You may not be in the market for a new marketing automation system (or any marketing automation system) right now, but tracking the new and updated features of available technology does provide insight into where marketing is going and what printers and their customers need to be doing—or gearing up to do in the future. One such change is the increased use of AI to speed and simplify the identification and understanding of customer journeys.

This shift is reflecting not just the importance of understanding customer journeys, but also how this importance is translating into investment in automating this process and bringing it within reach of the broader market.

The timing is fortuitous. As winter has set in and the number of new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations have been surging, even with vaccinations having begun, consumers are tightening their belts (again). Mass vaccinations have just started, but even so, it is a two-dose vaccine, with each dose one month apart. After the second dose, it will take some time for full effectiveness. As a result, the economy is not going to return to normal any time soon.

As marketers adjust to the “new normal,” the ability to find and target buying customers will be increasingly critical. A global study by McKinsey is among those finding that consumer optimism is shrinking and consumers continue shifting their spending to essentials while cutting back on most discretionary categories. In the United States, McKinsey found the biggest declines in categories such as footwear, jewelry, accessories, and home furnishings, but declines are also occurring in categories ranging from personal care products to alcohol (imagine!).

The study covered March–September 2020, so it does not include increasing concerns since the second wave of COVID-19 has hit.

In this environment, even the most targeted, personalized campaigns may not bring the desired ROI when consumers are focused on meeting their basic needs. This makes understanding, finding, and tapping into the subset of consumers who are most likely to buy a critical first step. Once you find the most likely buyers first, then you can figure out what to sell them and how.

This is what makes new features in CRM systems so exciting. To take one software platform (Insightly Marketing) as an example, Insightly has added features such as AI-driven prospect grading and scoring, A/B and multivariate testing, and “new-gen” marketing analytics and made them accessible (it claims) even to small and mid-sized marketers.

New features include:

  • AI-driven prospect grading and scoring. This allows marketers to pass only the most qualified prospects to sales by automatically determining how demographically close they are to having an ideal customer profile (ICP) and calculate how likely they are to potentially become a paying customer.
  • Advanced list segmentation. This allows marketers to automatically create highly targeted lists based on any combination of triggers that indicate elevated intent to buy. These include interaction with online marketing assets such as webinar attendance, ebook downloads, and website visits.
  • A/B and multivariate testing. This feature speeds the process of testing creative and messaging using statistically relevant sample sizes and automatically deploys the “winners” to the broader target market segments.
  • Improved marketing analytics: This increases users’ understanding of prospects’ behaviors, preferences, and needs by tracking and logging all of their interactions along the customer journey, including YouTube video views, form-fill interactions, and analyzing custom event completions.

This is just one example, but it illustrates where we can expect to see CRM and marketing automation platforms evolve. We’ve learned how to use data to create highly targeted market segments and refine messaging based on customer profiles and personas. But the ability to identify the buying segments most likely to make purchases based on their customer journey behavior has not yet been widely accessible. The use of AI to make it easier and more cost-effective couldn’t be better timing.

We are in an unprecedented winter marketing season that won’t look like any other season marketers remember. Being more strategic about whom you target and how you allocate your marketing spend is more important than ever. The technology to make it happen is evolving quickly. Take advantage of it.