On May 7, 2018, Microsoft demonstrated their vision of an artificial intelligence-augmented meeting room of the future. On stage, in front of a large audience, Rannah Amadi sat down at a table with two colleagues, Dave and Jamal. On the table between them stood a sleek black pyramid with an all-seeing artificial intelligence (AI) embedded at the top.

“I know Katy and Julia are coming from another meeting so let’s go ahead and get started,” said Amadi, opening the meeting. As soon as she spoke, words started appeared on the large meeting room screen behind her, as if recorded by a nearby transcriptionist. A few minutes later, Dave offered to get some information from his team and distribute an update after the meeting. Immediately, a follow-up task appeared on screen, a copy of which slotted silently into Dave’s calendar. Toward the end of the demo, Jamal was working on a document and left himself a note to add in some additional data later. Suddenly, a box popped up with the relevant information he needed. He copied the content into his document with a single click.

Throughout the demo meeting, it was as if there was an army of hidden assistants, taking notes, scheduling meetings, and fetching relevant information—but there wasn’t. In fact, every supporting piece of work was performed by Microsoft’s AI .

To many of us, AI still feels like a science fiction fantasy—but it’s not. Hundreds of companies like Microsoft are already working to turn artificial intelligence technology into practical tools and services. In fact, many AI tools and services are already here. Google’s RankBrain uses machine learning to determine the most relevant results to search queries, intelligent chatbots handle steadily more customer service queries, and Amazon’s Alexa uses complex natural language processing (NLP) technology to work out what you’re saying.

Across the economy, early-adopters of AI are set to make huge gains as AI augments their work. Nowhere is this more true than in marketing. Using AI, marketers can better understand their audience, improve user experience, increase productivity, and select more effective marketing strategies.

However, despite these huge potential benefits, adoption of AI in the marketing industry remains low. According to research from Content Science, 85 percent of executives do not employ AI at any level in their content operations.

In this article, we are investigating the role AI could play in the future of content, including some of the benefits the technologies will offer to early adopters.

How will AI affect content?

While content-specific AI technology is in its infancy, executives already understand the potential value. According to Colleen Jones in The Content Advantage, over 80 percent of CEOs consider artificial intelligence and machine learning either “very important” or “extremely important” to the future of the company—a huge increase from 54 percent in 2016.

With demand growing, we are starting to see more and more AI-powered products emerging in the martech space. In the next three sections, we’ll look at three potential ways AI will affect the content industry in the future as AI-powered tools develop.

Personalization

Personalization is nothing new in marketing with one-third of marketers saying they currently provide a personalised content experience. At the moment, that includes things like Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium targeting particular postcodes, Coca Cola adding names to bottles, and EasyJet offering discounts based on traveller’s previous bookings. Although these personalization strategies are effective, they’re rarely performed in real-time and lack person-specific granularity.

If you believe the hype, AI technology will allow marketers to supercharge their personalization efforts. Future tools will allow us to automatically analyze user intent and behavioural data then deliver individually-tailored customer experiences that are optimized for the individual.

Several companies are already experimenting with this technology. Netflix, for example, uses machine learning to test your reaction to different types of content thumbnail and WayBlazer uses IBM Watson to analyze your behavioral data to provide a personalized vacation recommendation engine.

As companies develop more accessible personalization platforms, AI-powered personalization will become more widely available, allowing many more companies to deliver highly-tailored content experiences.

Content production

On January 29, 2019, The Associated Press published the following short report:

MicroStrategy Inc. (MSTR) on Tuesday reported fourth-quarter net income of $3.3 million, after reporting a loss in the same period a year earlier.

On a per-share basis, the Tysons Corner, Virginia-based company said it had net income of 30 cents.

The business software company posted revenue of $131.9 million in the period.

For the year, the company reported profits of $22.5 million, or $1.97 per share. Revenue was reported as $497.6 million.

MicroStrategy shares have climbed 8 percent since the beginning of the year. In the final minutes of trading on Tuesday, shares hit $138.27, climbing slightly in the last 12 months.

The amazing thing about this financial earning report is that it wasn’t written by a human. It was, in fact, created by an AI-powered natural language generation product called Wordsmith. Wordsmith works by analyzing tens of thousands of existing pieces of content to understand a writing style. Then it replicates the style with new data to produce original content.

Dozens of high-profile news organizations around the world are following The Associated Press’s lead. The Washington Post, for example, uses AI technology to write their high school football reports, reporters at Bloomberg News use AI to augment their fast-twitch financial journalism, and The Guardian uses AIs to write updates on political donations.

As natural language generation tools improve, it’s only a matter of time before the technology proliferates in the marketing industry.

Taobao, Alibaba’s huge e-commerce platform, is one of the earliest AI adopters, launching a proprietary AI-powered writing system last year. Taobao’s AI writer combines vast swaths of customer data with in-depth operational knowledge to create visual and text content targeted to each individual.

Shallow work

One explanation of the global productivity slowdown is the growth of shallow work. (Shallow work is term coined by productivity author Cal Newport to describe “non-cognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted.”) By filling our days with shallow work—some experts estimate that 60 percent of our day is focussed on shallow work—we simply don’t have time for the important tasks we were originally hired to perform.

Take the simple task of locating information. In 2012, McKinsey reported that “employees spend 1.8 hours every day searching and gathering information.” That’s a full work day per week spent locating information.

At the start of the article, we saw how Microsoft’s AI watched what Jamal was writing and autonomously sought out the information he needed. If that AI could do all of Jamal’s research for him, he could save 1.8 hours a day—and that’s just the start.

If an AI could handle all of Jamal’s shallow work tasks—answering emails, writing up notes, scheduling meetings, and so on—he would have significantly more time to focus on high-value activities. For marketers that means more time to invest in planning or creating content, producing illustrations, optimizing campaigns, and so on.

What Does the Future Hold?

As AI technology proliferates across the marketing sphere, adoption becomes more of a necessity than a luxury for marketers. “Digital no longer means offering a website or a mobile application to complement offline operations,” explains Colleen Jones in her book The Content Advantage. “It means fundamentally changing the way companies do business, such as facing new competitors and responding to the wide-ranging impact of artificial intelligence, and other technological advances, just to survive, much less thrive.”

The reality is that those who do not adapt to new technology will be swiftly outpaced by their more innovative competitors.

But Jones also advocates caution. Companies are often lured in my a flash product, platform or technology trend and treat it as a silver bullet to their marketing woes. According to a report from Innotas, over half of new technology projects ultimately fail. Marketers must carefully select which new technologies they implement and have a clear justification to do so. Only then will they be able to build strong foundations for long-term growth.

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