Marketing has a natural maturity curve. Remember when you used to read all of your emails? Or when Google read back searches that were actually real vs. paid ads? The next wave has arrived. Artificial Intelligence, or AI, has entered the mainstream and is widely available for those brave enough to plunge into the deep waters.

AI marketing is the new shiny penny in that awe-struck, early adopter phase. It will surely evolve, just as the others have. For now, it’s an exciting game changer with massive potential.

As AI becomes more commonplace for marketers and consumers alike, small businesses would benefit from dipping a toe in to learn how to optimize their marketing efforts and gain a competitive advantage in their industry. Let’s take a look at how.

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The AI Impact on Marketing

Your prospects flow through what we think of as a three-part funnel — in awareness, they discover your business as a solution to a problem; then in consideration, they compare your prices and services to others; and finally, at conversion, they’re ready to open their wallets.

Your marketing tactics are different at each stage of this funnel. As a marketer, this can be challenging. For those without a marketing degree, it’s even tougher.

Machine learning can help us navigate. Let’s look at three ways AI can significantly improve how prospects move through the funnel.

AI learns consumer buying patterns to help you build smarter campaigns

As marketers, it’s our job to anticipate where consumers will be most open to hearing about a product or service in the awareness stage. Today, that looks like Facebook ads, Google search, connected TV and the like.

The first AI trend is all about understanding consumer data and behavior, which is what AI excels at — analyzing tremendous amounts of information and making real-time recommendations based on machine learning.

In marketing, AI will recommend where and how to place your ads — the most effective channels, placements and ad formats for a business to use to reach your target audience.

For example, let’s say Paul’s Plumbing used an online ads platform with AI analysis to test three ad concepts for a tankless water heater. The ads used various colors, images and text. Using this platform, he learned the ads were most appealing to 18 to 29-year-old men who make up to $24,000 annually.

The platform determined ad No. 1 was most memorable, No. 2 was the most unique and No. 3 would drive the most sales.

Based on this AI analysis, if Paul was looking for top-of-funnel awareness, he should keep running ad No. 1, but if he’s looking for bottom-of-funnel conversions and a bump in sales, ad No. 3 is the clear winner. Talk about using meaningful data to get a leg up on the competition!

Generative AI creates the right content for the moment

Within the various stages of the funnel or even for a current customer we want to upsell, we can use generative AI. This subset of AI focuses on creating content like images, music or text that’s built based on patterns that AI learns from existing data. Why is that important?

Perhaps a small business like A/C by Cal wants to create a blog with the goal of encouraging basic maintenance customers to upgrade to a premium maintenance service. Cal inputs the topic and goal into a generative AI tool, and the platform does the heavy lifting to provide the written content.

In this example, it took ChatGPT less than a minute to write a free 600-word blog titled “Elevate Your AC Maintenance Experience with Our Premium Service Package.” The blog highlighted the benefits of becoming a premium customer, extended warranty, peace of mind, personalized service and more. It also suggested email, direct mail and social media as the top three channels for reaching homeowners.

You can imagine how this would work throughout the rest of your customer’s journey. Because AI can analyze large amounts of customer data, identify patterns and generate insights, businesses can use this map to pinpoint where customers are losing interest and identify ways to re-engage them and reinvigorate sales.

AI knows your audience

This last one is revolutionary. We’ve been discussing how AI algorithms analyze patterns and user behavior in campaigns and content creation, but it can also be used in the battle for your audience’s attention.

Once your prospects are deeper in the funnel and familiar with your brand, they may sign up for an email newsletter or follow you on social media. This is where AI can make your connection to them even more meaningful.

When creating email nurture campaigns, keep an eye on new email marketing tools that allow you to automate “predictive sending times.” This AI feature analyzes when that individual email recipient is most likely to check their inbox and will deliver the email accordingly.

Similarly, your social media scheduling tool will provide “optimal posting times” for a specific audience on each of your channels — be it Facebook, Instagram or others — so your message has the opportunity to be seen when they’re most active.

Additionally, AI can learn how your customers have interacted with your business and present content based on their preferences. For example, while working in the background with a feature called a “pixel,” AI will follow a customer as they visit your website. The next time that customer visits Facebook, they will see an ad for a service they were researching on your site, thanks to that pixel.

Moving Marketing Forward

From smarter campaigns to consumer insights to predictive analytics, it’s clear that AI offers a range of solutions and shortcuts, and we’re just beginning to understand its power.

Keep in mind, machine learning and content creation can be robotic and generic. Prioritize personalization and connection during your editing process. While AI-written content is convenient, make sure it’s tailored to your brand and sounds like your business.

AI may not be able to capture your business’s personality and tone of voice (yet), so remember that while machines make our jobs easier, it’s our personal connections that build lasting relationships and meaningful experiences for our customers.

In the meantime, let us know how your business has been experimenting with AI marketing concepts. We’d love to hear your stories!

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Tami Cannizzaro is Thryv’s Chief Marketing Officer. She is an industry veteran who is known for her expertise in digital marketing and building inbound growth engines for new customer acquisition.