The amount of technology available to modern marketing managers is both a blessing and a burden. Some lose focus as they chase the latest shiny piece of martech or adtech, without which they might feel inadequate or behind the times. So, which of the many emerging tools and strategies are worth adopting?
To get a clue, it helps to meet with those on the forefront of the industry – both users and vendors – and pick their brains a bit. In order to accomplish this, I attended three notable marketing conferences over the past couple of months to speak with several key executives along with some select partners and customers. These were Adobe’s Summit, Demandbase’s Marketing Innovation Summit, and Oracle’s Modern Customer Experience.
I discovered two major themes ran through all three events. The first was that marketers are doubling-down on creating better brand interactions — the preferred buzzword being “experiences” — across all touchpoints, not just better marketing messages.
And the second was that artificial intelligence (or machine learning, if you prefer) allows a greater number of marketers to do that easily, and at scale.
But what does a better experience really mean? And how will AI/machine learning help create it?
At Adobe Summit’s keynote address, which took place in Las Vegas in March, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen’s described the ideal customer experience as, “personal, consistent, elegant, and everywhere you are.”
EVP Brad Rencher went further with, “It’s not about the thing [brands] are selling; it’s the entire experience they are providing.” The point is to “make people feel special…better experiences make them spend more time with us.”
While that is all fine and dandy coming from Adobe, which is marketing an entire cloud suite around the better customer experience model, I wanted to get some thoughts from the boots on the ground. I spoke with Danny Ledger, Principal at Deloitte, which counts Fox Sports and Activision among its clients, for his opinion on whether this concept had any real teeth. He thought it does. “Effective companies are going to compete more on the basis of experience today versus product or price.” He clarified, “As a customer … I want to have touchpoints with those companies that are meaningful and personalized and tailored to me across everything I do with that company. That could be a support call I place or an email they send about a new service I should try. Having one voice across those contacts is important.”
So, what does artificial intelligence have to do with providing this sort of high-touch experience through marketing channels?
Figure 1 Fabio working the conference floor at Adobe’s event.
In Adobe’s case, Sensei makes it happen. It’s a machine learning framework built into the Adobe platform which constantly learns and adapts to push out the right content to the right people at the right time. It can, for example, auto-create website experiences (layout, graphics, messaging) based on what it knows about the visitor and the device they are using. And it knows a lot, as it taps into data from 100 trillion transactions logged from Adobe customers each year plus the 850 million devices connected with the Adobe Co-op, which tracks behavior at the device level.
Jack Welde is CEO of Smartling, a translation technology company for managing multilingual content. He gave a practical overview of how AI ties together with experience: “So we have gotten to where we can create a page on a banking site, and depending on who you are, it might show a couple with two kids. If you are a young female it might show a different picture altogether, but what happens if she prefers Spanish? Machine learning is going to be key for every single business to figure all this out. When you think back to things like ‘Do I need a website?’ or ‘Do I need a mobile app?’ Those are very obvious things now. It’s going to be ‘Do I need an AI strategy?’ That’s going to be the killer app of the future.”
For Amanda Cichon, Internet Applications Manager for Garmin — and Adobe Campaign and Adobe Experience Manager customer — “Experience has to run deep, through everything.” Her challenge goes beyond presenting product information online. It includes connecting physical devices such as fitness trackers through a mobile application, Garmin Connect, and keeping that experience consistent throughout all touchpoints and screens.
“Do you know your customer, and are you talking to them in a way that makes sense and resonates with them? We’ve gotten so analytical with how we look at challenges or how do we set our businesses apart, that sometimes we forget that our customers are people,” Cichon says. According to her, adopting a highly personalized, experience-focused marketing model has really moved the needle for Garmin’s sales, and artificial intelligence will only help further.
ABM Meets AI
The next event I attended took place at San Francisco’s Pier 27 in early April, where thousands of leading-edge marketing professionals convened for Demandbase’s fourth Marketing Innovation Summit, the largest annual conference devoted to Account Based Marketing (ABM). Pointing to the continual growth of ABM as a marketing strategy, CMO Peter Isaacson announced they have certified over 1,000 people as ABM specialists in the last year, and will soon introduce an online ABM certification program to better meet demand.
Apart from ABM, AI/machine learning was also on everyone’s lips at the event, although tinged with a bit of uncertainty. Demandbase’s CEO Chris Golec introduced Site Optimization, an AI-based website personalization solution built using technology from its Spiderbook acquisition last year. As with Adobe, it automatically recommends specific content and customized layouts to each website visitor based on AI-driven insights – but Demandbase’s solution is geared specifically for B2B marketing.
