Using AI to Optimize and Automate Marketing

Posted by Carly Johnson on Jun 4, 2020

In sales and marketing, artificial intelligence (AI) adoption is a hot issue right now, and for good reason. Sales and marketing is the business function benefiting most from it. According to a 2019 McKinsey survey, 80% of those marketing organizations that adopted it saw revenues increase, 30% saw revenue grow by 6-10%, and 1 in 10 enjoyed gains of more than 10%. No other function can yet touch those kinds of results.

There are dozens of applications for AI in marketing, so it’s important to think it through and take a strategic approach. AI isn’t an ATM, after all. You need to determine where it could have the biggest impact within your organization. But before you can think strategically, you need to understand the possibilities.

What is AI?

AI is not easy to define. Many, for example, confuse machine learning (ML) with AI. Machine learning is a subset of AI that enables an algorithm to acquire knowledge on its own without it being explicitly programmed in. AI, on the other hand, typically involves an algorithm making decisions that, until recently, we would have thought required human intelligence. “Until recently” is an important phrase, because our concept of what qualifies as AI changes over time. In the 1970s, computer scientists considered chess programs as AI. Today? Not so much.

It’s also important to remember that AI can have unintended consequences without careful consideration before deployment. For example, in 2016, Microsoft introduced a chatbot called Tay to Twitter, with the aim of teaching it to speak like a hip teen. Tay was live for a mere 16 hours before Microsoft had to pull it because Tay had quickly “learned” to respond to tweets with sexist, racist, and abusive language.

Perhaps even more concerning is the case of digital media algorithms that aim to keep end-users engaged by suggesting new content. Researchers who have studied the YouTube algorithm have found that it often keeps viewers engaged by suggesting increasingly extreme content. Binge-watch enough political videos, and you may find yourself in an informational echo chamber, a phenomena that could have significant implications for society. 

But this pattern isn’t limited to politics. A researcher wrote in the New York Times that, in her experience with YouTube, “videos about vegetarianism led to videos about veganism. Videos about jogging led to videos about running ultramarathons.” It’s important to note, however, that it’s unlikely this strategy was hard-coded into the algorithm. Instead, the algorithm simply discovered that providing more extreme suggestions was an effective way to reach its goal of keeping them watching. 

So, keeping those cautionary tales in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most useful applications for AI in sales and marketing.


If you’ve got a big website, customers and prospects could use some help navigating it to find what they want. This is a task AI is really good at doing.

  • Content suggestion and curation: Media companies and retailers use AI to predict what people want to see based on prior interactions and then deliver suggestions. And while it can have unintended effects, as noted above, there’s no doubt that it’s extremely effective at increasing engagement and sales.
  • Website design: AI can optimize and even build large sections of your website, cutting costs and increasing its effectiveness.
  • Intelligent search: Google has been doing this for years, and it’s one of the capabilities that have led to its runaway success. If you’ve got a search function on your website — and you should — AI can help tailor the results to match the interests of your prospect.

Social media

Social media moves fast, which requires a ton of monitoring and quick post creation to stay current. It’s tough and, let’s be honest, can be a bit mind-numbing to keep up. AI can help.

  • Content creation: It’s not as simple as telling the AI to “go tweet!” But if you have assets you want to promote — white papers, surveys, case studies, reports, etc. — AI can analyze them and create social media copy for your review. 
  • Social media monitoring: AI really shines in analyzing and making predictions based on massive amounts of data, and that’s exactly the situation with social media. There are a number of solutions on the market that can plow through millions of posts to determine which ones and which influencers are most important to your organization. 
  • Paid social advertising management: This is a solution that can make an enormous difference in the effectiveness of your paid social advertising. These algorithms use the predictive capabilities of AI to craft ads optimized to get the largest number of clicks from the people you care about most.

Customer and prospect interaction 

I can already hear some of you saying, “What? Turn over customer relationships to a robot?” But there’s a lot of grunt work involved in prospect and customer relations that AI can automate at scale, providing you with more time to spend on the accounts and communications that matter most.

  • Chatbots: The original marketing application for AI. As mentioned above, these have gone awry in some instances, but today’s chatbots are specifically designed for customer communications. There’s no chance you’ll unleash Tay on your prospects. These bots can answer common questions and help prospects find the resources and contacts they’re seeking quickly.
  • Email automation: There are many ways to use AI with email. For example, some solutions enable you to send out customized newsletters, optimized by the AI based on what previously engaged the reader enough to click through.
  • Lead management: If you’ve got a strong marketing program, you’re generating a ton of leads … which creates the challenge of managing them. AI can identify the leads that are most likely to convert to a sale, send emails to see whether they’re ready to speak with a salesperson and then pass those leads on to the right person. As a result, your team spends a lot less time spinning its wheels on leads that go nowhere, and more time on those that will generate revenue.

AI isn’t yet as capable as HAL in 2001 (thank goodness), but it’s definitely capable enough to optimize and improve your sales and marketing operation. If you’d like some guidance in creating a AI strategy for marketing and selecting solutions to achieve your goal, get in touch. We'd be happy to help.

Topics: Marketing Automation, Inbound Marketing & Lead Generation

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