Audience Building with Artificial Intelligence (AI): Is It Brilliant or Just a Stretch?

More brands are trying to let the bots do their thinking—it’s scalable, but is it costing them brand caché

Artificial intelligence opens exciting possibilities, but the truth is, digital marketers have always relied on algorithms to their work. From displaying ads related to key terms to sorting through a marketing automation workflow logic, the bots have been there to sort, filter, personalize, and deliver for years.

AI is now stepping into new territory: handling communication on our behalf. What happens when you outsource your brand’s communication to an algorithm?

What did you hope would happen?

“Better question: What does your audience hope will happen?”

Filtering and Personalization with Artificial Intelligence

AI’s primary function is filtering, allowing you to spend your money on sending the right message to the right person at the right time. From that perspective, using artificial intelligence to deliver content via messaging is really just marketing automation in overdrive. And from the customer perspective, that’s exactly what they want...at least in theory.

Audiences demand personalization—and it has to happen at a rate that is altogether out of reach for mere mortals to accomplish. For example, Marketo claims that their new Content-AI product “selects the next piece of content of interest to a customer, based on their previous choice, and can, for example, tell you the top 10 most interesting pieces for a particular audience. It does this in real-time, something that no human could possibly be able to do in weeks or even months.”

Salesforce reports in their 4th Annual State of Marketing Report,

“The short answer is that customers increasingly expect consistent, personalized experiences—and their loyalty is on the line. This applies to consumers and business buyers alike. While more than half (52%) of consumers are likely to switch brands if a company doesn’t make an effort to personalize communications to them, 65% of business buyers say the same about vendor relationships.”

It’s no wonder, then, that 61% of marketers are looking to innovations in AI to help them with hyper-personalization of content; dynamic landing pages and websites; and delivering the right message, on the right channel, at the right time.

Gartner says that by 2020, 25% of customer service operations will use virtual customer assistants, up from less than 2% in 2017. The goal of every chatbot is, of course, to mimic a real person...even when people know that it’s not a real person on the other side.

How Audience Building with Artificial Intelligence Works

There are two places you’ve likely encountered chatbots: on a brand’s website, and on the brand’s Facebook page. Have you noticed how visiting a Facebook page instantly results in a message appearing, just for you?

The more your audience interacts with these chatbots, the easier it is to ask for contact information—”Please enter your email address to begin chatting”; “Can I get your phone number in case we get disconnected?”; and of course Facebook profiles serve up retargeting opportunities all day long.

Chatbots give users a very easy micro-yes. It’s almost thoughtless; of course you want a transcript of your conversation—whether you’re solving a technical problem or booking a hotel, you want to be able to refer back to it. “Please, take my email!,” your audience will be saying, or so the experience would dictate. The same person who would disdain your newsletter signup CTA will readily engage with your chatbot (hoping that it’s a real person on the other side), because they are getting the information they need, when they need it.

And that’s what makes chatbots successful—visitors are finally getting the value they are looking for. At least, they expect to get the value they need. If your chatbot fails to provide or appears too robotic, then your chatbot could harm your brand instead of build it.

Pitfalls of Audience Building with Artificial Intelligence

When you read the word “corporate,” you probably associate several words with it...among them, “impersonal, cold, robotic, unfeeling, uncaring.”

Small businesses get to play against the corporate behemoths because they necessarily provide a more personalized experience. With the explosion of chatbots and other AI tools, however, it’s easier than ever for a small business to look like a big business...for better or for worse.

The part of artificial intelligence that most people forget is that it is artificial. These technologies can only do what we have programmed them to accomplish—it just so happens that they are resolving repetitive issues and performing repetitive tasks. But when brands fail to properly program their AI interface, they create frustration, and even public embarrassment.

Are You Solving Their Problems, or Yours?

Your audience is trying to resolve specific problems. The more you understand about how to get them from point A to point B, the more efficiently you can remove friction. As AI tools progress, you have more ways to do that in an automated system.

Those pitfalls often come when businesses use AI because they are trying to lower costs instead of trying to get the right information to their audience at a faster rate.

Do You Have an Audience Building Strategy?

Artificial intelligence is amazing, and it can help you build your audience. But brands often get derailed when a new technology comes along, because they think they need a strategy to integrate that technology into their stack.

  1. For example, when did you last hear the phrase, “What’s our social media strategy?”

    Yes, it’s good to have a strategy to maximize the use of social media, but that’s only the first half of the question and many brands don’t address the second half. The end goal has to be defined—a more appropriate question might be, “What is our social media strategy...to improve customer service ratings / increase lead qualification / increase customer retention / etc.”

  2. Before you ask yourself, “What’s our AI and chatbot strategy...”, stop and make sure you finish with “...to build our audience / improve customer service ratings / lower helpdesk ticket creation / etc.?”

Do you need chatbots? No. No one does. You need to build your audience...and chatbots just might be the most efficient way to accomplish that goal at this time. In other words, the technology isn’t the point: building your brand and your audience is.

So what is your audience building strategy?