Rocket Fuel's Shantz: Leverage AI or miss out on big data opportunities

Programmatic is no longer a fringe method of buying media - most digital marketers are taking advantage of it.

Rhonda Shantz, VP of marketing, Rocket Fuel
Rhonda Shantz, VP of marketing, Rocket Fuel

Programmatic is no longer a fringe method of buying media – most digital marketers are taking advantage of its unique ability to optimize return on ad spend with data-driven buys. And with savvy marketers now using as much customer data as possible to inform decisions, buys are more efficient than ever.

But big data’s massive scale makes it incredibly challenging to process it.

These days, the saying "we’re only human" has never been more poignant. From the dawn of civilization until 2003 – during which intuition-based marketing reigned supreme – mankind generated five exabytes of data. Now we produce that every two days. There’s so much data available that, without the help of artificial intelligence, people miss out on thousands of insights that they completely overlook or cannot reach at their comparatively slow processing speeds.

Let’s put it in perspective: A traditional digital marketer scans data for insights to guide decision-making. To start, 112 demographic combinations of gender, age, and household income segments are combined with the 210 designated market areas in the US to create 23,520 possible combinations.

Yes, this is still within the realm of possibility for a data-savvy marketer with a spreadsheet. But while it took hours to configure, an AI-backed competitor accomplished the same task during the first sip of coffee.

Let’s take it a step forward: Considering the four traditional channels of mobile, display, video, and social, there are now 94,080 combinations. Mr. Spreadsheet needs a lot more time – and coffee – to make these iterations. Meanwhile, the AI-driven marketer is still finishing that first tasty sip. If we throw 100 interest categories on top of that, then Mr. Spreadsheet is out of the game. For the AI-backed marketer, this is all in a day’s work.

Why is this a big deal? Those thousands of overlooked insights tell a story – a vivid one. AI-mined big data insights don’t just give marketers clues about customers, they are also capable of informing all kinds of systems on how to optimize everything from self-driving cars to home-heating systems. There will come a time when big data will be behind almost every system we use in our daily lives – and AI will be its vessel.

For those marketers not currently using this technology, there is both good and bad news. The latter is that you’re missing out on its powerful benefits. But the good news is that using AI in marketing is still in the nascent stages, and there’s plenty of time to fortify your business’ infrastructure and your personal skill set to implement it almost immediately. The common challenges to using AI for marketing are not as bad as they seem.

So how does a marketer apply AI? When you are steeped in a career you thought could not be farther from the science realm, AI seems intimidating. But marketers are now coming closer to achieving the Holy Grail of 1:1 personalization and relevance through machine learning.

A machine-learning platform enables marketers to cull through big data to reach customers on such a granular level that, as the AI learns, it can provide consumers with more relevant content. This leads to higher retention, more customer loyalty, and greater success. And, to the delight of CEOs, marketers can prove their results to deliver on conversions, sales, and revenue.

Another challenge is getting started. Whether you know it or not, there are people already thinking about building out the science and technology aspect of your company or your client’s organization. Find them, get involved with their projects, and help the company begin to use data in a way that targets audiences and customizes messaging across all touchpoints.

Building out a complete big data architecture is a multi-functional, long-term project that is likely underway at your company. If it is not, it should be. However, don’t miss out on the AI and big data opportunities that exist today. Instead, start with a media-buying partner with AI capabilities and graduate to building a data-management platform, and leverage the distinct advantages of machine learning and big data.

The time to start leveraging your data in an effective way is now. Just remember – machines cannot do much without a smart human to turn them on.

Rhonda Shantz is VP of marketing at Rocket Fuel.

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