“Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no longer the next big thing. It is now a big thing in digital marketing.” – Richa Pathak

From young startups to large corporations, companies are reaching for AI-powered marketing tools that make life easier. From better marketing campaigns to smarter advertising, predictive analytics and AI-based automation are already transforming how marketers work.

Many companies have barely had time to recover from the rise of data analytics that turned day-to-day operations on its head. But there’s no time to waste as AI emerges to the forefront with an even more impressive set of capabilities for small business. 

A Quiet Arrival

One of the most interesting things about AI is how it can be so seamlessly integrated into our lives – often without us even knowing it. According to a 2016 survey by HubSpot, many people didn’t know they were using AI when they actually were. Another 2019 study showed similar findings – that the majority of those surveyed were already using AI-powered tools or devices and didn’t realize it. 

Illuminating Customer Needs

The focal point of every successful marketing strategy is meeting a need. To do this, digital marketers must understand customer motivation – what matters to them? Knowing your customer’s needs is about as easy as mind-reading. Often, the educated guesses and assumptions businesses make turn out to be surprisingly false. 

Social listening is one strategy that has become more popular as businesses recognize its importance. AI tools are helping businesses keep their finger on the pulse of what customers are saying about their brand on social media. In addition, some AI tools are now able to use past industry trends to predict what customers might want in the near future. What’s better than a brand that knows what its customers want before they even express interest?

Confidence in Strategy

Perhaps the most coveted thing AI offers business owners is peace of mind – knowing that their marketing strategy wasn’t chosen haphazardly. Instead, strategic decisions are based purely on statistical findings about customer behavior – what worked and what didn’t. And as these findings inevitably shift, businesses will be aware and able to shift their strategy along with them. 

The value of analytics is that businesses can start to recognize surface-level patterns that lead to even deeper knowledge about how, when, and where to interact with customers. One of the limitations of things like customer surveys is that often, people aren’t sure why the prefer one thing or another. AI takes human error out of the equation and shows what customers reliably do and how companies can meet them where they are. Whether it’s making changes to the website, choosing new content marketing topics, or redesigning a social media campaign, AI provides key insights for improvement.

A Restructured Workspace

Marketing and analytics departments are currently taxed with the burden of managing data – reviewing reports, crunching numbers, and figuring out what it all means. Imagine if technology handled more of these complex tasks, freeing up entire marketing teams to get creative and dream up new ideas. This is just what Chief Data Officer Dale Lovell is proposing:

There’s just too much data in many ways for the human mind to process. So you could either hire a thousand people in your team — which is not scalable — or you could use an AI tool to help create insights that inform your marketing and effectively lets marketers do what they do best which is be creative.

He also eases workers’ fears about being replaced by AI technology, saying that jobs will instead change and become more specific. Instead of a marketing professional having a broad range of overwhelming tasks, they will have a specialty area to focus in. 

Ecommerce Chatbots

Another facet of the AI revolution is its implications for online stores. Customers are apparently far more open to chatbots than many initially expected. 47% of HubSpot survey respondents said they would be comfortable getting assistance from a chatbot that gave personal product recommendations. A Ubisend report also found that 40% of respondents wanted to receive special offers and sale notifications from chatbots.

While many businesses have already employed basic customer service chatbots on their websites, AI enhancements would take it a step further to provide each shopper with a more customized experience. Brands like Sephora, eBay, and H&M have already popularized this technology, using simple questions to guide customers to the precise products they’re seeking. Companies can rest assured that customers may ask questions and have problems solved by AI 24 hours a day rather than waiting to reach a real person.

Already a billion-dollar industry, the predicted growth rates for AI in business are striking. As far as how many companies are using AI now, estimates vary widely from source to source. But one thing is for sure: Adoption rates are skyrocketing. A Gartner survey of more than 3,000 CIOs from around the world revealed a 270% jump in AI adoption from 2015 to 2019.

And of course, it goes without saying that businesses must learn how to use AI responsibly, thoroughly testing any tools they use from a UX lens. Brands can shape this new technology in ways that feel helpful rather than intrusive for consumers who are on the fence about AI.

For business owners looking to get started, Entrepreneur recommends looking at industry-specific use cases to see how different platforms work. Talk to companies who’ve already integrated AI, try out demos, and explore the options. There is no one right way to implement such a multi-faceted tool, so it’s crucial for business leaders to get clear on their goals.