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What’s “the next big trend” in marketing? BrightEdge asked more than 500 search, content and digital marketers that very question, finding in its report [download page] that Artificial Intelligence (AI) either directly or indirectly figured into the responses for a majority of respondents.

The top 3 trends identified as “the next big thing” were:

  • Personalization (28.7%);
  • Artificial Intelligence (25.7%); and
  • Voice Search (21.2%).

As the analysts note, each of these 3 are or involve AI applications, which may suggest that AI has a larger role to play than respondents may even recognize.

In fact, on-site personalization is already one of the top applications of artificial intelligence around the world, according to recent research from Adobe and Econsultancy.

Despite AI’s potential, many marketers struggle to understand it. Indeed, respondents to the BrightEdge survey said that confusion about what is or is not AI is a considerable challenge they face with its integration. Almost 1 in 5 don’t know what percentage of their marketing technologies today use AI.

That confusion is echoed by previous research from Conductor, which found AI to be the marketing trend for which most marketers feel unprepared this year.

The struggle to understand AI may contribute to a sense that it isn’t critical for the time being. While some are already seeing benefits from AI, such as a better understanding of the customer and more productivity and time-saving, most marketers appear to approach AI as a “nice-to-have” rather than anything more important.

For example, fewer than 1 in 10 consider AI to be “mission critical.” Instead, most see it as helping without being mission critical (47%), or as a luxury but not a necessity (35%).

Likewise, only 14% feel that current marketing technologies must have native AI capabilities this year, though more consider these capabilities important (41%) than just interesting (36%).

Most Consumers Are Already Using AI

Marketers may have troubles understanding AI, but it’s traditionally been argued that it’s consumers who don’t even know when they’re interacting with artificial intelligence applications.

Yet consumer use of AI-powered applications is already widespread, according to a new Gallup survey. Indeed, 85% of the almost 3,300 US adults surveyed by mail indicated that they use at least one of 6 technologies that feature AI elements, per Gallup’s report.

The most common of these are navigation applications, used by 84% of adults surveyed. Not far behind, a strong majority (72%) use video or music streaming services (which commonly use AI applications for recommendations).

It’s notable that many of the marketers in the BrightEdge survey identified voice search as the year’s “next biggest thing” – as consumers are increasingly gravitating towards such tools. In the Gallup survey, almost half (47%) are using digital personal assistants on their smartphones, while more than one-fifth are using intelligent home personal assistants.

The study shows that people have a generally positive outlook about AI: about 8 in 10 survey respondents feel that AI has had a very or mostly positive impact on their lives till now. And separate research indicates that consumers in the US are far more likely to describe artificial intelligence (AI) in positive than negative terms.

One thing seems clear: AI usage is only going to become more widespread over time, by both consumers and marketers…

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