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DIGITAL EXPERIENCE STRATEGY How artificial intelligence is transforming B2B marketing

Consumer-oriented companies like Amazon and Google have generated most of the artificial intelligence (AI) buzz so far. But the B2B world is now poised for transformative change as well, as AI makes it possible to finally deliver on the promise of real-time, personalized, one-to-one interactions. It’s no wonder that AI dominated the conversation at the recent Demandbase Marketing Innovation Summit. It’s also no accident, as the company introduced its new AI-powered Site Optimization functionality during the event.

The future is now. New marketing technologies are making the 1:1 dreams of 25 years ago come true today.

Jennifer Renaud

CMO Oracle Marketing Cloud

Demandbase provides the technology underpinnings of account-based marketing, an approach that focuses on reaching specific, targeted accounts with messaging and content that is relevant to that organization. The new AI capability enables B2B marketers to zero in even more precisely and personalize their website to an individual—even if that person is a first-time visitor.

Why AI is taking over the (digital) world

For B2B marketers, the excitement around AI is understandable, as it helps bridge a chasm of understanding about the people who engage with our digital experiences and with whom we hope to build deeper, more loyal customer relationships. Summit speakers touched on many of the ways AI is transforming B2B digital marketing.

  • Intimacy at scale. In his opening keynote, Demandbase CMO Peter Isaacson said B2B marketers have fallen in love with volume at the expense of relationships. AI, he said, can bring human intimacy back by enabling us to market to hundreds of accounts in a personal way.
  • Understanding complexity. AI easily surpasses human capacity when it comes to the data and connected systems that are inherent in complex B2B websites. McKesson’s Head of Digital Marketing and Technologies Rohit Prabhakar said B2B websites need to run like Amazon.com, and AI can help us understand the complexity.
  • Machine-informed insights. Demandbase CEO Chris Golec said AI enables us to learn from billions of real B2B web interactions, rather than relying only on persona insights to guide relevant content and messaging.

How will AI transform your business?

Technology almost always presents a double-edged sword: new capabilities like marketing automation, predictive analytics and AI offer us the potential to be faster, smarter, more successful B2B marketers. But technology is not a strategy. And it doesn’t come bundled with the people, processes and platforms you need to effectively execute.

  • People: AI means your business will need fewer humans. But you will need more humans who have the knowledge and skills to manage data—and technology platforms: Developers. Data scientists. Marketing technologists.
  • Processes: Just as technology platforms and data need to connect across silos, our knowledge and expertise must cross disciplines. And Marketing, Sales and Operations must work in lock-step.
  • Platforms: Your martech stack must also work together. As McKinsey’s Mark Phillips said, the value of AI will be unlocked by interoperability. That means connecting platforms like Demandbase with core technologies such as your CMS and marketing automation systems.

The key to realizing the true value of AI (or any other technology) is a digital strategy that focuses on customer experience and provides an operating model that aligns to business goals. 

Will AI automate your job?

If robots are doing all this work, where does that leave warm-blooded humans like you and me? How will we stay ahead of the change that artificial intelligence and other technological advances will drive? Are we destined to become the coal miners and assembly-line workers of the digital age?

It’s not crazy to worry about your future. Speaking about how AI and deep learning will change marketing forever, Christopher Penn noted, “If you do something more than three times, it's a candidate for automation…. If you use a template to do it today, a machine does it without you tomorrow.”

Either you will manage the machines, or the machines will manage you.

Christopher Penn

Vice President of Marketing Technology SHIFT Communications

Machines are infinitely better than us when it comes to algorithms and automation. But they’re not very good at being human. Even Watson, IBM’s grand daddy of AI, has limits. Watson may be able to generate recipes on the fly for the ingredients you have in your pantry. But as the fine print warns: the recipe has not been tested in a real kitchen, so it might not be very good.

That means our ticket to survival is not to become more like robots, but to become better humans. We need to study and relearn everything that makes us human, Chris advises, because highly creative tasks are extremely difficult to automate. In short: Let the machines do the heavy lifting, while we cross-train across disciplines.

It may still be early days for AI, with the majority of adoption clustered in digital and data-driven companies like Amazon and Google. But get ready: Change is coming. And it’s always better to lead the way than to play catch-up.

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