How Marketers Actually Use Artificial Intelligence

And it’s not to spam us for sales

What is the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in marketing? Is it simply fake profiles on LinkedIn designed to hijack our messages inbox, or is there more to it? How are successful marketers using AI today, how can it help businesses connect with customers and improve their bottom line, and what are the risks in using AI?

I turned to the experts at McKinsey & Company for answers. They had two beautiful, recent pieces on AI – its use in automotive marketing and an extensive 2021 global survey on general use in business. Interestingly, marketers are not using AI to replace salespeople but to identify and serve customers better.

3 AI advantages

For some of us, AI might bring to mind the 2001 movie “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” starring Haley Joel Osment. We may jump straight from the comfortable concept of computers as tools to the uncanny valley of computers as people.

Copying humans is not how businesses currently use AI, even though AI mimics humans’ cognitive functions. McKinsey identifies three specific ways marketers are using AI:

  1. Automation: AI makes intelligent decisions on behalf of humans, such as adjusting prices for retailers based on shifting markets.
  2. Forecasting: AI can find patterns in data and develop future insights. The best part about AI is that it is dynamic – it will continue to learn and adapt as it digests more data.
  3. Personalization: AI can tailor marketing to individual customers, ensuring the maximum return on investment for businesses.[i]

When marketers make the most of AI, it can disrupt the way they adapt to changes in the market and how they reach and retain customers.

How modern marketers use AI

Most companies use AI strategically to improve business, drive down costs, and make human jobs easier. Fifty-six percent of respondents in McKinsey’s survey incorporate AI in their companies, and the majority of marketing uses include analyzing customer service and customer segmentation—a.k.a. grouping customers by shared traits and factors. Two-thirds of survey respondents say they will continue to invest in AI in the future.[ii]

Companies making the most of AI, McKinsey’s “AI high performers,” invest time and thought into incorporating AI. High performers shared many commonalities, such as using design thinking during development, internally testing AI models’ performance, tracking AI performance in the real world, using the cloud, and governing data with well-defined processes.ii In other words, they put thought into incorporating AI and then carefully monitored and analyzed its effects.

AI smarts will not make your company better unless you use your human smarts to incorporate them well.

“I love you mom”

Says Osment’s character, David, with an eerie intensity. These four simple words have started many heated discussions. Can a string of code (no matter how complex) love? We won’t go into that here, but there are risks to incorporating AI.

The biggest challenge to using AI is managing data. Companies can moderate risks by clearly documenting models and validating data. Keeping a close eye on how data flows through AI ensures it stays out of the wrong hands.ii

With risks mitigated, AI has fantastic potential to help marketers do their jobs better and make customers happier. And it will (most likely) increase in the future and will not (most likely) include fake profiles spamming your LinkedIn messages. 

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[i]Grühn B, Kässer M, Kösstring JC, Padhi A, and Tschiesner A. Winning tomorrow’s car buyers using artificial intelligence in marketing and sales. McKinsey & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/automotive-and-assembly/our-insights/winning-tomorrows-car-buyers-using-artificial-intelligence-in-marketing-and-sales. Published February 14, 2019. Accessed March 28, 2022.     

[ii]Chui M, Hall B, Singla A, and Sukharevsky A. The state of AI in 2021. McKinsey & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/mckinsey-analytics/our-insights/global-survey-the-state-of-ai-in-2021. Published December 8, 2021. Accessed March 28, 2022.  

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