Artificial Intelligence Will Help Smart Businesses Prosper in the New Normal 

by Shruthi Chindalur, Criteo

Shruthi Chindalur, Managing Director EMEA at Criteo, explains why AI will be crucial to business growth in the post-COVID world.

Right now, the world is living online. Since the global lockdown began, we’ve had to move our personal lives, workplaces, and even our thinking to digital spaces. As a result, our consumer behaviours are rapidly changing, and our new normal is something that nobody could have predicted seven months ago. Our own research shows that 49 per cent of UK shoppers say they’ve discovered a new form of online shopping during lockdown, with 81 per cent intending to continue this behaviour in the future and once the pandemic is behind us.

As our behaviours change to adapt to our new normal, retailers need to be able to respond to customers’ evolving needs in order to give them the best possible service. That means getting comfortable with customer data to understand what they’re looking for, and then exploring new ways to engage customers in a style that they will love. So it’s no wonder that more retailers will be looking at artificial intelligence (AI) to navigate this new era.

Forbes last year noted that the adoption of AI and machine learning (ML) in R&D was the fastest of all enterprise departments in 2019. So the desire to adopt the technology is there – what’s crucial is that it becomes accessible to as many businesses as possible, not just huge organisations with big budgets.

Thankfully, the democratisation of AI is already happening.

Smaller businesses are finding it accessible, affordable, and practical to work with AI-based tools, either through their partners or directly. And we have consumer behaviour to thank for the speed with which technology has spread out of the enterprise world and into other organisations.

Shopping has been moving online for a while, but the pandemic has sped that transition up dramatically in a very short space of time. Lockdowns and social distancing has meant retailers have been looking at how they can effectively, and rapidly, transition their customer base from the high street to the digital store, and AI has played a big role in this movement.

Why? Well it all comes down to the “personal” touch.

Using AI to personalise your marketing

Retailers are using AI to deliver tailored marketing messages to their customers, like recommending new seasonal products via their app or email communications based on prior purchases and shopping habits.

It makes things very relevant for consumers and can give retailers the opportunity to nudge buying behaviour to the channels that they want.

This isn’t just being used by big retailers keen to convert historic high street footfall into clicks. In fact, the backbone of the economy, small businesses, are seeing just as much opportunity from this new approach.

Let’s say a local community store is looking to keep customers engaged and informed of its services and products. They can use AI technology to take their marketing to the next level and reach audiences in a way that feels responsive, agile, and useful. For example, using customer data to find people who’ve historically bought certain ingredients and products, and emailing them a thoughtful recipe alongside announcing fresh new produce in store to allow them to give the recipe a go themselves. All the while highlighting any new services that have launched during this time, such as delivery or contactless collection.

Through the smart use of a relatively small amount of technology, the store has communicated in a way that is important for their business and useful for the customers.

That simple example shows the benefits of operating in this way. So, why aren’t more organisations doing this? It comes down to budget prioritisation.

Prioritising digital marketing budgets

Customers have become more price sensitive, and are keeping a closer eye on their finances, which is natural given recent events. As a result, every penny spent by organisations across the economy is being scrutinised. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – what’s crucial is that budgets are prioritised in a way that responds to customer behaviour and enhances a new way of working. This applies to digital marketing spend as well.

Businesses that have focused on marketing efforts that are no longer relevant need to shift focus, and not double down on spend hoping for a different outcome. Instead, it’s a perfect opportunity to explore a different approach.

Even if a store has no digital footprint at all, but is now emerging out of lockdown and lifting its shutters for the first time, there are technological solutions that can drive traffic to physical shopfronts.

Focused digital marketing can help let the world know the shop doors are open – add in data and geolocation and businesses can get their message to consumers who live in the local area, making sure that every impression counts.  It’s a simple and effective step that doesn’t require a whole heap of technological changes and huge investment. It just needs some smart thinking and a willingness to adopt a different approach and reshuffle budgets.

In the enterprise world, there are conversations about shaving off costs from departments, personnel, operations, manufacturing, and marketing. But these same discussions will be taking place in a business of 30 as much as a business of 3,000.

The crucial thing is to not just look at cost savings, but value. Sure, businesses can switch everything off and ride out the storm. However, the CEOs, directors, and small business owners looking to accelerate out of current market conditions will be more concerned with getting the maximum value from their budgets, rather than just hacking away at them.

AI and innovative digital marketing will maximise that value and, importantly, help to prove that it’s working. In an era of uncertainty, a big focus for digital marketing should be to ensure it’s not adding to uncertainty, but instead making value of spend and results clearer.

In short, whether you’re a £1 million or £50m or £50 billion company, digital marketing and AI adoption is going to be crucial to companies as they adapt and succeed in this new environment. As such, it’s imperative that CMOs are at the forefront of this conversation.

And if you are concerned about the battle between ultra-personalisation and data privacy headwinds, there is no need to despair. The AI-based digital marketing industry is reacting fast and coming up with secure alternate proposals and solutions that will still help secure that business.

We want to build confidence in AI, and show that this technology is and should be accessible to most businesses.

In a rapidly changing environment like today, AI is vital to helping a business not only survive and adapt, but also thrive. No matter how small or big they are!