Is AI working for your organization? Can you prove its ROI? Are you in the pilot stage and wondering what key metrics warrant rolling it out for marketing automation and at what point to cut bait?
We can't answer those questions for you, but we can -- and did -- ask a number of industry leaders and observers to talk about where AI is going in the next year, as well as how it's reshaping marketing automation.
One thing's for sure: If you're marketing to customers in Europe, you'd better get your act together before the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) takes effect in May 2018. GDPR email marketing rules could mean a crackdown for businesses that are ill-prepared to comply with them. The regulation carries the force of law, and it harmonizes a patchwork of privacy rules across the EU's member states.
GDPR email marketing rules remake workflows
Michelle Huff, CMO, Act-On Software: "The GDPR requires that all companies doing business in the EU -- or online with EU citizens -- protect the personal data and the privacy of those citizens.
A marketer will need to treat cookie data with the same level of protection as they would a customer's address or birthdate. This means data security and privacy are no longer just IT's problem. Marketers need to educate themselves on what data they have, how they use it and how it is protected, then limit access appropriately.
The days of exporting a huge CSV file of user data and uploading it to your email marketing platform are fast drawing to a close. For email, the best way not to run afoul of the GDPR [email marketing rules] is to institute tighter controls on email marketing programs.
Express consent must be granted by your customers, for both the data you are collecting and how you will use it. And, once collected, that data should never leave utilities that have been vetted and approved to meet the required level of data security.
The GDPR will have the biggest fundamental impact on marketing in the last decade, and the biggest impact on how companies go to market since the invention of the cloud. The onus is on marketing technology providers to ensure that their users have access to the tools they need to market safely and securely in the world of marketing under the GDPR [email marketing rules]."
2018: Year of the unsubscribe
Matt Harris, co-founder and CEO, Sendwithus: "If you weren't doing double opt-in before, do it now. 2018 will be the year of the unsubscribe.
People are collectively realizing that they're being bombarded by far too much online content, and unsubscribing or flagging irrelevant email is a fast and easy way to turn down the noise. Not only will double opt-ins help with regulatory compliance, they will ensure you have only interested, engaged and invested customers on your list, which will prevent unsubscribes and spam reports, which will, in turn, protect your reputation.
From a technical standpoint, a double opt-in requires a simple click to confirm auto-response upon sign up. But you could use the opportunity to collect more data points to further personalize the user experience. A simple -- but optional -- checklist on the confirmation landing page would allow the user to select preferences, such as email frequency, product categories or content topics."
Marketing integrates across channels
Joe Stanhope, VP and principal analyst, Forrester: "For 2018, I see a major shift in how marketers orient themselves -- and, by extension, their marketing automation efforts -- with respect to multitouch, multichannel customer engagement.
Historically, often by necessity, marketing automation and customer interactions have been very siloed by channel. Marketers are rapidly evolving beyond this state, and we'll see major progress in this in 2018.
Marketers will view customer engagement less as a series of independent or lightly related interactions, but rather as a continuous customer journey comprised of highly personalized moments that create opportunities to create value between the customer and brand. This approach will necessarily lead marketers to seek advances in their marketing automation capabilities to support the orchestration and delivery of interactions in line with customer journeys across any engagement point, regardless of channel, touch point or device."
Chat marketing comes of age
Srivatsan Venkatesan, Freshworks product head, Freshsales CRM: "Consumers will prefer chat as a medium over other forms in 2018. Bots powered with context will become the real enablers.
In addition, bots will begin to adopt the look and feel of the application or website you integrate them with, thereby providing a native or personal experience."
Enterprises struggle with 'digital laziness'
Daniel Siegel, independent digital product architect: "Trends change every year, but what seems to stick is something I refer to as digital laziness. Instead of fixing the actual, hard and sometimes messy problem, we come up with an easy technological solution.
We prefer a CRM instead of picking up the phone. We prefer an email reminder instead of meeting someone face to face. We prefer a fully automated website and newsletter instead of staying in contact with our clients ourselves. We become lazy because we think the computer is taking care of it.
Now, we can use websites, drip campaigns, newsletters and digital marketing strategies to get more and better clients, but we'll fail utterly if we don't assert the fundamental goal we're trying to achieve. Instead, we have to see the above as tools we can use to reach these goals and augment parts of our businesses."
Marketing turns to influencers
Collin Holmes, founder and CEO, Chatmeter: "Consumers are tired of traditional, intrusive marketing messages, and [are] instead turning to their peers to influence what they do and buy. Coupled with the rise of ad-blockers and cord-cutting consumers, we can presume that we will all become influencers as online reviews and social sites become prevalent influencer marketing tools over the next few years.
This evolution is already beginning, as we know from the 92% of consumers who report making a purchase after visiting Yelp -- a higher conversion rate than search engines and social platforms where most influencers currently reside. This is arguably for the better, as ad, marketing and content providers are facing pressure to be more creative, personal, relevant and timely with content, while simultaneously continuing to manage spend."
AI marketing wears thin
Matt Nolan, Pegasystems Marketing Automation director of product marketing, Pegasystems: "The term artificial intelligence is being overused and is increasingly wearing thin on marketers who are way ahead of the CRM learning curve and already leveraging much of the AI tech being showcased, [such as] predictive analytics, machine learning, natural language processing and customer decision management engines.
Marketing practitioners, particularly those focused deeply on martech capabilities, see clearly through the veneer put in place by vendors -- and know that a lot of the truly powerful AI tech, like deep learning platforms, won't fully mature and add functional business value for years. So the challenge isn't finding a place to leverage new AI -- it's finding a way to consolidate and operationalize the AI components they already have to provide a compelling customer experience and keep those individuals engaged.
In a sector with more than 5,000 unique marketing solutions, the average campaign response rate is less than one percent. There's one question every company needs to ask itself: What are we actually trying to accomplish with our marketing? Because the answer isn't 'to run campaigns.'
Campaigns aren't the end goal, they are just a means to an end. And despite how marketers are driven to behave, the goal isn't simply to sell products either -- that's shortsighted. Instead, the goal must be to increase revenue and profit for the company as a whole and, ideally, to increase customer satisfaction at the same time."
Long live AI
Meghann York, Salesforce Marketing Cloud director of product marketing, Salesforce: "At Salesforce, we're seeing incredibly rapid product innovation in artificial intelligence.
Driven by changing consumer expectations, 2018 will be the year that marketers more broadly invest [in] and adopt these technologies. Marketing leaders are realizing that, to meet consumer expectations around personalization and real-time, relevant, contextual content, they'll need to turn to AI for help."
How personalized content in email newsletters can drive engagement and sales