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BW Businessworld

The Journey Of AI In Marketing Has Begun

As technology gathers pace, marketers acknowledge the rise of artificial intelligence & machine learning to find newer, more cost efficient ways of connecting with consumers

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) wields great potential in processing data collected by top marketing organisations. Even though its promise is evident, the on-ground reality is that despite AI being used extensively for product development, its utility in marketing has tremendous scope for growth. Senior marketers suggest that machine learning (ML), a subset of AI, has been through a significant journey in a consumer’s decision making process but in the adoption of AI itself in marketing, the narrative has only just begun.

At a BW Businessworld and Netcore organised roundtable, marketers from the banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) industry and the retail segment gathered to discuss winning marketing strategies by leveraging data and analysing it with the help of AI and ML. 

Elaborating on the current state of affairs in AI and ML, Gagan Singla, CMO, Angel Broking said, “AI today has more to do with product than marketing, and we first need to build the product and then carry on the marketing for it. Today marketing has gained significant influence from AI and should the trend persist, in the near future we might see robots automatically creating content and that would help marketers. At present however, we are not seeing enough of AI making an impact on sales conversions for instance, and in that sense, AI in marketing has a long way to go.”

From Information To Imagination

If the presence of data was about access to ‘information’, analytics led to ‘knowledge’ that could help marketers. According to Manish Dubey, EVP - Marketing, ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Company Limited, AI can catapult this to ‘imagination’.

“In the past, data was seen as information. Now, with analytics, it has become knowledge that can help marketers in making decisions and offering relevant propositions to the customers. At ICICI Prudential Life Insurance, we are using analytics to deliver superior value to the customers,” he said.

Among the benefits of AI and ML for marketers, the leaders pointed out that AI is being used to comprehend the core basics of business. There are many companies who have done predictive churning and recommendation processes well. From a retail perspective, the loyalty market is driving a larger part of the revenue for several brands, as AI in marketing helps marketers derive relevance from campaigns.

What Holds AI Back?

Despite these advantages, marketers are battling a host of issues in driving forward the adoption of AI. Getting the buy-in from the board, proving a case to scale up AI across segments with a given timeframe or even showing tangible results from AI in terms of products are a few. 

Rahul Vasu, Head Loyalty, Hypercity, said, “The main issue with AI in domains such as retail is that everything we do in our business is ex post facto and hence, we don’t see the effectiveness of our campaigns and services in the moment. If AI could provide us with effective results on a real-time basis, then we could be one of the smartest industries. At present, even though we use data analytics, we lack a smarter view of that very same data.”

The point was seconded by Parmeswar Menon, Senior Vice President and Head, Core Policy Transaction System, Customer and Partner Integration (IT) at SBI. He added, “We haven’t looked at data from a consumer’s perspective and this one reason why we are away from our goals. Even after using data from several stakeholders, we are still moving slowly because AI based on analysing facts post a particular campaign is not as engaging.” 

Outcomes & Results Matter

Perhaps like it is with any other tech, the senior marketers at the roundtable pointed out that for effective business results from AI and ML, marketing professionals need to turn to those who have invested in understanding, and applying, these technologies for outcomes.

“There are significant opportunities in the marketplace, where agencies could help you achieve what you want as an organization. But since AI is its initial stages, it is sensible to partner up with solution providers to build on learning as marketers,” advised Sheena Kapoor, VP – Marketing, Edelweiss Financial Services. 

Shiv Tiwary, Head - Business Transformation, Reliance Nippon Life Insurance, added to that, saying that he felt that ML and AI are quintessential for problem solving within organizations, and in realizing tangible marketing return on investment (ROI). He explained that Reliance Nippon Life Insurance has adopted an enterprise-wide digital first approach to constantly identify use-cases for deploying analytics, ML and AI tools to maximize efficiencies and deliver customer delight.

“Leveraging ML techniques, Reliance Nippon Life Insurance Company launched a unique, industry-first digital app for its sales teams in August, 2017. The built-in algorithm, has delivered not just faster, but also a superior risk assessment that helps the company make underwriting decisions within a matter of minutes leading to customer and distributor delight,” he said.

“There have always been implementation related issues with any new technology that the Indian market adopts,” pointed out Deepali Naair, CMO, IIFL, stating that the onus is on marketers to orchestrate the available tech-led solutions at their disposal, in order to grow marketing beyond the “superficial”. 

She added, “I expect our partners in this journey – whether it is the agencies or the technology service providers to understand that any new approach or solution must show return on investment, and contribute towards achieving larger business objectives. This expectation is far more from the technology service providers as they are taking the lead to work with marketers for implementing solutions. The return on investment could be addition to topline or bottom line or speed of operations/delivery or customer delight, anything concrete.”

Growing AI’s Adoption

The discussion threw up an important question -- what can be done for a more speedy adoption of AI? Veer Bothra, Chief Innovation Officer, Netcore Solutions, provided some insights on the subject, explaining that AI and ML could be most beneficial where human intelligence had its limits. “AI can give feedbacks from devices within seconds and devices such as Alexa are contributing towards providing more accurate data,” he pointed out. 

“The technology has the potential to humanise communication to a larger segment of customers,” Bothra went on to say, adding, “Consumer technology today is changing the way of marketing both online and offline, and businesses need to realise where AI and ML is revolutionising marketing. ML can come into play wherever human intelligence has its limits and AI will be the outcome of pattern analytics. We need to focus on bringing out the best practices possible at the cusp of marketing and technology.” 

The roundtable concluded on an optimistic note. AI could humanise communication on scale, the participants concurred, making the ultimate difference to connecting with consumers. Most, or approximately six people of nine at the roundtable, believed that 2018 would prove to be the year of AI. AI and ML are capable of creating a cost-efficient strategy and the future will see conversion of data into analytics, and eventually into execution.