The True Promise of AI in Marketing

Time was when the cutting edge in marketing was in the arena of consumer psychology. Ever since the dawn of the Big Data age the cutting edge in marketing has moved from psychology to analytics and more recently “Deep Learning” — the use of Artificial Neural Networks acting on Big Data to drive marketing and sales initiatives.

These days one is more likely to find practitioners at the cutting edge of marketing at Google and Facebook than with the leading consumer products companies of the world or at the advertising agencies.

To my mind, however the current use of analytics and AI in marketing is a false start.

Let me explain.

Even though a part of the pre-digital generation I am as much online as any Millennial I know of. Also as a part of the experiments I run as a marketing strategist, I have deliberately opted to lower all privacy barriers on all my online activity. Thus I am quite sure that the Facebooks, LinkedIns, Amazons, travel portals, banks, credit card companies of the world have reams of personal and transactional data on me in their vaults.

Even so I have not till date received an offer or even a communication from a brand or a service based on an insight into my attitudes and behaviour that had me delighted. Evidently the only use that all the data about me has been put to are ubiquitous and frankly irritating re-marketing campaigns by Amazon.

I have spoken to many about whether their experience has been any different from mine and found that by and large it has been the same.

While the proof I have is currently anecdotal (I am working on a consumer research proposal to test this hypothesis) it seems that all that analytics and AI has done in the area of marketing till date is for platforms like Google and Facebook to offer better segmentation to practitioners of what at heart continues to be mass marketing. I am not denying that the effect has been far-reaching. It has changed the economics of marketing essentially by allowing modular marketing — the ability to test and optimise campaigns targeting very specific demographic and psychographic segments. Combined with e-commerce this has lowered barriers of entry allowing for a more egalitarian and level field for brands and marketers.

However the paradigm hasn’t changed. It remains mass marketing — more evolved but mass marketing still.

I believe that the true coming of analytics and AI in marketing will be when marketing shifts to being a truly one-on-one relationship between a brand and an individual.

To my mind marketing then would have come full circle.

In the days of the bazar before the mass media there was a one-to-one relationship between the artisan, the craftsman and the shop-owner and the individual. A tailor knew his patron well. The patron’s tastes, preferences, body type etc.. In some ways even better than the patron did himself. Realising which the patron often times let the tailor decide on the fabric type, the designs and the fit.

Then came the days of mass manufacturing and mass media and in most categories mass marketing took hold. There are some pockets in which one-to-one marketing still holds sway — most people have a barber/hairdresser or a doctor that knows them well. Even in such categories, there are brands and companies working towards making their brands and services transcend such one-on-one relationships.

To my mind the true coming of the age of analytics and AI to marketing would be when one-to-one marketing once again becomes the rule instead of being the threatened exception that it is today

For this to happen analytics and AI must move from being covert tools used to run essentially mass marketing campaigns to being permission-driven platforms that use analytics and AI to become “intimate” with an individual much like a friend becomes intimate without being intrusive. This intimacy then will drive two-way communication that is rich and rewarding. And the delivery of truly customised products and services that utilise the friction-free nature of digital communication and e-commerce and the customisations powers of flexible manufacturing and the fast approaching revolutions of IOT and 3D Printing.

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