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Ready or not: CMOs can’t ignore cognitive computing

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The answer to marketers’ prayers or one of the most disruptive force their field faces. Either way, cognitive computing is changing the game in marketing ‒ and CMOs know it. They expect their organizations’ cognitive spend to increase within the next three years and have high expectations that it will pay off.

There is just too much data for marketers to get to grips with – they lack the insights they need to serve their customers well. This is where cognitive systems come in, they understand unstructured information, just like we do. They process enormous amounts of data in milliseconds, can reason, understand underlying concepts and form hypotheses.

With each data point and interaction, cognitive systems learn, deepening their expertise and refining nuances. They can predict results and give advice on the next step. As they have the ability to see, talk and hear; they can interact with us in a natural way.

Improving customer satisfaction comes first
According to a recent study by the IBM Institute for Business Value [1], exploring the adoption of cognitive systems , 64% of  marketing and sales executives agree cognitive computing is important for their organization’s future., CMOs consider improving customer satisfaction the main value driver for cognitive systems. Armed with insights about customers at every touch point, marketers will be able to create and deliver the personalized, intuitive experiences that customers rightly expect.

Take Home Shopping Network (HSN), an interactive multi-channel retailer in the United States offering exclusive products and top brand names. It reaches millions of homes on television and features thousands of product videos on its website. With cognitive marketing solutions, it can identify individual customer preferences and retail journeys, and provide tailored, timely, compelling messages at every touch-point. HSN’s stories now reach the right audience, encouraging more viewers to become customers which in turn drives business growth.

Improving financial results, like HSN, is another key area for driving cognitive computing value. It does not only imply increasing yields, but also being able to identify the ROI of marketing efforts. CMOs are looking for revenue growth from larger orders as well as shorter sales circles, improvement of customer retention, and a reduction of the cost of customer acquisition.

No worries
Despite their cognitive ambitions, CMOs also acknowledge the barriers that adopting cognitive marketing solutions create. They fret about whether they have the required tools, skills and expertise. While many say they feel overwhelmed by the challenge of using yet another new technology. Their concerns may be a bit overdrawn: they can simply begin by integrating cognitive computing in their current digital strategy and marketing tools. An example in point being a large US insurer who built a cognitive virtual agent that can converse with customers naturally to help them select the right coverage. This yielded increased online conversion rates.

Start small
Of course, a company’s aspirations for cognitive computing in marketing should map its strategic goals. And it doesn’t stop there. Alignment is necessary to customer service, supply chain, product development, human resources and training, as well as operations and finance. And if your organization has a history of siloed business units, it may be necessary to design new processes for data sharing and ideation among teams.

However, there is no need to rip out and replace the tools and processes your marketing professionals are currently using to analyze customer data and create customer experiences. It would be daunting to build a business case for change on that scale, but starting small is the more sensible way to go. There are many cognitive solutions that you can implement in stages to target specific marketing challenges.

Follow the outperformers
The real risk would be to sit idly by and do nothing, while the competition moves forward, and they are moving. The study recognized a group of marketing and sales leaders: companies who significantly outperformed their competition for the past three years in revenue growth, profitability or efficiency and effectiveness in achieving their objectives. They proved to be eager proponents of cognitive computing and many of them claim to be ready to adopt cognitive solutions today. And that is not a coincidence.

Bella Krisifoe
Chief Marketing Officer – IBM Benelux

[1] From data deluge to intelligent insights, IBM Institute for Business Value, August 2017

CMO | IBM Benelux

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