The Information Age introduced the world to a new challenge: information overload. It’s a challenge facing both individuals and organizations. Today’s retailers must compete with myriad other activities vying for a potential customer’s attention. Retailers, like other data-driven organizations, are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) for help. Esther Shein (@EstherShein) explains, “Artificial intelligence is hot in many vertical markets, and artificial intelligence for retail is no exception. AI-powered systems have become a game changer and enable channel partners to help their retail customers gain better insight into how and when to engage end customers and provide a better shopping experience.”
Artificial Intelligence and Personalization
Segmentation and personalization are not new concepts. Retailers have known for years that niche markets do better when a little targeting is applied. That’s why retailers selling cosmetics and women’s clothing using print media advertised in the society section of newspapers and retailers selling shaving supplies and men’s clothing advertised in the sports sections. Steve Dennis (@StevenPDennis), a retail strategic adviser, reminds us some futurists predicted the age of personalization over two decades ago. He writes, “It’s been over 20 years since Martha Rodgers and Don Peppers’ seminal book The One to One Future … offered up the radical notion that mass, one-size-fits-all marketing would begin yielding to a brave new one-to-one world. Followed just three years later by Seth Godin’s classic Permission Marketing the more intrepid among us started to make ‘treat different customers differently’ our mantra and advocate for a shift to more targeted and personalized campaigns.” As Dennis observes, these concepts were ahead of their time; but, the age of personalization has finally arrived. Dennis explains, “Lower cost data storage and more effective technology solutions, along with general advances in know-how and the ability to reach customers through digital channels, now make it possible for most retail brands to realistically differentiate themselves on the basis of deep customer insight, data science and advanced targeting strategies.”
According to Jennifer MacIntosh (@jenmacintosh), Vice President of Customer Success at Coveo, personalization has matured so rapidly it has become the norm. “People have grown accustomed to companies offering them personalized experiences,” she writes, “so much so that they have begun to expect it as the norm. … Because it has become standard, personalization has upped the ante on meeting customer needs. As people get used to personalized experiences in every interaction, customer success leaders must rise to the occasion.” MacIntosh recommends retailers leverage AI — in the form of machine learning — to up their personalization game. She explains, “[Personalization] begins with understanding what information is most likely to solve a particular query, and delivering that information as intuitively as possible. In this endeavor, data and technology will be your best friend. By layering machine learning on top of your current customer experience systems, your customer service operations can remain agile, scale with ease and become more relevant to your customers.” Dennis agrees. “From where I sit,” he writes, “it won’t be long before advanced personalization skills become table-stakes in the battle for customer share of attention. To remain relevant — to become the signal amidst all the noise — retail marketers will have to get good at one-to-one marketing and in delivering more personalized experiences both in the store and on the web.”
Leveraging Artificial Intelligence
Dennis observes, “The essence of good personalization is two-fold: is it relevant and is it remarkable?” Members from Forbes Communication Council suggest 11 ways AI can be leveraged to make personalization both relevant and remarkable. They are:
1. Use chatbots to begin the customer journey. “Chatbots can help businesses connect with users at the beginning of their journey, providing guidance and offering new features.”
2. Automate everything that isn’t creative. “[Automating routine tasks frees creative people] to work on higher value and more creative projects.”
3. Let the data drive you. “Through the use of AI, data-driven PR efforts are easier to develop and implement. AI allows you to sort through big data by creating efficiencies that fine tune brand voice from controlled communication channels to reputation management efforts.”
4. Track trends and find opportunities. “Marketers should use tools that scan thousands of data points and surface relevant or trending topics. … These AI tools can help marketing and comms professionals spot rapid response PR opportunities, surface relevant influencers in the space and suggest new ideas for campaigns and content.”
5. Combine AI and human teams for better service and sales. “Integrate AI into your human customer service team. Computers and humans can learn from each other to create better service and sales.”
6. Optimize the consumer’s journey. “Creating personalized site experiences is something beyond human capabilities, but easily accomplished with AI. Marketers should leverage data collection tools to gather useful data about each customer.”
7. Use AI bots to save time and resources. “A little-known secret of PR professionals is news-writing bots that produce stories and press releases using artificial intelligence. You can feed data and basic template information into the AI platform and watch it crank out draft stories while you focus on higher-return items.”
8. Use conversational AI to move from push to pull. “Research shows consumers don’t mind talking to a bot if it’s helpful. Consumers do mind, however, being bombarded with intrusive marketing messages. Conversational AI can work to your advantage by creating personalized, timely experiences that add value beyond a sale.”
9. Benchmark against your industry peers and predict the future. “The best use of AI for marketing and PR professionals is leveraging benchmarks from anonymized data to see how their organization’s performance stacks up against industry peers. AI can also use anomaly detection and correlate events to identify patterns that are likely to result in a future issue.”
10. AI is only as good as the data that goes into it. “Focus on the AI your customers use — things like voice search and assistants. AI is only as good as the data that goes into it, so make it better by feeding it the highest quality data about your business.”
11. Give your bots a personality. “Automation opportunities abound, so giving personality and identity to your bot while honoring human connection is paramount. AI experiences should be an extension of your voice — an opportunity to showcase your personality to an engaged community.”
Dennis adds, “The changes that many brands need to make are not insignificant. They typically require new technology, new people, new processes, new metrics, material incremental investment and a willingness to aggressively experiment. But to paraphrase Eric Shinseki, ‘If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.'”
John Doherty (@dohertyjf), founder of GetCredo.com, asserts, “Marketers are realizing that we are playing in a new world where driving the growth that seems to have come so easily for the last decade is going to require new strategies and tools.” Fortunately, he explains, new tools are available that enhance “the possibilities of personalization in marketing, and hopefully you’ve already started implementing them in your own marketing.” As Dennis noted at the beginning of this article, the concept of personalization has been around for two decades, but it was ahead of its time. MacIntosh concludes, “Technology is enabling us to understand customer preferences in ways that would have been unimaginable 20 years ago.” It’s time to let AI get to know your customers better.
 Esther Shein, “Understanding artificial intelligence for retail customers,” TechTarget, December 2017.
 Steve Dennis, “Compelling, Creepy, Annoying Or Just Bad? Retail’s Personalization Opportunity,” Forbes, 11 December 2017.
 Jennifer MacIntosh, “Up Your Personalization Ante With the Help of Machine Learning,” CMS Wire, 15 November 2017.
 Forbes Communication Council, “Get Smarter With Artificial Intelligence: 11 Ways Marketers Can Leverage AI,” Forbes, 6 December 2017.
 John Doherty, “Is personalization the future of marketing?” The Next Web, 16 November 2017.