AI Will Power The Omnichannel Revolution

tassoData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Tasso Argyros, co-founder and CEO at ActionIQ.

Technology revolutions are messy. I know. I lived through one with my last company, Aster Data. But if you survive a tech revolution, you are usually stronger. If you don’t, well, at least you’re still breathing.

The revolution I endured was the big data revolution. I am in the midst of another one, which I call the omnichannel revolution.

The need to manage ever-increasing amounts of unstructured data information drove the big data revolution. It took 10 years. I believe the omnichannel revolution will take less than half that. It is being driven by the need to analyze data in ever more sophisticated ways. Many see this as an entree for artificial intelligence (AI) solutions.

The buzz around AI feels very similar to the yesterday’s big data buzz. Like big data, I suspect that may businesses will overplay the (real) advantages of this new technology in the short term. Many will also underestimate AI’s long-term value. So what’s real? How will marketing be affected?

Advances in data and data automation have automated boring, repetitive and tedious tasks. Call it big data 2.0. People don’t talk about it much – perhaps they’ve got big data fatigue – but it’s happening and being lumped into the AI hype.

A lot of people talk about AI replacing marketers. Well, big data didn’t eliminate data scientists – quite the opposite – and AI won’t supplant marketers. But AI will power the omnichannel revolution and change the way marketers market.

Here’s why.

A Competitive Edge

The omnichannel revolution means smart marketers need to adopt AI to compete more effectively. Marketers increasingly are running multichannel campaigns; in the past two years, the number of marketers who used just one marketing channel fell from 35% in 2015 to 27% in 2016, per the DMA’s 2016 Response Rate Report.

That means omnichannel is becoming the default. The marketer who views his or her multichannel operations more accurately is going to beat the competition.

Value-Added Activities

The right way to think about how AI will change marketing is something I call the marketing exoskeleton: AI can do all the heavy lifting, while marketing gives the commands.

In this scenario, marketing will set goals and measure results. AI will execute the work behind the scenes to make that happen. This obviates the need to wait on IT or task dozens of (very bored) data scientists to crunch mountains of data. AI does this grunt work.

Significantly Better Attribution

The omnichannel revolution is mostly centered on attribution, which AI will greatly improve. For example, a recent Alliance Data study found 84% of millennials use smartphones to aid buying decisions during in-store visits. In 2014, a multichannel marketer might have counted mobile purchases during those visits as unaided m-commerce transactions.

In the near future, AI might tell marketers that a certain percentage of their mobile transactions occurred during or after a retail store visit. That, at least, is the promise. Marketers should anticipate this possibility.

The End Of The Silo

Marketers cull data from so many sources, including mail, website visits, purchases and post-purchase customer sentiment on social media. But the data lives in the silo of the marketing app that does email, web analytics or social.

Obviously, as we move toward an omnichannel future, such silos need to go. AI is only as good as the data it uses. If that data is incomplete, the solution will be too.

Growing Pains

Of course, AI’s impact on marketing isn’t all cupcakes and puppies. AI will cause some problems for marketers. A Demandbase study of 500 B2B marketers found 60% had concerns about integrating AI into their existing technology, while 46% worried about interpreting the results and 54% faced challenges training employees on proper usage.

AI finally makes it possible to truly unify customer data and predict behavior based on the complete customer journey. I know that “predictive” is an old buzzword, but some say it never delivered on its promise. The problem is that proper predictive modeling requires a solid data foundation, which most marketers lack, and constant customization by data scientists, which marketers cannot afford.

AI will solve both these problems in just a few years. Marketers at last will be able to start targeting customer behaviors and designing revolutionary experiences that can surprise and delight customers across touch points. The omnichannel revolution will include a turbulent few years. But marketers who are quick to adopt AI look to be the victors.

Follow Tasso Argyros (@targyros), ActionIQ (@ActionIQinc) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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