Marketers have become more receptive to the adoption of artificial intelligence technologies, such as machine learning, and their capabilities to deliver better customer experience and marketing performance, according to new research from SEO and content performance marketing firm BrightEdge. The future of marketing is here.

The firm’s second annual 2017 Future of Marketing survey reveals marketers believe in a future ruled by the likes of AI and voice search—yet, most in-house marketers and agency practitioners had done little to introduce these powerful components into their digital marketing strategy to deliver compelling customer experiences that perform.

In 2018, marketer responses on the survey reveal quite different patterns of technology adoption and benefits. Most notably, this year’s findings revealed 60 percent of marketers intend to use AI to develop content marketing strategy in 2018.

In this year’s survey, nearly 75 percent of all marketers responded that three trends are dominating the thinking of marketers. Additionally, each of the top three themes require and use Artificial Intelligence today. According to marketers, the next big technology in 2018 is as follows:

  • Personalization (29 percent of respondents)
  • Artificial Intelligence (26 percent)
  • Voice Search (22 percent)

“Despite some of the hype surrounding artificial intelligence, this survey shows that AI is very real and marketers are adopting AI-first technology in search and content marketing sectors faster than most,” said Jim Yu, CEO of BrightEdge, in a news release. “The insights that AI brings allows marketers to make smarter and faster decisions to deliver compelling customer experiences that perform.”

Finding #1: Marketers set to use AI to develop their content marketing strategies

How communicators will use AI in content marketing this year

Nearly 60 percent of all marketers responded they plan to use artificial intelligence in their content marketing strategy in 2018. In comparison, in 2017, only 43 percent of respondents said they were likely to use artificial intelligence or deep learning to develop their content marketing strategy, while 50 percent of respondents said they were “very unlikely.” This represents a major finding–and an important leap forward for the modern data-driven marketer. Marketers are adopting cutting-edge technologies to deliver more personalized customer experiences:

  • 42 percent of marketers responded they are somewhat likely to use Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Deep Learning to develop their content marketing strategy in 2018
  • 17 percent of marketers are very likely to implement AI and Deep Learning in 2018
  • 4 percent already implemented AI and Deep Learning in 2018

Finding #2: AI is enabling marketers to understand the customer, drive productivity and create better performing content

How communicators will use AI in content marketing this year

Marketers already using AI indicated it is delivering them benefits, particularly in terms of understanding the customer and driving productivity.

  • 31 percent have a better understanding of the customer, helping to drive more personalized customer experiences
  • 1 percent of respondents said it is driving more productivity and time-savings
  • 5 percent indicated better-performing content
  • 5 percent of respondents said it is driving an increase in ROI

Finding #3: Obstacles to AI adoption and a wake-up call for martech

Marketers have gone through plenty of hype cycles. From the social craze to the big data movement, the next big thing comes and goes. But AI is real, and its potential can’t be understated. Companies like Google and Amazon are transforming into AI-first companies and accelerating the pace of change. From Google’s RankBrain algorithm to voice search to Amazon’s product recommendations, AI is driving change in the market faster than ever before.

With that said, AI is still met with confusion and, in some cases, skepticism. The early signs of a possible AI divide are emerging in the digital marketing space. Some marketers and companies are making the push towards AI-First. Others are not, and the typical challenges facing marketers are still prevalent:

  • 37 percent of marketers have no plans to use AI and Deep Learning in 2018, especially around the development of their content marketing strategy
  • 10 percent of respondents said they believe AI is all hype or lack an understanding of what AI is and what AI really does for a marketer
  • In terms of obstacles, marketers indicated confusion on what is/is not AI (30 percent) and limited budget (28 percent) as the greatest deterrents to adoption

Finding #4: 58 percent of organizations do not have a data scientist in their organization

How communicators will use AI in content marketing this year

One of the key challenges that marketers highlighted is the absence of a data scientist in the organization. 58 percent of marketers surveyed said they did not have a data scientist with and additional 10 percent ‘not sure.’ In the absence of a data scientist, brands often turn to AI to help them uncover insights.

Finding #5: AI has become “mission critical” to marketers

The survey also asked whether AI is mission-critical in current marketing technologies. A majority of respondents (54 percent) said AI is a must-have, mission-critical, or important to have in 2018. This is a tipping point. For the first time, the majority of marketers see AI and a key feature in the marketing technology they purchase. Additionally, 32 percent of respondents agreed marketing technologies must integrate AI into their current role and workflow.

However, more than a quarter of marketers remain skeptical of the benefits of artificial intelligence, with 29 percent of respondents saying they see AI as a requirement not an added feature.

Marketers looking to integrate AI into their strategies can start by researching current technology partners that are part of their current workflow, looking at current platforms applying AI and learning about the power of AI. The most innovative companies are natively integrating AI into their platform, making it possible for any marketer to be an AI-first marketer today.

Download the full report here.

In its second annual Future of Marketing survey, the firm surveyed over 500 digital marketers at Fortune 500 brands split evenly across both B2B and B2C companies over a one-month period in February 2018. The “Future of Marketing” survey offers a bevy of insights on the current state of how brands are using AI to deliver a more personalized customer experience through smart content.

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