AI and Digital Marketing

As recently as 2015, (USA) was adding an average of 485 thousand new products to its selection per day, and as of June 2017 the site was approaching 373 million items for sale. In the United States, there are nearly a million professional services firms; 93 thousand landscape companies; and (perhaps less important but nevertheless relevant) well over 50 varieties of Oreo cookies.

Is it any wonder we have decision fatigue?

Given the number of choices available to consumers, companies either fade into invisibility or fight their way into the top handful of options. Until now, they’ve been able to do that through standard digital marketing practices: optimizing websites for search, stuffing blog posts with keywords, churning out valuable content and investing in CPC ad campaigns.

But in a world where “Hey, Google” is a thing, will that continue to be the case?

Enter AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) isn’t exactly new. Dartmouth College researchers introduced the idea in 1955—the year McDonald’s was born, “Rock Around the Clock” launched Bill Haley and the Comets into stardom, and “Gunsmoke” debuted on CBS. But for much of the past 60 years, for the average consumer, AI has been the stuff of science fiction books and dystopian films. Also, a fair amount of chess.

Most people probably don’t realize this, but AI has been actively influencing American lives for years. There’s the obvious app-based AI like Waze that has changed how people navigate individually around congested traffic. Then there are full-blown systems designed to avoid spontaneous traffic jams from occuring at all. From grocery stores and retail to providing medical diagnostics, AI has secretly been running behind the scenes for years.

In 2011, AI found its way into our homes, but under a different name: Siri. And now, with 20 million Google Assistants and Amazon Echo units in homes across the United States, AI is a mainstream phenomenon. Even Facebook has dabbled with AI—although they’ve had less-than-glowing results in the process.

While AI may bring to mind scenes from 1984’s The Terminator, it’s becoming more and more apparent that computers are here to stay, and they’ll infiltrate every nook and cranny of our lives as we know it.

What does AI have to do with marketing?

Like most occupations, professional marketers have been leveraging AI for several years to optimize Pay Per Click efforts, create better content, generate email, and even gather user insights. The companies that leverage these tools are usually large organizations with mammoth marketing budgets, and they look for every opportunity to optimize ROI for their shareholders’ investments.

That patriarchy may be beginning to crumble.

On December 1, 2017, Google announced that consumers can now use Google Assistant to help find service providers. In a nutshell, here’s how it works:

  • Consumers notify their Assistant they need to find a plumber.
  • Google asks series of questions about the consumer’s issue.
  • Google presents a narrowed-down list of options based on the consumer’s responses and, if they wish, initiates a call.

So now, here’s the Big G, creating an interesting opportunity for users to connect with service contractors in the name of “user experience.” It’s not exactly rocket science to delve into their playground (we wrote an article on DP Marketing’s website), but it definitely creates questions for the trend of accessibility moving forward.

Here’s the most troublesome question for companies: How, exactly, is that list narrowed—and how do I make sure we’re still on it? Where the internet was once accessible by businesses large and small, does this shift toward AI-oriented tools create a barrier for companies with no specialized marketing staff or massive marketing budget?

For now, all Google is saying is that service providers are prescreened through a couple of review sites. For companies not on those sites, that likely means trouble.

What does this mean for my business?

Marketing is an ever-shifting phenomenon—remember Marlboro Man?—and the only constant in the digital marketing space is, well, change. As far as what this particular change means for specific businesses, no one really knows yet. But as AI becomes more and more accessible (and affordable) to both marketers and consumers, there’s no doubt we’ll need to make radical shifts in our communication and customer service strategies.

In short, whatever changes are on the horizon, they’re game-changing. And like most game-changing technologies, AI cannot be ignored.

Author's Bio: 

Ryan runs DP Marketing Services, which provides digital marketing for HVAC, Plumbers, and Service Companies.