Take the lead: New research shows top marketers use machine learning to drive growth

Carrie Crimins November 2018 Emerging Technology, Programmatic

Automation and machine learning technologies are changing the way marketers drive results for their customers and brands. But there’s still a significant gap between those who are just talking about machine learning and those who are taking action. For marketers looking to become leaders in their field, this is an exciting time. It’s a chance to make your mark, get ahead of competitors, and drive real results.

To explore this shifting landscape, we partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan Management Review (MIT SMR) to conduct a global survey and interview over a dozen executives and academics about their use of automation and machine learning technology and the results they’re seeing.

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Our findings show there are clear opportunities for marketers to get ahead of the pack. While nearly three-quarters of the survey respondents believe their organization’s current goals would be better achieved with greater investment in machine learning and automation, only half the surveyed organizations have any incentives to make such investments.1 Here are a few ways your organization can embrace machine learning and grasp the opportunity.

Stop reacting. Start predicting

Successful business performance today relies on brands being able to predict what customers might need at every stage of their purchase journey. By harnessing the power of machine learning and automation, brands can do just that.

Organizations with incentives to use machine learning are able to move away from old-fashioned retrospective or reactive KPIs and make smarter decisions with forward-looking and predictive performance goals. That’s because with machine learning technology, KPIs no longer have to be analytic outputs, but rather data inputs that help train algorithms to anticipate opportunities for growth.

“People can’t tell you exactly what they might want next, so we take cues from past actions to predict future intentions.”

Shiseido is one brand that knows driving growth means not only delivering on people’s stated needs (like replacing a daily moisturizer) but also in predicting intentions. “People can’t tell you exactly what they might want next, so we take cues from past actions to predict future intentions,” said Global Chief Digital Officer, Alessio Rossi. The beauty brand gleans critical insights through tools, such as its BareMinerals Made-2-Fit app. Then, using machine learning algorithms, it’s able to make truly personalized recommendations for complementary products that the customer might not think to try.

Make your marketing count

Our research shows that marketing leaders are more than twice as likely as their mainstream counterparts to agree that their organization is already investing in automation and machine learning technologies to drive marketing activities.2 When these marketing activities are linked to business goals, we see a significant upward growth trend.

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In 2017, for example, when HomeAway started using machine learning and automation to activate customer segmentation based on real-time signals and behaviors, it saw a 46% increase in gross bookings and a 115% increase in revenue year over year. “One thing automation has helped us get right is who sees our ads,” said David Baekholm, SVP of growth marketing. “We’ve not only become better at finding the right customers, we’re now also really good at not spending on the wrong customers.”

Get a more holistic view of your customers

Business success today relies on your ability to have a current and integrated view of your customers — only then can you develop meaningful relationships with them and deliver long-term brand growth. Our research, found that organizations with incentives to use machine learning also have KPIs that help them develop an integrated view of their customers.3

“What we will find, five years down the road, is that the people who took the early bets in artificial intelligence actually achieve the learning that cannot be copied.”

Retailer 1-800-Flowers is one of the brands leading the field in this area. The brand relies on machine learning and automation to help it learn about its customers and deliver personalized experiences. CMO Amit Shah, who was interviewed as part of the research, believes that getting in early has given the brand a real competitive advantage. “I think what we will find, five years down the road, is that the people who took the early bets in artificial intelligence actually achieve the learning that cannot be copied,” he said.

Do more with your data

Companies with incentives to use machine learning have more ability to drill-down and see their KPI data in greater detail. This can lead to increased knowledge sharing and transparency, and help teams work together to make smarter, data-driven decisions that achieve corporate-wide goals. In fact, organizations that are incentivized to use machine learning believe they are better than their competitors at making data-driven decisions.4

Kelly Watkins, VP global marketing at Slack, also participated in the research. She recognizes that to stay ahead of the competition she must give her teams the tools they need to make the best decisions. Today, that means automation and machine learning tools. Her intention is to “enable folks in my organization to use their minds to solve strategic problems and to be more consistently looking for insights in the data that can shift the strategy and shift the execution.”

Become a leader, not a follower

Automation and machine learning technologies are rapidly changing the landscape of how we do business, and marketing is leading the conversation. Those marketers who are already applying machine learning and automation within their organizations are driving better results, putting their brands on the path to long-term success, and becoming the marketing leaders of tomorrow.

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