Only 26% of marketers are using autonomous, which leaves 74% still taking a more manual approach with assisted AI, according to a new study by Forrester Research Inc.

Although many marketers are adopting artificial intelligence-powered marketing into their campaigns, they’re still using it in an assistive way rather than autonomously, according to a new study from research firm Forrester Research Inc., commissioned by autonomous marketing platform Albert.ai, called “Harnessing AI’s Potential.”

Assistive artificial intelligence generates insights for marketers to make decisions, such as where to focus their ad spending, and supports campaign decisions, such as recommendations for the right time to send marketing emails to consumers. Autonomous AI, according to the report, collaborates with technology and allows the AI to make recommendations, as well as execute and evolve marketing campaigns.

Only 26% of marketers are using autonomous AI, while 74% chose to take a more manual approach with assisted AI, according to the study, which surveyed 156 decision-makers for marketing technology in various organizations in between December 2018 and January 2019.

Digital marketing vendor Smartly.io is one company offering AI-powered marketing to automate social media ads in an assistive way. Smartly.io’s platform pulls still images and video assets from a retailer’s product catalog that the retailer shares with Smartly.io and integrates those elements into its ad templates. Retailers can use Facebook’s targeting options to aim the ads at specific consumers rather than allowing the platform to decide for them. The technology then tests the retailer’s ad campaigns to determine the optimal budget distribution for the stated goal. Because the tool allows retailers to quickly create a number of ads, including video ads, they can use the tool to test how consumers respond to elements within their ads. That enables retailers to run A/B tests to determine which elements shoppers respond to and then tweak ads based on shoppers’ actions.

In a more autonomous AI capacity, luxury sleepwear designer and manufacturer Natori enlisted  AI marketing platform Albert Technologies Ltd. to help with its marketing campaign. Natori uploaded its individual creative assets into Albert, such as product images, advertising images, videos and advertising copy text. That enabled Albert to produce different types of ad formats, mixing all of these elements, such as carousel ads or sidebar ads. The machine then produces different ad content and formats and serves the content to consumers. The ads that performed the best were showed to consumers more often—vice versa with the ads that had less engagement.

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Down the line, however, the retailer realized that many of the ads Albert served were promotional or touting sales. “Which made sense from the computer’s point of view that those ads were converting the best,” says president Ken Natori. As a luxury brand, however, that was not the image that the retailer wanted to portray to shoppers. “A potential downside with AI is that you lose a little bit control,” Natori says.

The retailer then had to make new rules within the algorithm to set a threshold for how many sale ads it could serve. Even though this could in theory lower its return on ad spend, this was better overall for its brand image, Natori says.

When asked which best describes how AI-driven marketing solutions functioned for marketers surveyed, 54% said they used assisted AI across more than one channel; 20% said they used assisted AI in one channel; 19% reported using autonomous AI across more than one channel; and just 7% used autonomous AI in one channel.

“While marketers should not have blind faith in the machines, they also should not run to more limited AI-assisted solutions out of fear. Instead, [marketers] need to study how AI makes decisions so they can learn from, adapt to, collaborate with, and generate business results from it,” the report says.

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But AI is becoming more prevalent in marketing: 88% of marketers have adopted AI or are in the planning stages of it, up from 43% in 2016.

Marketers have seen some benefits in using AI within their campaigns. 58% found that using AI was a more effective use of data, 50% reported AI drove a more effective marketing campaign and 42% said it brought an increased return on marketing spend. Respondents could select more than one response.

Other findings include:

  • 39% of those surveyed said AI can play a role in creative development, but only 34% believe it can provide insights to other business functions.
  • 56% of respondents would find an autonomous AI execution and optimization across marketing channels to be very appealing, while 39% find it somewhat appealing.
  • 35% of respondents are currently running some part of their digital ad campaigns internally but struggle with scaling those efforts because of limited resources.

To combat these issues and to find ways to incorporate AI into marketing campaigns, Forrester suggests adapting marketing processes that will maximize the impact of AI and accelerating the transition to autonomous AI. “By planning in advance and preparing staff and technology capabilities for the transition along defined timelines, firms can avoid common process obstacles and disruptions,” the report says.

April Berthene contributed to this report.

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