Reality check: Much has been said about artificial intelligence (AI) in marketing over the past couple of years – perhaps even too much. According to Resulticks research, 47 percent of all marketers consider AI to be “overhyped” – far more than Big Data (31 percent) and Omnichannel (23 percent). And when it comes to technically implementing AI, 69 percent rate their vendor’s performance as “poor” while 42 percent have no plans to implement, or have already aborted their efforts.

Surprising? It shouldn’t be. First of all, AI technology is still in its infancy, especially in the marketing industry, and expectations tend to outpace reality. Secondly, while the public may be seeing AI success stories from voice-controlled personal assistants to self-driving cars, the marketplace is misleading and full of apps and tools that promise to offer ‘artificial intelligence’ but fall short of delivering the goods.  

Listen to Our Podcast Interview with AI Lead Alexei Kounine

With that said, there’s no doubt that AI will transform relationship marketing as we know it. In fact, according to a Gartner study, by the year 2020, about 85 percent of the relationships between brands and consumers are expected to be conducted without human interactions.

But in the meantime, we’ve sought out human interaction and consulted our resident expert Alexei Kounine, AI Lead at Selligent Marketing Cloud to find out what the biggest misconceptions surrounding AI are and what the real benefits are that you should be focusing on.

Why AI marketing is not optional

While AI marketing is still considered cutting edge today, it will soon not only become the status quo but the only way to deliver personal relevance in relationship marketing at scale. “I believe that the use of AI is not an option, it is a must,” says Alexei Kounine, adding: “The history of business – particularly in eCommerce – has shown that companies that embrace innovations that serve to reduce friction in the customer journey are bound to be successful.”

AI marketing solves the most nagging problem that big data marketing is facing: more and better customer data is available. But for marketers, the question is how to translate this intelligence into more relevant marketing messages and more personalized customer experiences – and do so at scale.

“For years marketers struggled to collect and centralize data, analyze and identify the relevant data and make this data actionable,” Alexei remarks. “AI heralds a change. It takes away the heavy lifting from marketers and can essentially deliver one-to-one marketing that had previously been talked about, but was never possible before.”

The three marketing segments directly impacted by AI

On a macro level, it’s important to realize that AI marks a paradigm shift: up until now, traditional marketing automation required hands-on involvement from marketers. Today, machine learning opens the door to a new generation of AI-driven marketing.

As Alexei notes, consider this: “There is a limit to how many customer segments you can build for your campaigns manually. There is a limit to the number of journeys you can manually compare in order to select the one that performs best. And you cannot possibly manually create an offer – like a personalized wardrobe suggestion in fashion retail – for each customer.”

By replacing manual involvement with smart automation based on data, AI-engines such as Selligent Cortex make a difference on three levels:

1. AUDIENCE AI: Laser-focused marketing segmentation

Building segments used to be about creating demographic segments. Now it's about feeding all the consumers' universal profile data to the AI and letting the AI build better segments automatically by predicting the performance of each segment against a campaign.

Selligent Cortex relies on data from universal consumer profiles to achieve laser-focused audience segmentation that would be impossible at scale in conventional marketing automation. “A manually created segment such as ‘male between 25 and 33’ will not perform as well as a segment crafted by an AI based on aggregated data of browsing behavior, plus purchases, comments/ratings left on the website and personally identifiable information (PII).”

2. JOURNEY AI: Individual customer journeys

Today’s consumers follow their own digital customer journeys, posing immense challenges to traditional marketing approaches. “It used to be true that you pick a channel such as email, create a campaign, and set a send time,” says Alexei. “Now you can let the AI pick the right channel and the right time to reach a customer.”  

On that note, the optimal time and preferred device to receive marketing messages differ radically from consumer to consumer. This is why Selligent Cortex’s Journey AI combines long-term data on preferred device and channel with real-time behavioral data to choose the perfect time and customer touch point. Plus, Selligent Marketing Cloud will adjust the message content at the time of open based on real-time behavior, and the AI will keep track of clicks inside the email to fine-tune future initiatives.

3. OFFER AI: Recommendations based on behavioral marketing

Selligent Cortex’s algorithms crunch large volumes of data to leverage the latest behaviors and known preferences into personalized product recommendations for each consumer. AI-based product recommendations have been shown to boost conversion rates by up to 20 percent. They can be based on either personalized recommendations based on a specific customer’s behavior, or statistical calculations or items added to a wish list.

As the most important aspect, Alexei Kounine points out that product recommendations can be implemented in real time across all channels for true omnichannel personalization. “Whether it's an email, a graphical component on the website or a mobile push notification, the universal consumer profile is the same, so the real-time recommendations will be accurate and up to date.” Plus, marketers maintain full control over what offers are displayed to which customers based on what kind of behavior – and let the AI engine do the rest.

The foundation: Rich consumer data

In order to fully boost your relationship marketing, AI-engines need fuel: Real-time data drawn from universal consumer profiles. Stored in Selligent Marketing Cloud’s customer data platform (CDP), these profiles contain the behaviors, preferences, and actions of each individual. This is the basis for AI to create one-to-one personalization beyond tags or segments.

“From a technology perspective, we build a separate mathematical model per individual and update it in real-time,” says Alexei Kounine.

Because Selligent Marketing Cloud’s profiles are also created for anonymous website visitors, personalization can be achieved with relatively little data. “The more data we have, the better, because the personalization features we will apply will be more accurate,” says Alexei Kounine. “However, if we have little data on an individual – just one click on a page of a website – it's already enough to trigger some sort of personalization like anonymous but contextual product recommendations.”

Most importantly, data stored in Selligent’s universal consumer profiles are updated in real-time. This not only allows for updating messages at the time of open with dynamic content based on consumer behavior. It also helps put consumers in control of what kind of data they share – especially in light of GDPR – and instantly adjust AI-driven marketing to their communication preferences.


As we learned back in the days of the California gold rush: not everything that glitters is gold. Remember, 69 percent of marketers today still rate their vendor’s AI performance as “poor”. Why? Because most AI solutions are isolated in the marketing tech stack, and naturally that means data silos and integration issues remain a recurring problem.

To really make an impact, AI functionality needs to be natively integrated into a marketing cloud platform that encompasses all functionality from data capture to journey/campaign design to execution and smart automation. An intuitive system that can be managed by marketers, not technologists. This is the reality of Selligent Marketing Cloud’s AI marketing capabilities.

Looking ahead, take some advice from Alexei: “Machine learning will only speed up. Start somewhere. Focus on AI that matters, but still stay in control.”

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