Didn’t See It Coming: How AI Could Disrupt SMB Marketing

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are terms thrown around so much these days they’ve almost been drained of any meaning. However the application of these capabilities across a range of industries is having and will have profound impacts and implications for almost everything B2C and B2B.

One question that has occurred to me before is: will AI somehow enable a simple yet effective DIY digital marketing solution for SMBs? I wrote an earlier post about the potential size of the addressable SMB market. I argued that something approaching 70% of SMBs are not working with any third party, publisher, consultant or agency to help with digital marketing.

Reasons for this include: a lack of knowledge of who to turn to or a lack of trust in available options. Some number of these business owners probably also like the idea of control or being “hands on” with their marketing. Most however, would prefer to turn things over to a trusted third party to manage (a la money management).

While the value of high-quality human customer service, sales and account management will never go away, I believe that there’s pent up demand for the kind of DIY solution I’m describing. This is where AI could come in in the near term (within 3 to 5 years).

It’s possible that in the near future a presence management, search and social media marketing platform emerges that relies heavily on automation and machine learning to provision and optimize campaigns, making current human-heavy models all but obsolete.

Some people will read that with skepticism: “there’s no way that’s going to happen.” Also: “People have been talking about ‘self-service’ for years and it doesn’t work.” Yes, that has been true in the past — “local media are sold not bought” is the conference cliche. But this is increasingly a local media industry bromide in my view.

A totally automated DIY approach that’s easy to buy, simple to provision and completely effective may never be entirely realized. However, it’s almost a certainty that AI/machine learning will disrupt the way that digital marketing for SMBs is being sold and fulfilled in the next several years.

Disagree? Tell us why.

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