Why AI will help retailers usher in an era of extreme personalization

Amongst all the tech innovations in the fashion world, AI is arguably one of the most exciting. AI is providing new strategies for fashion retailers to improve their personalization capabilities, for instance via recommendation engines that show the best categories and products based on the consumer’s fashion tastes and site-wide trends. But it doesn’t end there – AI will help retailers through the marketing funnel, determining when is the optimum time to release new collections, offers, and special promotions based on their analysis of consumers behaviors.

In this era of innovation, email marketers who rely purely on legacy personalization techniques such as business rules and segmentation risk losing market share to innovators who are willing to adopt AI-driven personalization. And time isn’t on the side of those who follow these legacy personalization techniques – AI is accelerating the pace of competition and innovative marketers who embrace change will be the new market leaders.

Businesses either recognize these changes and invest for the future of consumer-centric marketing, or they don’t. Continuing with legacy personalization techniques or ‘business as usual’ is not going to help. AI provides the opportunity for marketers to make up for lost time instantly, leapfrog the competition and better engage consumers in ways that they prefer, value, and appreciate.

But if the future of AI is so bright, why isn’t everyone jumping on AI? It turns out there are seven deadly myths hindering marketing’s ability to expedite changes.

Myth #1: AI is too complicated and costly to add to the marketing mix

In a 2017 study of AI and marketing, Forrester Research discovered that 48% of marketers believe that AI integration would be too expensive, and 29% and believe that it’s too complicated to integrate. In reality, AI isn’t as complicated, costly, or scary as Science Fiction would have us believe.  Most of today’s AI platforms are SAAS-based, designed to integrate with existing marketing technology stacks and eliminate the need rip-and-replace existing platforms such as email service providers.

Myth #2: Marketers believe they’re already using AI-powered platforms

The Forrester study also reports that a massive 40% of marketers think they are already using AI-powered platforms. Also, 40% also think that they’ve adopted AI-driven marketing initiatives.

Most marketers were never trained in Data Science and are mostly unaware what it is and what it isn’t.   And technology vendors, keen to jump on the AI bandwagon, may be tempted to obfuscate matters. This article outlines what AI personalization is, and what it isn’t and the questions in this article will help you to decide whether somebody is providing genuine AI personalization.

Myth #3: AI will take your job

Contrary to urban mythology, AI is built to enhance people’s efforts, not make them redundant. Marketing roles will shift slightly to more valuable elements such as data & marketing strategy, business planning, and creative.

The hype surrounding AI in the media can also lead to unrealistic management expectations that just by buying one of the commercial Machine Learning as service offerings from Microsoft, Amazon or Google a company will magically be able to deploy AI into production.  You need people in addition to Machine Learning to have a chance of a viable AI personalization strategy.  Any AI marketing strategy needs marketers who understand both the features of AI-driven platforms and their customer data, and AI without data-savvy marketers will lead to poor outcomes.

Myth #4: Marketers have already implemented personalization and don’t need AI

Dear {FIRST NAME}, we are having a promotion… again. Click here to be bombarded with discounts and offers that are not individualized to you.

Dear {FIRST NAME}, thank you for your order. From here, you will be continuously spammed with minimal attempt to understand your personal tastes and preferences.

Of course, these are not examples of actual personalization, but true personalization is what every customer now expects in modern e-commerce. Machine learning can analyze customer data to produce an AI profile of the consumer’s tastes and preferences. AI can also understand purchase intent and even anticipate the next purchase, enabling brands to ‘surprise and delight’ the customer with serendipitous product recommendations.

Customers expect true personalization, but in the Forrester study, only 6% of participants said that they believed their current tools and approaches were working well.  So it would seem there is lots for marketers to absorb, not only about machine learning but also how it provides opportunities for greater customer personalization and engagement.

And the small learning curve quickly pays dividends – an AI-powered personalization engine enables marketers to spend more time thinking of ways to delight consumers and less time deploying campaigns.

Myth 5: AI is only for the technology elite

The media can sometimes suggest that AI is suitable only for the technology giants – companies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, Spotify,  Apple, Microsoft, Salesforce,  – who can afford to maintain huge teams of AI experts. That perception is wrong.  Because AI can work on a SAAS basis, any retailer can add AI to their marketing stack. So AI is not just for the technology elite.  It’s for every business.

Myth 6: AI is all about fancy math and algorithms.

Many machine learning researchers call data the “rocket fuel” of machine learning.  After decades of research in machine learning, especially with the recent developments in deep learning, there are a number of excellent algorithms, but data is more important because data creates a more defensible position – unless it is stolen, your data cannot be recreated by your competitors.

Myth 7: AI requires a lot of work by marketers

The final deadly myth is that Implementing AI requires a lot of work from internal marketing teams.  Again this is unfounded. When implemented properly, AI requires minimal internal effort to deploy, apart from enabling access to appropriate data streams and agreeing on suitable goals.  From there, SAAS AI providers will automatically support your personalization strategies, because the last thing a busy marketer wants is yet another project to manage.

AI brings personalization to life

Marketers cannot afford to ignore AI — or evolving customer expectations any longer. Nor can they follow the old ‘business as usual’ playbook. Consumers will no longer be satisfied with segment driven campaigns; AI personalization is the next big thing and it’s here to stay.

AI represents a fantastic opportunity for marketers ready to leapfrog their competition. But the window of opportunity won’t last forever – 91% of marketers in the Forrester study said a platform that allows their teams to review and act on customer and marketing data in a continuous and real-time fashion would be valuable to their organization.

Personalization enhances the consumer’s experience with the retailer and boosts sales and engagement among consumers. It helps consumers discover what they’re looking for without spending time searching around, and it helps to start a genuine dialog between the retailer and its customers.

But personalization also takes a whole lot of data that needs to be processed, stored and associated with each other to be able to provide tailor-made experiences. AI and machine learning make this possible by analyzing large quantities of data to produce a personalized, omnichannel shopping experience. AI platforms can easily understand how consumers interact across multiple devices, unifying consumer data and enabling retailers to provide tailor-made experiences across various platforms.

Conclusion

To survive and thrive, brands must invest in new technologies that can indeed change the face of shopping. It’s already happening; something that appeared impossible just a couple of years ago is now achievable by all retailers – and individualized email newsletters are a prime example. These AI developments enable retailers to achieve best-in-class personalization that enables them to build stable and lasting relationships with customers.

It turns out that sending millions of unique emails is something that AI is really good at.. AI makes sending a million individualized emails as easy as sending one. And by humanizing AI and integrating AI into a marketing strategy, modern fashion brands can prosper while leaving the myths for everyone else to figure out.

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