Chart Source: The CMO Club, Feb. 2020

In this February 2020 survey, The CMO Club asked it members, “What are the most critical skill gaps in your organization? Select up to 3.” 78% chose Data Science, the top answer. The reason is clear. Data science knowledge is seen as indispensable to predictive marketing—the key to improving customer journeys, increasing satisfaction, and building sustainable, profitable revenue streams. For example, optimized cross selling, content personalization, message timing, and ad effectiveness measurement are perceived at the top as the province of data scientists.

For some sophisticated predictive problems this may be true, but for the majority of ordinary marketing predictions it is old news. The advent of practical AI and machine learning has made predictive tasks feasible for most organizations without data scientists.

So why has adoption of AI and machine learning for marketing been slow, especially in the mid- to small-size companies? Several reasons are often cited*:

  1. 57% of analysts say allocating budget was a challenge
  2. 48% of analysts say getting upper management on board was a challenge
  3. 43% of analysts say training and recruiting staff with the right skills was a challenge
  4. 39% of analysts say knowing where to start was a challenge

*Source “AI for Retail Marketers USPS Research,” USPS & SIS International, June 2019.

Why do these roadblocks still exist when there are a number of cost efficient, versatile and ease to use solutions available to immediately breakdown these impediments? Let’s address each separately:

57% of respondents said allocating budget was a challenge

Budget allocation is a perennial challenge, and always a poor excuse for inaction. After all, if a new technique delivers better results with demonstrable ROI, who would object? Reasonable business people don’t.  The real budget objections are perceptions that:

  • High cost consultancies or big brand/high cost software will be required, putting return on investment out of the question.
  • Data science teams will need to be built, with scarce talent and high salaries.
  • Expensive projects have failed to deliver to date.

All three of those points had been obstacles, but aren’t any longer. Low-cost tools are available that not only offer the flexibility to answer a large range of marketing questions, but also can be implemented—without data scientists or programmers—in hours vs. weeks. The versatility of these tools allow organizations to equip multiple analysts to make action-oriented predictions easily.

It is time to revisit budgets. Efficiency can be gained nearly instantly within the resources of even small companies.

48% of respondents said getting upper management on board was a challenge

This one is easy to understand. Management teams have been promised results that failed to materialized after large projects and massive expenditures. Why will it be different this time?

Fortunately, this obstacle is simple to overcome. Automated machine learning makes attacking a proof-of-concept straightforward and fast. Nothing speaks truth like results. Read How to Prove AI Value to Skeptics in our AI Tips archive for more.

43% of respondents said training and recruiting staff with the right skills was a challenge

This one is also based on old information. Solutions built to provide predictive marketing power to analysts are specifically designed with them in mind. That means there is no recruiting. Existing teams can now act on forward-looking data without writing a line of code. It is as simple as using a spreadsheet. Training expenses are minimal for applications that are self-service for anyone with basic analytical skills.

39% of respondents said knowing where to start was a challenge

Starting points can be difficult to find when processes are complicated. The first step is always “learn the process.” For approaches that require data science knowledge and programming skill, there is no simple path for analysts who do not have legions of specialists available. Once the process becomes as straightforward as uploading a few data sets and inspecting results minutes later, experimentation becomes an automatic starting point.

Knowledge gained in the first few runs reveals whether data is sufficiently broad and deep, if the predictive question is appropriate, and how the results can be translated to actions. Incremental tries with tweaked data and assumptions are fast, which helps analysts converge on a solution quickly. Low overhead means refinements are low effort and cost.

The take-away is that CMO’s do not have to fear lack of data science and analytical talent. AI and machine learning tools are available now to begin answering critically valuable questions with existing teams. Misconceptions may seem stubbornly persistent, but C-level execs did not reach their positions because they are resistant to change. They just need good information on alternatives. Give it to them.

Learn more about Squark’s AI solution.

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