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Three Reasons Humans Are Essential to AI

By Jesse Wolfersberger | 10.14.18

The algorithms are coming.

Artificial intelligence is the most important marketing innovation in our lifetime.

First, the Internet fundamentally altered marketing and advertising. Then, we did it all over again with the mobile revolution. AI presents the next dramatic shift and it will have greater impact than anything that came before it. But for the algorithms to be effective, for the machine learning to work successfully, it will take smart, creative humans to put AI to use.

According to PwC, 72 percent of business leaders consider AI to be a business advantage. Based on data from Adobe, top-performing companies are more than twice as likely as their competitors to be using AI for marketing.

For brands, using AI for personalization will make the greatest impact. AI offers the potential to understand and be proactive with consumers on a deeper level. The technology will allow you to anticipate your customers’ needs and solve problems they didn’t know they had. What’s better than finding $5 in the pocket of your jeans? Finding $5 in the pocket of your jeans when the coffee you just ordered is $4.95 and their card reader is broken.

One example of predictive problem solving is an AI program for HSBC that provides a highly personalized experience to the bank’s credit card customers. The AI algorithm found some compelling and counterintuitive data connections. One fun connection, for instance, is customers who take public transportation also like to use their loyalty points on travel. Based on its analysis, the AI model predicted the types of reward each loyalty member was likely to redeem over the next year, and then suggested one of four categories—travel, merchandise, gift cards, or cash—to offer in an upcoming promotion.  

The algorithm turned out to be right. Many HSBC cardholders received emails based on the AI recommendation. Of those who received the targeted messages and redeemed, 70 percent opted for the AI-suggested category. Essentially, the AI served as a personal shopper for the customer, saving them time and encouraging them to use points that may have otherwise gone unused.

So, why are humans still needed in this brave new world of AI and machine learning? Here are three reasons why the human factor is essential to the success of your AI program.

You need to keep your strategists and analysts close. The thing that makes AI amazing is also the thing that makes it opaque: its calculations are beyond human comprehension. When you’re integrating AI into your business, you need to have experienced professionals run the show. This includes having them oversee substantial testing and gradual roll-outs. The results have to make sense. You

don’t want to be in a situation where you are acting based on an AI recommendation and find out that a revenue column has been accidentally swapped with the cost column.

Collaboration is critical. Traditionally, data analysts work in their own silo. But AI is much more than a data project. It’s critical to the macro view of your customer journey, so everyone—strategists, analysts, and creatives—all need to be involved and work together. You should have a marketing strategy that aligns with data science and with a creative team that executes it. Understand the full, broader picture; don’t just send data to the analytics team.

You should have buy-in from the C-suite. The race to an AI future will not be won by the company that can buy the biggest servers. Rather, the winners will be companies that have the most buy-in at the executive level. Are you willing to reorganize your entire company around AI? How many degrees of separation are there between your CEO and your head of data sciences? When your AI forecasts a change in the market, do you trust it enough to change your prices and inventory; your marketing strategy? These are the types of people-related hurdles that will determine whether companies and their marketing teams are truly ready for an

AI revolution.

AI offers limitless potential for the future of marketing. But the algorithms can’t function effectively all by themselves. To reach your goals and deeply engage your customers using AI, you should keep your marketing, data, and creative teams in lockstep. It’s the only way you’ll fully leverage the most exciting marketing technology we’ve ever seen.

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About the Author

Jesse Wolfersberger is chief data officer of Maritz Motivation Solutions. Jesse leads Maritz' Decision Sciences department, a team of data analysts who specialize in combining artificial intelligence and behavioral science to drive value for clients. He's a data scientist with expertise in machine learning, econometric modeling, simulation, and research. In his free time, Jesse uses his analytics knowledge in the realm of baseball statistics, where he consults for a Major League team.