As for the uncertainty I mentioned, even Issacson pointed out that. based on a December study. 80 percent of marketers believe AI will be the next big thing, but only 10 percent are using it. And a sobering 74 percent have no idea how it applies to marketing. Clearly, there is a lot of opportunity for education and growth in this area.
Figure 2 Chris Golec, Founder & CEO Demandbase
I sat down with Radius SVP Marketing Shari Johnston to talk about ABM, and AI predictably became part of the conversation almost immediately. Radius links B2B data with predictive technology to uncover the best prospects and integrates that with enterprise marketing automation, CRM and other systems to execute on an omni-channel approach.
Johnston gave a clue as to what might be hindering the adoption of AI by marketers at the moment. While bullish on it, she cautioned, “None of this technology is going to work well if your underlying data sources are not looking good. If you are running predictive or AI off of bad data or incomplete data or the wrong set of data you are going to get negative results. Your go to market strategy is only as good as the underlying data you are relying on. I finally see that being a C-level conversation, as opposed to ‘oh, let the operations people deal with that.’ “
Which brings up a great point: becoming a customer-centric, experience-obsessed enterprise which leverages AI is going to involve a top-to-bottom adjustment for many businesses. The entire organization must focus on the customer experience, not just marketers, and not just IT. What might this look like in practical terms?
- Meet with key decision makers and stakeholders and get them to embrace that, as Adobe’s Narayen put it at the keynote, “Preserving the status quo is not a strategy.” Get buy-in to polish your customer experience with a plan which involves all customer-facing departments.
- Modify your tech stack so you can deliver the right content to the right people at the right time in a highly relevant and personal matter – and this includes an AI component. There are a lot of solutions out there, and none are a one-size-fits-all proposition. So, you have to do your research for what will suit your business best in the areas of email, website personalization, social media, marketing automation, ad buying, and ABM tools for B2B marketers.
- Use data to improve other areas of customer experience apart from your digital presence, such as retail spaces, customer service procedures, fulfillment and delivery practices. This could include: empowering CSRs to solve customer service issues immediately based on what they know about the customer rather than escalating to a supervisor; rethinking store layouts and how physical customers are sold based on sensor feedback; surveying customer preferences and eliminating things they find annoying, such as endless telephone trees or foreign-based call centers; and many more.
- Audit results obsessively to refine areas of CX, and utilize machine learning for recommendations. It’s a never-ending job but the right data tools will make it easier.
One interesting AI-powered tool marketers can leverage right now to enhance the customer experience is the chatbot.
Rise of the Bots
At Oracle’s Modern Customer Experience held at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas in April, the cloud giant announced its own AI products under the umbrella of Adaptive Intelligent Apps for CX. They also announced chatbot innovations which provide immediate, conversational-style answers to customer queries on both text and voice-driven platforms such as Facebook’s Messenger and Amazon’s Alexa. At a private media roundtable, CEO Mark Hurd said, “These are significant opportunities to now be able to voice-to-voice talk to the system and get an answer in your own language. This is a combination not just of the chatbot voice capability but the integration back to machine-to-machine. This is the construct of where the next generation of systems comes from.”
Delving a bit deeper into the topic was Meeten Bhavsar, SVP, Development, Oracle Service Cloud. “There’s more and more an expectation of immediacy now. If I’m on Twitter or Facebook or whatever channel I’m on, and I have a question, I expect an answer right away. There’s no longer this whole mindset of calling a contact center, a 1-800 number for support. The expectation is that I’ve got a question and I want an answer now. Businesses that can deliver on that expectation are going to have a key differentiator.”
The promise for AI-driven chatbots is that they will not only provide immediate answers to customer queries, but that they will refine and improve themselves as they self-learn based on customer responses. They might eventually become profit centers by delivering leads to sales for real time handling, or even directly selling through these interactions based on the historical data they have on customers and their behavior before and during the chatbot session.
I hope I have provided some insight into which tools and strategies marketers might want to adopt soon. I am going to end off with a quote from Haresh Kumar, Director of Strategy and Product Marketing, Adobe Experience Manager. “Every business is an experience business, so from the start of the funnel to post acquisition are all touchpoints where experiences can be tailored.”
For marketers and the brands they work for, it pays to tailor them well. Let’s hope artificial intelligence delivers on its potential of making it much easier to do so.
Willie Pena is the owner of Pena Media Group, a Los Angeles-based content marketing firm which advises businesses on marketing strategies and produces blogs, video, and social media content to execute them.