AI Takes Center Stage At Marketing Innovation Summit

Published: April 12, 2017
Photo Courtesy Of Lillian Bui

Account-based marketing (ABM) that is combined with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning is fast becoming the next technology game-changer for B2B marketers. But experts caution marketers should not think of it as “The Holy Grail.”

Examples and predictions about the power of ABM and AI were on full display at last week’s Marketing Innovation Summit in San Francisco, hosted by Demandbase.

Jennifer Renaud, CMO of Oracle Marketing Cloud, said during her keynote speaker at the event that the promise of one-to-one marketing introduced 20-plus years ago by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers—the marketing gurus at Pepper & Rogers Group—is yet to be fully realized two decades later.

However, it would become attainable using AI. “AI and machine learning will help us achieve [one-to-one marketing],” Renaud said.

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Another speaker, Alison Wagonfeld, VP of Marketing at Google Cloud, noted she’s already using machine learning in her own day-to-day at the search giant. “The way Google thinks about it, it’s giving computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed,” she said. “That’s what we’re doing in the marketing group right now at Google Cloud.”

Wagonfeld gave examples of machine learning applications the marketing team is incorporating. Google Cloud offers customers a free trial of Google Suite, and when the Google marketing team wanted to see what drove the most paid conversions in the past, Wagonfeld and her team ran a number of campaigns and measured how many converted at the end of the trial. That process took 45 days.

“Converting them from free to paid is the ultimate goal,” Wagonfeld said. In order to optimize that process with machine learning, Wagonfeld worked with engineers to come up with a model. They looked at the types of customers most likely to convert or upgrade, and discovered there are 100 different factors that go into whether someone converts. “It’s hard for the marketing team to be able to analyze that,” she said.

With the newly created machine learning model, “within two days, we [could] score new customers coming through,” Wagonfeld said—rather than a month and a half. The best part is that the model is continuously updated with real-time data.

Most importantly, efforts like these save time and money for Google Cloud. “We can spend two-thirds as much money and see the same or better ROI,” Wagonfeld said.

AI Helps Marketers Enhance CX

Chris Golec, founder of Demandbase, said the benefits of AI, especially combined with ABM, would not only help marketers, but also affect the customer journey. “AI can change the marketing world, but also your customers’ experience,” he said. He explained today’s buyer’s journey through a marketer’s website as a “maze.” That’s where trying to discover the optimal path to the customer goes awry. “You will get it wrong,” Golec said. That’s where AI can be effective. Marketers need to “hijack the buyer’s journey,” Golec said. “AI allows us to do that.”

AI, he said, has begun to help marketers:

  • Discover companies in market for products and services;
  • Identify the right buyers and influencers and how to message them; and
  • Optimize keywords for paid search, SEO and other content generation.

Demandbase introduced an AI-based website personalization solution to its product suite at the conference. The product, Site Optimization, extends Demandbase’s website personalization solution by recommending relevant, personalized content to each visitor based on AI insights.

The company’s AI capabilities got a boost last May when it acquired Spiderbook, a data science company that automates the identification of likely buyers.

SAP’s Eric Martin, VP of Customer Experience Marketing, who presented a session detailing the company’s ABM strategy, said measuring engagement with target accounts is the primary goal. SAP, he said, is “kicking off a program with the Spiderbook team.” Martin is looking forward to the metrics he’ll be able to gather from that effort. “It’ll allow us to report engagement across specific accounts and … other signals outside of SAP.”

Experts at the Summit cautioned that while AI and machine learning combined with ABM are powerful, it is still in the early days and most businesses and marketers have yet to take advantage of the technology.

“Even where AI capability exists, maturity is low,” said Mark Phillips, Digital VP at McKinsey & Co. “The use of AI to drive strategy for business is incredibly low.”

Nor is AI “The Holy Grail” for marketing, according to Wagonfeld.

“Alas, [there is] no such thing,” she said. “We still need the marketing to go with the science. It’s all about the combination. Bringing the two together as part of the next wave of innovation will be powerful for marketers.”

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