For those of us old enough to remember “The Jetsons” — or those of us young enough to consider the science-fantasy series from the ’60s as “retro cool” — it was always fun to watch George Jetson spend his workday pushing the single red button on his computer. George complained a lot about his hard job, and as a kid, I remember wondering what the heck that red button did. What I now know for sure is that — whatever it did — it was using AI.

Last week, after Forrester’s B2B Summit in Austin, I found myself thinking about George, his red button, and the wonderful world of Orbit City. In fact, artificial-intelligence origins predate George and his coffee deliveries from Rosie the robot maid and Astro’s out-of-control dog-walks on the automated treadmill. Now, decades later, we’ve got neural networks (large language models) and massive data sets delivering generative AI that will power way more than Spacely’s Space Sprockets — no doubt a B2B enterprise. To quote a different George, Forrester CEO George Colony from our event’s opening keynote, “You may not be interested in AI, but AI is interested in you.” Having had intriguing conversations on the topic of AI with vendors and customers at the event, I find myself musing on three promising areas of AI impact in B2B marketing where prudence, too, is advised: marketing technology expansion, demand marketing personalization, and content intelligence.

Generative AI: An Additional Method Or The Key To Martech Application Expansion?

The marketing technology landscape is replete with vendors seeking ways to extend beyond their existing category offerings to grow the business and expand market share, whether through merger-and-acquisition activity or organic development. For business buyers, it aligns to a tried-and-true simplification model: Decrease the number of vendors required to manage B2B marketing. While the effort to transform siloed martech and offer clients one “throat to choke” isn’t new, generative AI does provide a new way for vendors to approach the challenge. By dramatically accelerating automation capabilities and code development, AI offers double duty: Improve and scale existing capabilities, and add new functionality that can move the business into another category altogether.

While the potential is promising, caution is wise for both vendors and their customers — the market needs time to develop experience with validating and governing AI-created capabilities and code, not to mention all the other aspects of launching and supporting technology development. “While AI will help enable the shift to more holistic marketing solutions, it will take more than rapid code development to transform the project management software that you’re using to manage content creation, for example, into a web content delivery platform,” said James Kessinger, CMO and COO of Hushly.

There’s No Red “Easy Button”: AI In Demand Marketing Demands Experimentation

The common goal across B2B demand marketing is to deliver personalized contextual experiences that dramatically improve audience engagement. Marketers struggle to deliver such experiences as they navigate a complex web of not only their own technologies, processes, and functional siloes but also third-party tools and intent data, multiple delivery channels, and more. For sure, AI will create content, build, automate, tune, and scale more efficient personalized experience delivery. But these capabilities are not something that businesses will just turn on. There is already a lot of discussion about governance and risk — setting those issues aside, however, building the AI-driven personalization machine requires ample experimentation across the phases of content planning, development, production, promotion, and delivery.

B2B marketers on the hook for immediate results may typically limit time and resources applied to experimentation in favor of low-hanging fruit or easy wins. Those days are over. “Advancing our marketing programs depends upon goal-oriented experimentation,” said Shimona Chadha, vice president of marketing at HCLTech. “My team focuses significant resources and impetus on experimentation as we work to deliver personalized experiences to our customers.” The organizations that will achieve the earliest success with AI-powered personalization are those that invest in experimentation and the vendors that provide the necessary sandboxes.

Are We Smart Enough To Figure Out Content Intelligence In A World Of Generative AI?

While the red easy button may be a nonstarter, we’ll eventually get to a place where AI-generated B2B content and experiences are personalized to the in-the-moment needs of the audience. We will enter a world where we no longer create assets but instead deliver unique experiences for every individual, based on everything that machine learning gathers about their needs and preferences. But there’s a rub: How will marketers understand what works? Or will it even matter? You could argue that understanding isn’t necessary so long as the AI-tuned experiences continuously deliver engagement and conversions. What will marketers use in this new world, however, to inform their planning? How will they learn from what works to develop new campaign ideas and increase persona insights, for example?

Perhaps, instead of measuring key performance indicators such as top asset engagement by persona, we will look at key “characteristic” indicators: The more that characteristics X and Y are included in experiences, the better the results. But most B2B organizations struggle to deliver basic content measurement and intelligence today — 47% of B2B organizations consider themselves beginners at tracking content impact metrics. So getting to next-level intelligence isn’t a given. Businesses will look to the vendors that deliver the AI-driven personalized experiences to also deliver the related intelligence. Vendors that do this well, with benefits such as turnkey, templated, and use-case-based reporting, will have the competitive advantage.

Are you a marketer who is already experimenting with content and delivery methods to optimize engagement and demand? Let’s talk — reach out to your Forrester account representative, or direct-message me on LinkedIn. I’ll be speaking on experimentation at Content Marketing World in September and at Optimizely’s Opticon in October.

Pushing A Panic Button A person about to press a big red button

“Pushing A Panic Button A person about to press a big red button” © 2023 Jernej Furman, licensed under CC BY 2.0