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Small Biz AI? Eh, Not So Much

Hottest new tool stumbled in actual marketing applications

Can small businesses and agencies use artificial intelligence to improve sales?

cute little robot
AI is overwhelming consumers

When IBM’s Watson defeated two top-winning Jeopardy champs Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings in 2011, it was a blazing display of AI prowess all packed into a reported 16 terabytes of RAM memory. The prototype of neural language application, Watson-like technologies are now part of everyday life, from Google searches and online chats to customer service and massive robo calling.

Is AI the marketing silver bullet?

But does it really work?

For marketing? Not so much. I jumped into AI marketing because it looked like a cool way to scale up lead development and connect with people who were looking for what our clients were selling. The concept was profound, but performance was horrible.

We applied AI for voice mails, calls, texting, and email marketing. We learned how to talk robot and trained our robot to be friendly and responsive to client questions.

Our call center held great promise to follow up on calls and leads generated by the robot.

I shut it all down.

We powered up to 800 calls a day. With humans, if we did 800 calls we’d get one to two conversations that would lead to sales. With AI hitting 5,000 calls, we got zero conversations with humans.

What happened?

Like a gold rush, every marketer on the planet started picking and panning with AI. Consumers are being saturated with robots, and regardless how real they might seem, people see through them like ground-penetrating radar.

You’ve seen it. Every business owner today gets five times more emails than just a few months ago. Your cell phone probably has five to 10 daily voice mails and text messages.

It’s all because of AI. Who’s sending those messages? AI. Who’s commenting? AI. It’s not humans who have inundated you with communications. It’s AI robots relentlessly targeting you as some predefined prospect.

AI is overused and has flooded the market with simultaneous outreach. AI’s ChatGPT reported 10 million users in 40 days, according to Brett Winton, chief futurist at ARK Venture Investment, outpacing Instagram, which took 355 days – nearly a year – to get 10 million registered users.

Text messaging is just junk now and no one answers phones if they don’t see a familiar name pop up on the screen. Email is growing, but without opt-in it’s growing in junk and spam folders, not reaching intended recipients.

This oversaturation has been like a massive electromagnetic pulse that blasted away marketers’ human connection and engagement. Marketing has become just another robot.

I can’t tell you the amount of people who have been mad at me or ignored me, nor can I tell you about the amount of negative publicity we received from the outreach tsunami.

Of some 30,000 people we connected with on specific data points, we only churned out a few leads for customers. Sadder, the few leads we processed had no sales.

More human marketing

In today’s world, humans are not interacting very much. Not because they don’t want to, they do want to connect and talk. They just don’t like what’s being thrown at them. They don’t want fake conversations, and they can’t handle the daunting amount of information that’s surging over them. How many unanswered or unwanted emails do you have in your inbox?

I’m finding that the tried-and-true, more human marketing is working. People have been cooped up in fear the past couple of years. Their conversations have been digital and often virtual. We all need that human touch, that social connection, that breaks up loneliness and generates endorphins to stave off anxiety and depression.

We’re learning that the more you can connect with prospects on a personal level, the more they learn to trust you and are willing to connect. That means, they’re willing to give you contact information, ask questions, and generally engage with you.

The United States Postal Service reports that 67% of marketers say direct mail has the highest return on investment, and 66% of consumers say they engage with or acted on direct mail they received. It’s because it’s tangible and tactile. Of course, much direct mail goes from the mailbox to the round file, but that’s more because of the approach and the message. If it’s not relevant to what a prospect is doing or thinking, it’s not going to stick.

However, direct mail fine-tuned with information narrows your message to relevant connect points. It makes impact. And if it’s handwritten, it carries psychological power that results in highest open and viewing rates.

That translates to more calls, appointments, and sales.

New AI-assisted marketing will have a place and does offer great insights when it comes to data analysis and prediction, but right now for connecting to people it’s not there.

I’m going back to what saved one of my businesses: handwritten direct mail. It sidesteps digital noise, goes directly to a real person living in a real home, and connects on emotional and psychological levels.

Sometimes, old school is just the best way.


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