Boston, MA – Year: 2036
Self-driving cars zip along the streets below your office, their electric motors emitting a gentle hum. It’s rush hour, but you’d never know it. There’s no bumper to bumper traffic. No gridlock. No angry Bostonians honking their car horns.
As you approach your desk, your virtual assistant recognizes you and automatically pulls up your marketing analytics dashboard. “Would you like to see yesterday’s stats?” a digital voice asks politely. “No,” you reply, “Show me tomorrow’s stats.”
Your dashboard switches to predictive analytics mode, revealing how much traffic your site is likely to get tomorrow, as well as how many sign-ups and new customers you’re likely to bring in. There’s also a list of suggested actions that can help you improve your odds. The first item on the list: “Send 1:1 message to Dale Donaghy to increase likelihood of purchase by 47%.”
You tap on the photo of Dale that’s displayed next to his name and pull up your 1:1 conversation history. Before you can think of what to say, your virtual assistant chimes in: “Analysis of Dale’s past communications and personality profile indicate that he’d be most interested in learning about your latest product integration. Also, Dale is a Red Sox fan, so you could break the ice by mentioning last night’s game … “
From HAL 9000 taking over a spaceship in 2001: A Space Odyssey, to Skynet taking over the world in the Terminator franchise, to that Haley Joel Osment robot acting super creepy in A.I., Hollywood has shown us time and time again that artificial intelligence (AI) will inevitably lead to some sort of catastrophe.
At Drift, our vision of the future — and how AI will play a role in it — is considerably more optimistic.
We see a future where AI doesn’t replace humans (or, ya know, try to destroy them), but instead supplements human knowledge and experience. And for marketers, that means advancements in AI could help us unlock deeper customer insights, help us communicate with prospects and customers more effectively, and help us eliminate the more monotonous, impersonal aspects of our jobs.
The end result: A more human experience for everyone involved.
Now, I know this might sound counterintuitive — using AI to become more human, to enhance our humanity — but that’s how we’ve been using technology for thousands of years. AI is just one of our latest innovations. As University of California computer scientist Stuart Russell explains:
Everything that civilization offers is a product of our intelligence. AI provides a way to expand that intelligence along various dimensions, in much the same way that cranes allow us to carry hundreds of tons, airplanes allow us to move at hundreds of miles per hour, and telescopes allow us to see things trillions of miles away. AI systems can, if suitably designed, support much greater realization of human values.
Ultimately, the direction and form that AI takes will depend on the people working on it. And while Russell can’t rule out the possibility that someday, some nefarious enterprise will try to use AI for a supervillain-level world domination scheme (paraphrasing), that’s not the outcome today’s AI engineers are working toward. So Russell sees advancements in AI affecting humanity in a much more positive way:
AI offers greater access for humans to human knowledge and individual learning; the elimination of language barriers between peoples; and the elimination of meaningless and repetitive drudgery that reduces people to the status of, well, robots.
For many marketers, myself included, we’ve historically looked at AI and seen it as a threat: something that could potentially make our knowledge and skill sets obsolete. But based on what companies and engineers are actually doing with AI nowadays, it seems much more likely that — in the near future — AI is going to be one of our most important allies.
The Robots Are Coming … And They’re Going to Make Marketing Way Better
My prediction: AI isn’t going to replace marketers and marketing teams, it’s going to make them more efficient. It isn’t going to replace human intelligence, it’s going to add to it through uncovering new insights. And it isn’t going to turn us into mindless marketing robots. Instead, AI promises to free us from “repetitive drudgery” (e.g. anything that involves an Excel spreadsheet) so we can spend more of our time on tasks that require a human touch.
How is AI going to do all of that? It might sound like a bunch of science fiction, but there are already a lot of people working on AI-enabled tools that could revolutionize how we do marketing.
Here are a few of the companies and projects that stand out:
Remember that “virtual assistant” I wrote about in my futuristic introduction?
We’re getting there.
Talla is an assistant bot that lets you manage Google Apps/Office 365 tasks from the comfort of your favorite messaging platform (e.g., Slack).
Need to schedule a meeting with Dale for Thursday? Just send a message to Talla that says, “Schedule a meeting with Dale for Thursday,” and the bot can find a time that works for both of you, send out invites, and add the meeting to your calendar.
You could also tell Talla something like, “Share this doc with everyone on the team, ask them to provide feedback on it, then compile their responses,” and the bot will do your bidding.
Instead of being programmed to respond to specific code words or special characters, the Talla bot uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) to understand the meaning behind what you’re saying so it can respond appropriately. Modern NLP (like the kind Talla uses) relies on machine learning, which means the Talla bot is continually learning from the conversations it’s having and improving its own performance.
Created specifically for marketing and sales professionals, GrowthBot is an NLP-powered chatbot that you can interact with via Slack or Facebook Messenger. The bot acts like a personal sales and marketing research assistant and can answer questions like, “What software does X company use?” and, “What are the top articles on X topic?”
By connecting GrowthBot to platforms like HubSpot or Google Analytics, GrowthBot can also surface metrics. All you need to do is ask. (e.g. “How was website traffic last week?”)
AgilOne provides marketers with predictive analytics (i.e. it helps marketers figure out what their prospects and customers are going to do next).
Predictive analysis isn’t a new concept. At a basic level, bartenders and shopkeepers have been using it for centuries. Through having relationships with and learning to understand the habits of their customers, they could predict when customers would show up, as well as what (and how much) they would buy.
AgilOne uses machine learning to apply predictive analysis on a much broader scale. Through integrating and analyzing customer data from multiple online channels, AgilOne can make predictions about prospects including likelihood to buy, email engagement, and customer value. It can also automatically detect and segment clusters of prospects/customers based on shared behaviors and characteristics.
Look, we couldn’t leave this one out … we’re just too excited about it.
Our chatbot at Drift uses machine learning to understand the conversations your prospects and customers are having with your company, and can help ensure they are always connected with the right person or team (e.g. Marketing, Sales, Support).
Moving forward, we see Driftbot playing a central role in helping marketers deliver more personalized 1:1 experiences.
Hollywood has conditioned us into thinking that AI will arrive as part of some single, massive, apocalyptic explosion of technology. One day a company launches a new AI-driven app, the next day all of humanity is bowing down to an army of robot overlords.
In reality, AI isn’t a single technology that’s waiting to be discovered and unleashed upon the world. As Russell explains, AI is “the general problem of creating intelligence in machines; it is not a specific technical product … it’s a problem. Any approach to the problem counts as a contribution to AI.”
As more and more people and companies start working on this problem, we’re excited to see how the results can help make marketing more human.
The shift to AI technologies won’t happen overnight, but it is happening. And at some point, you’ll need to figure out how AI is going to fit into your marketing strategy.