The field of marketing and advertising is as old as human intentions – to have their voices heard. The human-centric approach has been the center of similar activities, for the products and services are for humans to be consumed. Progress and development added value to marketing, and today, we are living in a world where artificial intelligence (AI) is facilitating consumers and industries alike. Data and numbers are products of marketing strategies and plans. What was once a tedious, painstaking manual labor of collecting, entering, and analyzing numbers to predict trends is now a task only a click away.

Before the advent of the Internet, marketing practices and promotional activities were conducted on-ground. The human resource was deployed in areas across cities having higher footfall, especially in shopping malls and public places, to gather data. Although on-ground activities are still prevalent primarily because human-to-human interaction is irreplaceable, digital media and artificial intelligence are most recently facilitating such activities.

Speaking of customer journeys over the internet, AI plays a key role in connecting customers’ needs to the offered products and services. Case in point: the AI-based chatbots that activate the moment a customer lands on the website. The chatbot can analyze the questions and generate replies accordingly. This simulates human conversation, giving the customer the satisfaction that they anticipate.

In today’s technology-backed environment, AI and data analytics are majorly changing Pakistan’s marketing and advertising industry. Personalized marketing activities are on the rise. Organizations reluctant to adopt AI will eventually be forced to include it in their business model. Marketers have the opportunity to personalize marketing campaigns. Data and numbers become the foundation for such projects. This data, acquired through surveys and first-hand customer information, enables companies to create targeted ads on social media.

E-commerce marketplaces in Pakistan are using AI algorithms to offer users targeted yet personalized product recommendations. It is a small wonder that all of us have experienced it as regular social media users. Once they Google a product, service, or brand, their news feed on social media is peppered with ads offering similar products and services. Who would have thought this to be a reality in 2006-07 when Facebook first emerged as a never-been-heard-before website in Pakistan and the world?

Marketers and advertisers, therefore, provide a value-added customer experience that meets customers’ demands beyond expectations. An AI-based marketing campaign results in efficient advertising with minimal errors – that could have been possible in on-ground campaigns by manually entering and analyzing numbers and data. Telecommunication companies in Pakistan use AI-powered ad targeting mechanisms to guarantee that ads reach their specific audience at the appropriate time. There was a time when ads were bombarded on television during commercial breaks in drama serials aired at prime-time slots. While the fundamentals of advertising have remained the same, the form has drastically changed. Digital and social media have overshadowed the medium of television and radio. There are targeted ads that reach the audience at a specific time frame. Moreover, marketers can view real-time data about the reach, impressions, click-through rate (CTR), cost-per-click (CPC), and conversation rate.

Professionals in the field of marketing are hopeful that AI will help them efficiently complete their tasks. “The rate at which AI is evolving is exciting and scary as well,” said Syed Ommer Amer, founder Daastan, a Pakistani publishing house. He views AI as a helping hand and not as an authority. “For me, AI is still regurgitating generic content. It needs thorough work and improvement where it takes over marketers,” he added.

Forecasting a product’s and service’s demands is much easier with predictive analytics. Machine learning algorithms, in particular, examine data to make predictions. These forecasts help marketers to analyze data and make a calculated guess of the future trends that the areas of sales, production, etc., will follow. Companies offering carbonated beverages use predictive analytics to determine the number of bottles or cans that will potentially be sold at a given time in the future. The usages and applications are numerous; how organizations utilize AI makes all the difference.

“Any technology or innovation is at the mercy of its users,” says Dr. Qazi Tauseef Uddin Ahmed, a qualified professional in medicine, health, education, and management sciences, with professional experience of 25+ years, including ELT, higher education, corporate training, educational leadership, and senior management. “The inventors exploit their creativity and competence to bridge the gap between haves and needs and create a value addition and/or reinvention of the way things are done, and so does AI.” Dr. Ahmed believes that AI has created an opportunity to fetch, assimilate, compare, and conclude existing data in algorithms. The information generated through data helps students, scholars, and professionals while constructing outputs from previously created data and conclusions drawn from data. “AI will give humans advanced processing and knowledge generation,” he added.

In the education sector, business schools are actively using data from students that are their target audience. For instance, the data from students of intermediate or A-level tracks interested in studying entrepreneurship, software engineering, accounting, finance, and business management in their BBA are shown ads about their field of interest on their social media timelines. This enables marketers in education to not only make changes to the campaign’s dynamics when witnessing dubious results but also analyze the numbers to predetermine the subsequent result.

Zeenat Anjum, an engineer, entrepreneur, and seasoned marketer, remarked, “AI is a beautiful man-made creation. It tells us the extent of brilliance that a human mind can conceive. There is a rise in AI consumption, especially with the introduction of platforms like Open AI.” She perceives AI not as a threat but as a gift, allowing people to utilize their time more efficiently. Anjum thinks that ChatGPT is exciting and it is “nothing less like a global revolution.” She further added, “AI is like an open book; we are the ones to decide if we want to make it a beautiful story or a nightmare”.

AI can also use natural language processing (NLP), which combines linguistics, computer science, and artificial intelligence to contemplate the online interactions between computers and human language. AI solutions can analyze a plethora of customers’ comments on social media to understand their emotions and feelings. This sentiment analysis gives brands an outlook on how their customers view them and what areas need improvement.

When talking about conversational AI, Robb Wilson writes in his book Age of Invisible Machines, a Wall Street Journal bestseller in the business category, “We’re living in an era when technology moves in exponential leaps and bounds, every day growing more powerful, more persuasive, and more sophisticated. It’s no coincidence that 90% of all the data in existence was created over the past two years.”

He further adds, “The technologies surrounding conversational AI are heading toward a point of convergence that will fundamentally alter our relationship with machines.”

Quite aptly said!

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Omar Iftikhar is a Karachi-based columnist with over 1,000 articles published in leading publications. He is the author of Divided Species, a science fiction story set in Karachi.