Grant Coleman, Vice President and Market Director at Emarsys UK, explains how you can use artificial intelligence technology to enhance your business.

Customers enjoy more purchasing options and control than ever before. A shift in the balance of power from brand to consumer has triggered a period of transformation across all sectors. In the context of an uncertain economy and ever-present pressure from competition, building merchant business owners must give customers what they want, and how and when they want it, or risk losing them to more agile players. They also find it hard to know where to start addressing the issue. While the old adage that technology will save us is true, the real question is how ready do these businesses feel for smart technologies like AI to bring in these efficiencies?

Research reveals there are a series of obstacles that stand in the way of AI-marketing (AIM) execution. Respondents’ concerns include a dual-level skills gap, incorporating both a lack of technical competency in the workforce, and business stakeholders lacking necessary product management know-how for managing incremental and ongoing AIM innovation. But, there is good news. Sophisticated data-driven technology is becoming easier and easier to use, especially if you find the right strategic partner.

Indeed, data is the lifeblood of all smart technologies and the consolidation of it lies at the heart of any AI approach. It is the foundation from which to build more advanced customer engagement through personalized offers and this 360-degree customer view is essential to fostering improved trust and loyalty. Collecting the data itself is the easiest part of all. Today, every touchpoint a customer engages with on and offline, along the purchase journey automatically leaves an imprint. Transforming that data into actionable insight is the key to delivering that marketing promise of “right message to the right person at the right time.” This is where marketers often come to an impasse because the fact is that human driven personalization doesn’t scale.

It is at this point usually, that serious thought is given to introducing more technology. But before you do this, it’s important to ensure that your business is AI-ready – here are four important considerations to bear in mind:

1. Ensure marketer, C-suite and wider business readiness: Identify any gaps, and create a custom roadmap to bridge them. Marketers and business leaders should ask themselves: “Are we ready for AIM?”

2. Clean-up existing data: Invest time in organizing available data. Ensure it is clean and useable across platforms, throughout the entire digital ecosystem. AI is only as good as the data you feed it.

3. Squeeze value from existing data: Keep a data archive that AIM technology can draw and learn from.

4. Never mind the ‘skills gap’: Business decision makers worry their marketing teams lack the necessary skills to adequately deploy and manage AIM. However, this is a common misconception. Marketers themselves report confidence in handling this technology.

And those that get it right, are reaping the benefits. Take Toolstation, one of Britain's fastest growing retailers of tools, accessories and building supplies, which is using our AI enabled platform to support its direct mail, email, and SMS marketing strategy. The team has unified its online and offline customer databases onto one platform to deliver a seamless and personalized cross-channel customer experience. Toolstation customers can buy online, through a dedicated UK call center, via a mobile website or at over 300 branches across the UK. The multi-channel nature of the business means that customer information is captured both in-store and online, and the company needed to consolidate this data to get a clear, holistic view of its target audience. As a result, the business is experiencing increased engagement with its customer base.

In order to realise the benefits of AIM, a business must understand exactly where it is today. The gap between the readiness of AI solutions to enable and optimize real-time consumer marketing campaigns, and that of marketers and business leaders adopting this technology is closing – but an impressive end-result requires solid foundations. Once a few basic steps have been taken, AI has the potential to propel businesses forward.