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Retailers Turn to AI to Integrate Marketing Channels

Retailers Turn to AI to Integrate Marketing Channels
Credit: Milles Studio/Shutterstock

Want to see better marketing results? You might want to jump on the artificial intelligence bandwagon.

A February 2017 study of 200 businesses showed that retailers plan on expanding their marketing, particularly social media and mobile marketing, and incorporating artificial intelligence to better personalize the customer's journey as well as analyze results.

The study was conducted by Sailthru, a cross-channel management platform company. When discussing what marketing channels best met marketing goals, 56 percent of businesses surveyed said their websites generate the most online revenue, with email marketing and mobile coming in next at 18 percent and 7 percent. Social media trailed at 4 percent.

Even so, email, social media and digital advertising nearly tied as the favored channels for acquiring new customers. For retention, email, followed by mobile, showed the most promise, retailers said. Thus, retailers intend to invest more in social media advertising, email automation and mobile marketing in 2017. [See Related Story: AI Comes to Work: How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Business]

"Email is a tried-and-true digital marketing tactic. Revenue attributed directly to email varies between 30 to 50 percent for our retail clients," said Marielle Habbel, director of customer strategy and optimization for Sailthru, in a webinar discussing the results.

Habbel found it surprising that revenue generated by mobile was so low, considering how pervasive it is, and that social media, while very popular, did not show the return on investment that other channels produce. However, she said the one of the most sought-after innovations for 2017 is integrating social and mobile with email to create more powerful campaigns.

To do that, and to improve personalization of the customer's buying journey (another goal of companies), Habbel said businesses need to incorporate artificial intelligence programs.

"There's no way to bring the automation to life or bring the personalization to life without the AI," she said.

Most retailers (66 percent) already use AI in some way, with 37 percent using it for search and 33 percent using it to improve product recommendations for customers. Programmatic advertising and data analysis tied for third at 26 percent each.

Seventy-three percent of retailers felt ready for cross-channel campaigns. The rest said their companies faced roadblocks, including organizational or customer data silos that prevented smooth collaboration, and a lack of integrated technologies. In addition, more than a quarter felt their departments didn't understand how to create a cross-channel strategy to maximize resources.

Even with successful companies, one of the resource challenges for retailers is finding and retaining human talent. Habbel noted two issues: a high turnover of employees in marketing resulting in time spent training people on software, and a difficulty finding employees who are comfortable with both story and technology.

"There's a small (number) of people in the market that are able to combine those two skill sets," she said.

Marketing experts agree that "story," or content marketing that goes beyond advertising messages, is vital for successful online campaigns in email or social media.

Online marketing has shown itself successful: 81 percent of retailers met or exceeded their marketing goals in 2016, according to the survey. As companies look to the future, marketing will continue to grow, particularly for those who have already had a taste of success. Retailers will push their efforts into cross-platform integrations and personalization, particularly to incorporate artificial intelligence programs with people able to bring in the human element through content.

Karina Fabian

Karina Fabian is a full-time writer and mother of four. By day, she writes reviews of business products and services for Top Ten Reviews and articles for Business.com, Business News Daily and Tom’s IT Pro. As a freelancer, she writes for Catholic educational sites and teaches writing skills. She has 17 published novels of science fiction and fantasy. Learn more at http://fabianspace.com.