Why AI should be central to a startup’s marketing plan
Apurva Chamaria

Though the customer base of any startup comprises vastly different individuals, they love to slice and dice them by demographics and psychographics, build a persona and write a piece of communication for each segment. This behaviour will change overnight if these businesses could write an ad or press release, not for five or 10 groups but thousands of individuals, at scale. Welcome to the Segment of One, the ability to track and understand individual customer behaviour. That's the very future of marketing, with artificial intelligence (AI) powering it.

Currently, the use cases of AI mostly focus on how it will change the consumer's life. From self-driving cars to virtual reality, the focus is on supercharging existing products or, better still, new experiences altogether. Let's, for now, step away from using AI as a tool for building these experiences for consumers and think about what it can do for us as marketers. What if a car, made from a tonne of steel, rubber and glass, becomes a supercomputer on wheels? A car company becomes a part of the subscription economy overnight!

AI and marketing

There are similar AI interventions available on tap for brands across the aisle.

Suppose when you walk into your office, you are greeted by a virtual assistant. The assistant has already analysed the past week’s website data and drafted a recommendation report. It includes the user funnel, why and where users dropped, and recommendations on increasing conversions. It has the web designs ready for A/B testing, and all you need to do is swipe left or right.

Research by US-based Narrative Science, which provides an AI-powered natural language generation platform, found that companies benefit from AI-based solutions without even realising it. Only 38% companies say they are using AI at workplace. Yet, as many as 88% companies use technologies that rely on AI.

Taking the leap

American marketing pioneer John Wanamaker said something memorable over 90 years ago: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.” With AI, most of a startup's budget will be accounted for, both from the return on investment and investment perspective.

In each stage of the consumer life cycle, AI will change experiences, both for marketers and consumers.

There are some interesting examples in play already. Netflix uses predictive analytics to enable personalised content recommendations, which makes users spend more time on its platform. Jukedeck, a startup that is developing an artificially intelligent music composer, uses AI to revolutionise how people make and consume music.

For users interested in specific products, there are some interesting plays in motion. By analysing user behaviour trends dumped in heaps of unstructured datasets, we can start answering questions soon. At HCL Technologies, we are already experimenting with a chatbot on our Facebook page. The next steps include integrating a micro search/discovery engine for each web page’s visitor.

Real-time decision making will not be as complicated in near future. For example, French cable television channel Canal+ launched AiMEN, an AI-powered bot that tweets Bible verses for every heated social media message. Its activation for the TV show ‘The Young Pope’ is equal parts tone deaf and hilarious.

AI paves the way for enhanced, data-driven and personalised customer experience. My favourite polymath Charles Babbage once said, “At each increase of knowledge, as well as on the contrivance of every new tool, human labour becomes abridged.” AI is both a tool and a self-fulfilling fount of knowledge, and that can be useful.

Startups can, and should, use AI to reduce customer acquisition and retention costs and programmatically guide users down the purchase funnel. If they can do that, they will be making technology work for them rather than working for technology.

Apurva Chamaria is head of corporate marketing at HCL Technologies and author of ‘You are the key – Unlocking doors through social selling’. He’s also an active angel investor.

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