Think AI Is Years Off? Think Again

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IBM's Watson was used to help make a preview for 'Morgan,' a 2016 movie about AI.
IBM's Watson was used to help make a preview for 'Morgan,' a 2016 movie about AI. Credit: 20th Century FOX via YouTube

If 2016 was the year of mobile and 2017 was the year of video, what will 2018 bring? According to former SAP and Oracle executive Bob Evans, 2018 will show us which leaders are serious about "digital transformation, customer-centric marketing and the unleashing of AI."

There it is: AI. Today's buzziest buzzword. But 2018 is here, and some marketing leaders are seizing the day. Here are five ways that AI is being used to improve results right now.

1. Content

The cost of human capital is motivating publishers to produce both editorial and commercial content using AI. Some brands are taking the same route. IBM's Watson, for example, can create movie trailers by splicing just the right scenes together, based on an audience's emotional reactions. This capability was used to create the trailer for Luke Scott's 2016 AI thriller, "Morgan."

AI is also being used to find brands the ideal spokespeople. Sony, Hyundai and J&J all work with Influential, which uses machine learning to match brands to the talent that best fits their campaigns and objectives.

2. Tools and data.

Digital media buying is being redefined by AI tools like Albert, which can look across biddable media silos and make thousands if not millions of real-time budget allocation decisions between search, social and programming.

Then there's Lucy, Equals 3's Watson-powered data-mining tool. She can read white papers, create consumer archetypes and fold in all kinds of other data sets in her quest to help fashion the optimal channel allocation (whether it be specific TV networks or search). AI-powered software tools such as Jivox create bespoke content and dynamic ad units based on multiple sources of data at every stage of the consumer journey.

3. Media optimization

There aren't enough Excel macros and campaign optimization tools in the world to match the number of scenarios that AI can create, understand and recommend.

And it's not only about volume. Anodot's "real time analytics and automated anomaly detection system" can crunch massive data sets and decide whether unusual events are blips or real opportunities. Xaxis' Co-Pilot uses AppNexus Programmable Bidder (APB) to build media-buying algorithms that can lead to double-digital improvements in conversion rates.

4. Smarter (re)targeting

Buying dog treats online today can mean being stalked by pet care purveyors for what feels like forever. AI can help by identifying the purchase habits associated with particular products, figuring out when lapsed baskets were intended purchases and when they weren't, and sending out customized retargeting messages when a price reaches exactly the right spot.

5. Consumer experience

Finally, AI-powered chat bots are getting better and better at conveying information that can help consumers make better, more knowledgeable purchase decisions.

My last point is that marketers need to think about investing in their AI capabilities before they get desperate. The World Federation of Advertisers recently reported that 73% of marketers at major multinationals predict a future skills gap in AI, and Google is already sourcing experts from China. The talent drought may be multiplicative, even, as academic scientists lured away by companies like Facebook, Amazon and Apple will be unavailable to teach the next generation of students.

We can only see the tip of the AI iceberg today, but the range of highly repetitive to nearly dreamlike responsibilities it can take on are likely to make many "impossible" tasks eminently possible. Consider one or more of these five opportunities for your business. You may not only benefit today, but -- as with all things -- the best preparation for the future is to get your feet wet now.

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