Marketers are on a quest for marketing nirvana, where every message recipient, whether prospect or customer, is receiving the perfect message at the perfect time in the perfect way. And while this kind of perfection can happen, I would hazard a guess that it currently occurs less than 10 percent of the time for most marketing organizations.
Marketers would love to move their effectiveness needle up to 60 or 70 percent, but that would require three times the people and three times the budget, and what business is eager to triple any part of their company these days?
No wonder all eyes are on artificial intelligence, or AI, to boost marketing effectiveness and scale our efforts at a reasonable cost. But our “AI vision” is currently blurred.
Marketers “get” the concept of AI making better use of their data and helping to increase their effectiveness, but there’s a gap between this basic understanding and putting AI to use. Marketers today have a “feeling” that a particular message will work for a particular audience, but they also know you can’t scale a feeling, and that feelings alone don’t operationalize.
Marketers need a clear path forward to the tools that will put this into practice.
Marketers need tangible help from AI today
The problem is that the potential real-life benefits of AI are getting lost in the shouting as everyone touts their products as having it.
What we hear from marketers is that while AI is being added to seemingly everything (CRM systems! Toaster ovens!), most have no clear understanding of what it can do for them here and now. And they’re having trouble planning for AI to do something—anything—for them tomorrow.
How can we clear up this fog?
The answer is trust and transparency. Almost everyone in marketing today falls somewhere on the continuum of “I need help and think AI might provide it,” “I’m uncertain that AI can do something about my problems,” and “I have a lot of trepidation about where AI will lead—which frequently translates to, will it replace me?”
It’s axiomatic that if people are going to start relying on a machine such as an “AI engine” to make a decision, they have to first learn to trust it. Hence, if those in charge of marketing organizations are going to change the mindset of their uncertain people and have them become believers in AI as a must-have marketing tool, then they need to create opportunities to build trust in AI.
If marketers don’t have the chance to test AI in a marketing use case and validate what it can do for them, they are not going to readily adopt it.
Open up the black box: The case for AI transparency
Equally important is transparency. Too often, AI is a proverbial black box, named after some famous dead scientist. It’s the secret sauce, the voodoo, and no one can see what’s really happening in there. And that is immensely counterproductive because AI has so much to teach us when we as marketers know how it is doing its job.
To rid marketers of the fear that AI is going to replace us, we need for AI to be an open box that we can see into and that will help us get better at our profession. AI should be able to explain what it is doing—how it’s making a certain decision, and why it thinks a certain message is the best recommendation for a given audience.
How hard is it to give marketers a dashboard view or window into what AI is doing? Not hard at all, actually. And this doesn’t mean presenting them with impenetrable algorithms. It means giving them enough simple, easily scanned information to spark understanding, such as “we spotted these three things that led to this decision.”
Can we as marketers learn from this? Absolutely—because it is data that we might not have thought to look at ourselves. That’s priceless. So is providing analytics that show what content is or isn’t working with an audience and provide projections and scores on which content is likely to work.
Providing this transparency goes a long way toward eliminating the fear of being replaced by AI. It allows marketers to see how we are being made smarter, and how AI is amplifying our efforts.
Like Iron Man donning his suit, AI wraps around the marketer and makes us better.
This article originally appeared on MarTech Today on November 2, 2017.