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Will predictive intelligence and the adaptive journey be game changers for marketers?

(Image credit: Image Credit: SFIO CRACHO / Shutterstock)

Artificial intelligence (AI) continues to grow from strength to strength, penetrating various industries including the finance, medical, automotive and aviation industries all over the world, and goes beyond just being technology’s artificial interaction with a person or system. British semiconductor and software design company, ARM, which designs chips for Apple’s Macbooks, for example, recently introduced a ‘next-gen chip design’ focused on AI as it will “continue to grow more central to mobile computing over the next several years, both through the proliferation of smart-assistants, autonomous vehicles, and beyond.”

This proliferation has extended to marketing as well - with AI, there’s continual, real-time, automatic optimisation based on large-scale response data which allows marketers to tailor communication with each individual according to their needs, thus impacting the customer journey.

According to an article by McKinsey & Company, a customer reaching a decision to buy an item isn’t at the end of his or her journey, but rather at the beginning of another. More than 60 per cent of people who bought facial skin care products, for instance, do further research online after making a purchase - a touch point which McKinsey calls “unimaginable” when the idea of the marketing funnel was conceived.

Studies have shown that in a typical B2B selling process, there are normally more than five people involved to make a decision. So if you look at the complexity of a single person’s buying journey and multiple it by five - it becomes unmanageable. The traditional funnel saw the customer start with a variety of brands to choose from, then narrowing down his or her choice to finally arrive at one brand he or she decides to buy from. This traditional model, however, is now rendered irrelevant due to the “explosion of product choices and digital channels, coupled with the emergence of an increasingly discerning, well-informed consumers” - so how should marketers respond to this new customer journey?

The rise in digital and social channels and how marketers can follow ‘digital breadcrumbs’ more effectively

The rise of online resources and availability of information online has allowed marketers to follow digital breadcrumbs more effectively and this impacts all companies whether retailers - but also in a B2B context. According to Forrester Research, “this shift to using online resources to research and learn independently presents an opportunity: more online research translates to more digital breadcrumbs that leave an enormous data trail comprised of search terms, content consumption patterns, and other interest signals.”

With a growing number of people purchasing products and services online, it is becoming increasingly important for marketers to build genuine relationships with thousands, if not millions, of people simultaneously, which could prove to be challenging. So what should marketers do to ensure they are making the most of the enormous data trail mentioned when making decisions?

What if there was a way for marketers to be smarter with the way they engaged customer? And what if a customer’s journey could be optimised for an improved and more personalised customer experience, thus leading to an increase in the number of transactions? On the flip side, we aren’t always buying either - so how can we better understand an individual’s interactions on a retailer’s website?

A leopard can change its spots, so how about marketing?

When we think of the word ‘adaptation’, we are inclined to think of the process of change whereby a structure or function of something becomes better suited to its environment - the same thinking can be applied to what we’ve termed the Adaptive Journeys™ for customers. This means that marketers can create unique journeys for customers, as opposed to forcing them down a select few generic tracks.

There are five ways with which we think marketing automation is going to become more adaptive: first, by Adaptive Segmentation™; second, by Adaptive Forms™; third, by Adaptive Sending™; fourth, by Adaptive Scoring™; and finally, by using Adaptive Channels™. All of this weaved together simply means that marketers will be able to deliver the best message possible at the most optimal engagement time, and through the ideal channel. But what do all these steps entail exactly?

Mapping out the adaptive process for marketers

By Adaptive Segmentation, we mean enabling marketers to dynamically create lists of engaged contacts using any combination of factors. This could range from using data from your CRM, data captured in web forms, or behaviour insights from our platform which will then see your segments automatically adapt as new contacts enter your system - and which will continue to do so the more data you capture!

Meanwhile, Adaptive Forms allow you to present or hide questions in real-time as your prospects interact with your web forms. Need to ask a follow-up question of prospects in a specific region or industry? No problem. These forms mean that you can present questions only to relevant prospects and reduce form friction for the rest.

When trying to figure out when the best time might be to send email, marketers would usually do a little guesswork, send the email to everyone in a target segment at a specific time, look at the results, graduate to A/B testing and pick the day & time with the highest open rates.

So how can this process get a little more adaptive? How can a marketer engage at the most optimal time for that individual? If a marketer can send an email to a person when the best engagement is predicted, there’s a greater chance that it will be read. And, a one per cent increase in engagement can be hugely impactful on results. Say, for example, that Paul Jones, chief financial officer at X&Y Co., always visits websites, interacts with social and checks his emails in the morning at 8am, on his commute into work. Adaptive Sending detects this, remembers it, and makes sure emails to Paul are delivered to the top of his inbox during this optimal engagement window.

Meanwhile, if some reads a specific whitepaper or visits the pricing page on your website. What score should the marketer assign to that activity? Again, today there’s a lot of analysis and guesswork involved. Adaptive Scoring, which allows marketers to go beyond conditional scoring rules and use machine learning to recommend weights and values of actions, pages and behaviours, empowers them with the choice to automate scoring across different segments, industries and buyers. 

Finally, the last step in creating Adaptive Journeys is finding the right communication channel. Adaptive Channels essentially mean using machine-learning to find the right channel - whether via email, web, mobile or social - to send a given message based on each individual’s previous interactions with the brand. Our previous example, Paul Jones, might, for instance, prefer emails for some types of communications while his colleague, John, only pays attention to his social media feeds. Predictive intelligence means that the best message will be shared on both Paul and John’s preferred communication channels, as opposed to being a shot in the dark.

What does the future of marketing hold?

The future of marketing is creating Adaptive Journeys for customers, whether it be in crafting the best message possible, finding the right time to communicate that message, or finding the appropriate channel to broadcast that message on. And like any other adaptive species, those who adapt to rapid technological changes during the always-changing customer journey, stand to thrive.

Michelle Huff, Chief Marketing Officer, Act-On
Image Credit: SFIO CRACHO / Shutterstock

Michelle Huff
Michelle Huff is Chief Marketing Officer of Act-On, where she oversees the company’s brand, demand and customer marketing efforts.