Survey of Brand Retailers Highlights Accelerated Adoption of AI-Powered Marketing

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With the balance of power having already swung from brands to consumers, retailers are searching for new ways to meet the demand for more personalized and unified brand experiences. A new survey by Forrester and the B2C marketing automation firm Emarsys, released just this morning, sheds light on how major brands are investing in artificial intelligence and what decision-makers in the retail and e-commerce industries should be doing to better harness the technology.

Forrester surveyed more than 700 business leaders working for retail and e-commerce brands with revenue of at least $50 million, with the goal of understanding the gap between the readiness of AI marketing vendors to execute B2C campaigns and the readiness of business decision-makers to adopt this technology. The market research company found that 78% of executives planned to spend at least 5% more on AI marketing technologies in the next 12 months, and 54% said they’re already using AI marketing to better personalize the customer experience across channels or touchpoints.

Why the increased appetite for AI? Forrester’s survey points to the consumer demand for integrated brand experiences, which can be unified across channels. With the average consumer using 4.5 connected devices, more brands are taking an omni-channel approach to marketing, and they’re relying on AI to automate basic processes and enable contextual marketing. Eighty-one percent of retail marketers in the survey said they plan to deploy AI marketing technology to better understand cross-channel customer behavior, while 80% will use the technology to map customer journeys.

Interestingly, 70% of those decision-makers surveyed cited technical skills as a barrier to mainstream adoption of AI marketing technology, a limiting factor that surprised Emarsys CMO Allen Nance.

“One would imagine that the need for technical savvy would drive marketers to embrace advanced AI-enabled technologies,” Nance says. “Marketers should look to using modern technologies that lets them automate elements like marketing execution, enabling them to focus on key aspects like the strategy and content.”

Three brands that Nance cites as having done a particularly good job at integrating AI technologies for marketing are the e-commerce retailers BrandAlley and LuisaViaRoma, and the high-end lingerie company Cosabella. Cosabella’s machine-learning engineered omni-channel strategy has generated a more than 60% increase in email-led revenues year over year, along with an increase in customer growth.

“Cosabella has made major headway by deploying AI to successfully connect with customers at a deeper level, doubling their subscription base through omni-channel marketing,” Nance says.

In order for other retail organizations to experience the same type of growth, Forrester’s survey found that they will need C-level buy-in and a willingness to work with technology vendors as business partners. The survey suggests that marketers just dipping their toes in into AI should begin by testing AI solutions to specific problems, and then monitoring the impact of those solutions to justify the value.

“More retailers are starting to see that they have more data at their disposal than ever before,” Nance says. “[They] are jumping on the AI bandwagon to better digest that data.”

Nance also believes that more retailers will come on board as they realize that they don’t need very technical resources in order to adopt AI-enabled technologies. A steady increase in adoption might persuade those retailers who’ve remained on the sidelines to finally embrace AI to avoid being left behind.

“Artificial intelligence marketing solutions offer ways to bridge the gap between data science and execution,” Nance says. “Unless retail marketers implement a strategy that delivers a unified message across every channel and creates brand loyalty, they face the risk of losing precious customers.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.