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Salesforce Connections 2024 - why the state of AI in marketing isn't as clear cut as it might appear

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan May 21, 2024
Summary:
Marketers overall cite AI implementation as a top priority right now, but that's not a universal position.

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As Salesforce prepares to kick off its annual Connections marketing and commerce conference tomorrow in Chicago - this year pitched as an AI, marketing and commerce gathering, of course - the firm rolled out the ninth edition of its State of Marketing study as a useful scene-setter for the event.

Inevitably AI dominates the study’s conclusions, based on data from over 4,800 marketers across 29 countries, with respondents citing the tech as their top implementation priority, but also their biggest challenge in the coming year.

Some 63% of all marketers polled say they currently use generative AI, while a further 35% are piloting/planning to use the tech within 18 months. The top marketing AI use cases are cited as automating customer interactions, generating content, analyzing performance, automating data integration, and driving best offers in real time.

But...

That’s the top line response across all countries and industries surveyed, although interestingly there are some significant regional variations. For example, US respondents cite AI implementation as second to improving ROI/attribution in their priority list, while for their UK counterparts, AI isn’t cited in the top five priorities, which are led by building/retaining trust with customers. That said, both sets of respondents cited difficulties in implementing/leveraging AI as their third greatest challenge.

So which countries do make AI implementation their current top priority? Well, it’s a mixed bag of pretty much the usual suspects and a few outliers - South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Germany, Italy,  Japan, Poland, Portugal and Spain.

India and Singapore, both of which might have been expected to rank AI as top priority, don’t - it doesn’t even appear in India’s top five priorities either. China unfortunately isn’t included in the survey pool.

What is clear though is that the challenge of implementing AI tech is recognized right across the board, cited to some degree or another by respondents from all countries polled.  As Steve Hammond, EVP and GM of Marketing Cloud at Salesforce, observes:

We are all in an advanced and accelerated AI revolution. This started really with predictive AI and we've been delivering on this for more than a decade. Last year we also helped connect companies with the next wave of AI through generative capabilities. And now we're excited to help bring in the next wave which is autonomous and agent AI. But marketers and commerce leaders need help with this wave in order to leverage AI effectively. It's important to get the right foundations in place. And that is top of mind for these leaders...even the most high performers in the space see room for improvement.

Challenges

So what are those challenges in practice? The top concern around generative AI across the board is data exposure or leakage, followed by lack of necessary data. A shortage of strategy or use cases of generative AI in action comes next, followed by fear of inaccurate outputs and - a welcome recognition of a complex issue - concerns about copyright/IP.

The ranking of those concerns does vary according to industry sector. While the two data-centric worries feature in the top five table in most sectors, there are some variants. For example, government respondents are most worried that AI will steal their jobs, as are those who work in media/entertainment. Other concerns cited in specific industries include biased outputs, adherence to brand guidelines, and just basic distrust in generative AI in general.

But those two data-specific concerns do dominate. The State of Marketing report notes that marketers will use an average of nine different tactics across the customer journey to capture data. Sources range from customer service data (cited by 88% of respondents), transaction data (82%), mobile apps (82%), web registration/account creation (82%) and loyalty programs (80%) among others.

The main challenge that emerges from this isn’t lack of data; it’s integrating it into a unified foundation so that it can then be leveraged to corporate benefit. Hammond notes:

Less than half [of marketers] are fully satisfied with their attempts at unifying customer data to create relevant experiences. It can be a real challenge.

In fact, the study pitches the problem as worse than Hammond makes out, citing that less than a third (31%) of marketers are fully satisfied with their ability to unify customer data sources. And marketing teams are still dependent on their IT counterparts to help them to do basic marketing tasks, such as segment an audience - only 40% of respondents said they could manage that without techie help - or execute a campaign, which only 41% reckon they can handle on their own.

All of this has significant impact on the pursuit of that Holiest of Grails - personalization. The State of Marketing notes:

The battle to win over audiences is only getting harder as customer expectations continue to rise. Seventy-three percent of customers expect better personalization as technology advances. Yet, fewer than six in 10 marketers are able to fully personalize familiar channels such as email and mobile messaging.

Or as Hammond puts it:

Customers want to feel like they're more than just a number. They want relevant experiences that create relationships. But personalization is still a challenge, especially at massive scale.

My take

Plenty to talk about there over the next couple of days at Connections. What is clear from this year's State of Marketing is that yes, the AI hype cycle is real and marketers are keen to explore its potential. But as we've see in other business areas, the lack of a solid data foundation remains a major problem for so many enterprises. Jon Reed is on the ground in Chicago this week. Check back for diginomica’s coverage of what’s being talked about on stage and in the corridors of the McCormick Place West Building.

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