5 Key Marketing Predictions from HubSpot 

Without a doubt, marketing has evolved dramatically over the past several years. Big data and advanced analytics have transformed daily tasks across myriad industries and Artificial Intelligence (AI) has started changing the way marketers target and engage with consumers.

Given how quickly marketing has evolved, there’s been a lot of speculation about its future. At Inbound 2016, HubSpot co-founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah shared their take on the future of marketing, and I found their insights particularly relevant. Below are five predictions Halligan and Shah made that marketers should recognize:

Photo credit: Precision Marketing Group
  1. Human-machine conversations will replace human-computer conversations.

Marketers have long worked to effectively communicate with customers and prospects on behalf of their brand, and historically, those conversations have occurred via a computer and keyboard. In future, though, those conversations will be more natural and fluid, leveraging technology like voice input and visual outputs to make communicating more efficient. As Shah said at Inbound, “Conversational UI is going to be an even bigger leap in software than we had with the shift to web-based software… We will have voice input because it’s much more efficient [than typing] and visual output because it’s more efficient than listening.”

 

  1. Customer engagement data will drive all content.

In the past, inbound links and search boxes alone determined which content and/or products were displayed. Think about it: Google has indexed and mapped connections between every page on the internet and displays websites based on their popularity (rather than quality). Facebook has linked 1.79 billion people and according to Shah, its search box is being used 2 billion times a day. The future of marketing, however, will focus more on engagement. Rather than determining what consumers see based solely on popularity, the quality of content and/or products will be considered, and that quality will be determined by the number of consumers engaging with it.

 

  1. AI will automate major components of sales and marketing.

Machine learning and AI are already improving sales and marketing software by providing the ability to take action without input from a human. As Shah said, “In the next few years, we’re going to have autonomous, self-driving marketing automation” and as a result, complex yet crucial tasks such as predictive lead scoring, content recommendations and email acquisition will become a lot easier. Additionally, as Shah described at Inbound, “Match.com for leads” will emerge, in which leads will automatically be routed to the most appropriate salesperson based on lead analysis and salesperson data.

 

  1. Marketers will evolve beyond rote work.

Some marketers worry that AI-powered technologies will take over their daily responsibilities and render them obsolete, however that’s not where the industry is headed. Instead, AI will enable bots to work in the background (like virtual assistants for busy marketers), taking on responsibilities too tedious and time-consuming for humans. As a result, future marketers will be able to focus their time and intellect on more creative tasks, like “understanding the customer, figuring out what the overall positioning is, and having actual conversations with other humans,” according to Shah.

 

  1. Algorithms will become a commodity.

Algorithms used to require years of experience, extensive knowledge and significant time to build, but now they’re available for purchase in just a matter of clicks. As Shah said, “Mere mortals like me don’t have to learn about machine learning per se. More companies will start doing things that we thought required 100 PhDs.” The new hurdle, however, will be the collecting, storing and leveraging of data to feed those machine learning algorithms. Marketers capable of doing so will be the ones succeeding long-term.

 

No one can definitively say what marketing will look like in the future, however what appears certain is that machine learning and AI will play a large role. Rather than ignore or fear this reality, embrace it. Leverage AI to better understand, target and engage with consumers and take advantage of its ability to automate mundane tasks. In doing so, you’ll be able to innovate and succeed along with the ever-changing marketing landscape, rather than get left behind.

How artificial intelligence is transforming retail personalization

ai-jpg__640x360_q85_crop_subsampling-2Retail personalization is certainly not a new concept, but there are many new advances in personalization helping retailers create deeper relationships with shoppers through meaningful, relevant and contextual experiences.

Personalization through the years

Ten years ago, Amazon and Netflix were the poster children for personalization. Amazon was commended for its ability to show different home pages for different customers based on their past clickstream paths or previous purchase behaviors. Other retailers’ personalization efforts simply greeted returning customers by name or enabled them to save website preferences. Then there were those that took a one-to-many approach, such as versioning their site for entire segments of visitors.

These rudimentary approaches are now considered table stakes for today’s retail marketers. Consumers are far savvier than they were ten years ago. They not only want personalization, they expect it!

Today’s retailers are rising to the occasion. Retail personalization is having a major resurgence, thanks to the proliferation of big data, as well as the implementation of machine learning across distributed platforms.

 

Stitch Fix’s AI success

Some retail organizations have built entire businesses around AI. Take Stitch Fix, for example. The styling subscription service uses AI to tailor clothing and accessories to busy women’s personal tastes, budgets and lifestyles. Stylists work with a team of more than 60 data scientists to choose tailored items for each shipment. By applying machine learning to the process, the computers become smarter as they handle more and more data.

This strategy of marrying humans and machines has been wildly successful for Stitch Fix. Over 80 percent of clients return within 90 days for a second order, and a third of clients spend 50 percent of their clothing budget with the subscription service.

While we’ll continue to see businesses in and out of the retail space launch with AI at the core, this approach certainly won’t make sense for all retailers. Instead, established retailers can apply AI to different business units. Recently, Macy’s announced its customer service unit is testing a “mobile companion” tool using AI. The tool enables shoppers to get answers based on the store that they are physically shopping in rather than having to find a sales associate. While this is a great way to leverage AI to engage with current shoppers, what about using the technology to acquire new ones?

 

AI’s role in marketing

Applying AI to marketing not only helps retailers acquire new customers, but also encourages repeat business. As recommendations and offers become more tailored, shoppers’ loyalty will continue to deepen as they associate the brand with personalized and relevant experiences. For retail marketers that want to stand out from the hundreds of advertising and marketing messages shoppers see on any given day, AI-driven marketing is a must.

AI enables marketers to harness powerful algorithms to find patterns in internal and third-party data, and then look for repetitions in these patterns. One of the core underpinnings of AI that is transforming retail personalization is machine learning. Stated very simply, machine learning is about solving problems using probability and statistics. Used in the context of personalization, machine learning can continually adjust the data sets until the right marketing message for each individual shopper is presented at the moment, and through the channel that matters most.

 

This can all sound very daunting for marketers. For those just getting started in AI-powered personalization, keep the following in mind:

1. Don’t be overwhelmed by data. Many retail organizations have data everywhere and have no idea how to consolidate it, let alone make sense of it all. If you don’t have internal resources to organize disparate data sets, simply outsource this important task to a personalization technology partner.

2. Pull in as much third-party data as possible. From POS to loyalty data, retailers have a lot of information about customers. But to get a true 360-degree picture, it’s important to pull in as much third-party data as possible. I’m not talking simple demographics here (though that’s helpful as well). Your data combined with factors such as location, time, social media activity and price sensitivities can really make the difference in understanding how, why and when customers shop, as well as the right purchase triggers so retailers can present the most relevant marketing messages.

3. Determine the best output channel. Many retailers have seen the power of email personalization for driving traffic and sales to their stores, both online and off. But there are many other channels where personalization works well — in particular mobile. As we saw in the Macy’s examples, mobile can be used to augment in-store service, but it’s also a great vehicle for timely promotions and offers for shoppers on the go. In addition, the emergence of AI-powered chatbots is something to keep an eye on, as retailers look to follow their audience onto the appropriate channels, including social.

You don’t have to be a personalized subscription service like Stitch Fix to provide personalized service to prospects and customers. A huge impact can be made by applying AI to one area of your business at a time — from marketing to customer service to merchandising. A once over-hyped technology, personalization has arrived and is the future of retail thanks to the power of artificial intelligence.

 

Originally published on Retail Customer Experience http://www.retailcustomerexperience.com/blogs/how-artificial-intelligence-is-transforming-retail-personalization/