dwell on sites that properly implement these new techniques, because users won’t feel inundated with information that they don’t need. They’ll stick around, read the information given to them by the system, and educate themselves with the best pieces of content for their specific needs.
Furthermore, these learning systems will monitor visitor analytics and continually tune themselves to produce better results. Based on the parameters of site hits and entry points (including specific search parameters used to bring customers to the site), on-site searches, click-through, dwell and interaction (likes, shares, form submissions, etc.), the data-driven learning system will constantly update its own data in order to drive analogous users through the same journeys that exhibit the highest levels of success.
The Role of Tomorrow’s Website
When websites first became mainstream, they became an effective vehicle to support the efforts of your sales and marketing arm. Sales could direct prospects to the website for information, support contacts and downloadable assets supplied by the marketing team.
As the internet gained traction, websites went from “nice to have” to “mandatory” for businesses, especially for IT companies. Prospects began to expect your site would not only be there, but would be a living, breathing reflection of the state of your business. Sites that didn’t show movement became a warning sign that the business might not be progressive. The birth of content marketing made blogs, trade articles, downloadable content and other self-education materials a critical part of web marketing strategies.
With the shift to responsive design and mobile-capable devices, prospects have become even more discerning of their choices based on web presence. If a site can’t be fully accessed on-the-go from a hand-held device, it is seen as burdensome by many customers.
As websites move into this new, AI-driven paradigm, consumers will shift with them. We are going to experience a change in the role of the website in the marketing strategy again – where sales and marketing will augment the website, rather than the other way around. As more buyers become comfortable with sites that give them the answers that they need, it will become critical for us, as marketers, to focus on producing high-quality content that anticipates and answers the questions prospects might ask so that the right assets can be leveraged by the AI system to drive users to the best information possible.
Google is already making a shift toward these new, conversation-driven AIs. Their latest search algorithm is based off the concept of conversational search: you ask it a question and it tries to find the best answer as if it was a human and you were engaging in a conversation. Rather than using keywords and backlinks to gauge authority, it uses a combination of criteria that determine content quality. By tracking how users respond to its suggestions through these metrics, the latest Google algorithm seems to learn and adjust its answers. Over time, it will most certainly form deeper understanding of what people need based on what questions they ask.
From a marketing perspective, the coupling of AI-driven sites and data-driven learning systems built into our search engines will affect our direction in two ways: the quality of our content will become paramount to our success, and the leads who do come to us through our efforts will be warmer and more qualified from the beginning.
The Future of AI-Driven Marketing Tools
Imagine your website functioning like a member of your sales team: your conversational AI welcomes the user to your site and initiates a two-way conversation, learning about them while directing them toward solutions that can solve their problems. Your AI also makes suggestions for additional avenues of research or upsells additional components or services, all based on the present interaction, coupled with the learned habits and actions of previous customers. The difference is, your conversational AI doesn’t forget anything, and it continually hones itself for your ultimate success.
Now, imagine that your system hands you reports that identify your content gaps based on the customers who couldn’t find what they were looking for. You’ll take that information and tell your AI “that’s okay, you can ignore those,” or you’ll fill in your gaps in order to drive more success.
Your AI will take your customer to the next step. It will be able to leverage what they know about the user based on search patterns, history, and content interactions, coupled with other data points such as visible social follows and interactions, demographics and geographic location in order to pair each lead with just the right sales team member. With lightning-fast demographic analysis, your AI will be able to create connections between people to the best benefit of both your customer and your brand.
Sound like something from a futuristic movie? The reality is, we’re extremely close to this technology already. Between IBM’s Watson, Facebook’s chat bots, Google’s Machine Learning for Cloud Developers API and more, consumer systems employing artificial intelligence are on the cusp of a full-scale disruption of the internet as we know it. In order to keep up, marketing will shift as well.
Prepare now to be ready for the marketing of tomorrow
If this article makes it sound like your job as a marketer is going to be replaced by the inner-workings of a server somewhere, fear not—you are still a very necessary component in the future-marketing equation. Here are 4 steps you can take now to make sure that you’re ready to harness the power of AI-driven tools when they become mainstream.
1. Gather and store metrics
In order to leverage a data-driven learning machine, you must first feed it quality data. Marketers know their brands, their customer personas and their collateral. They also understand the shifts in buyer habits, and more importantly, the emotional factors and societal trends that go into those changes in the market. These are all data points that can be fed to a machine learning system in order to get the best possible results, but the machines cannot discern this information for themselves. Harvest this data. Catalog and store it. Run it through manual analysis.
2. Know your objectives
Once a machine-learning system is up and running, tomorrow’s marketer will need to be there to ensure that the machine is continuing to make proper assumptions. Through interactions with the system, we’ll be able to feed these machines new-and-improved data including new assets and content, new products and offerings, sales incentives for target personas and more. In other words, we’re still going to be driving the campaign strategy, but in order to maximize the potential of these learning systems, our objectives will need to be clearly outlined with all assumptions documented.
3. Get ready to accept statistics-based retargeting
AI-driven marketing systems are, at their core, computer systems. And computer systems do one thing really well: generate statistics. Moving forward, our retargeting efforts will be driven off of data, rather than emotion or hunches. This is great for our companies and our bottom line, but it will require a change in thinking for many marketers. The good news is that we won’t have to spend as much time executing our strategy or analyzing results, because our AI will take care of much of that for us. As marketers, we’ll get to dive in and create quality content to execute on a statistically sound strategy.
4. Create better – not more – content.
Our future marketing tools are going to be able to analyze our content, predict engagement and quantify lead qualification. It will then make recommendations based on real-time results. Just providing content will no longer be enough to drive lead generation. The marketing team of tomorrow is going to need to learn how to respond to low-ranking content by improving our messaging, honing our campaigns, and increasing our quality to drive the best possible engagement.
The AI future is nearly here. Systems that employ machine learning are already out there, running websites, affecting our search results, and changing the way we do business. It’s a disruption we’re going to need to watch closely, because once we experience that shift to a machine-learning-driven internet, the change we experience as marketers is going to have a deep and lasting impact. But it’s nothing to fear—in fact, in many ways, once we’re able to harness the power of these futuristic systems, we’ll become more agile, more connected, and more responsive to the needs, wants and demands of our customers than ever before.