More than seven out of every ten marketers are trusting just one technology to make sense of all their  challenges in 2018.

And it just might succeed ... if it doesn't also take their jobs.

Or if privacy regulations reduce the amount of data available to power it.

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Artificial intelligence is set to be the most transformative technology in marketing in 2018, according to more than 345 CMOs, CEOs, and marketing experts I surveyed recently. (Full disclosure: I consult as a mobile economist for TUNE.) That ranges from machine learning to deep learning to smart applications of big data, and all the way to smart personal assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant.


This past year, marketers learned that they had too much data. Too much to understand, and too much data to react to.

In fact, modern marketers are drowning in data.

But the "new oil" of business isn't valuable without the critical ability to capture and engage its insights.

"AI-enhanced predictive analytics represents the next evolution in marketing technology," says Adam Howatson, CMO of OpenText. "Marketers know the huge amount of data we store is laden with insights about customer behaviors, but its size, diversity, and velocity make it difficult to leverage using traditional predictive analysis tools. To extract value from big data, marketers will soon leverage Artificial Intelligence."

Over the past five years, marketing has become a science.

Three-martini lunches don't determine direction anymore; data does.

The challenge is: when you're collecting data on everything, how can you devote the appropriate amount of time and attention to ensuring that you're making truly data-driven decisions?

The answer is AI, according to leading marketers and technologists.

"We live in a 'rules-based' marketing world," says Larry Kim, founder of Wordstream and current CEO of MobileMonkey. "Which landing page does better? Which leads should be scored higher? What segment should we target an email or ad to? Smart marketing technologies are introducing a level of AI in their systems to help figure this stuff out so that we're not just guessing using static rules."

The great thing about AI?

Unlike puny humans, it gets smarter with more data and more time.

"Unlike humans whose brain naturally deteriorates with age, bots and AI in general is only getting smarter and more personal as it ages," says Hillel Fuld, CMO of Zcast and a prominent marketing influencer.

The real power of AI will be the personalization of advertising and marketing ... and all the messages that brands send to us throughout the entire buying and ownership life cycle.

Smart engagement will transform all of brands' messaging, Salesforce marketing executives say.

And actually, it's just about accomplishing what marketers have always wanted in the first place.

"At the end of the day, marketers are still on the same quest for years: ensuring the right message on the right channel and at the right time gets to the right consumer," says Meghann York, who leads product marketing around AI for the company. "AI is going to be the way we achieve what I call this 'personalization nirvana.'"

When York says "personalization," she means it. Even advertising can now be tailored to a specific person and his or her tastes, interests, and history.

Other CMOs agree.

"The tracking of digital shopping behavior merged with user interests will result in a personalized messaging down to a segment of one, allowing marketers to deploy ads that are uniquely focused and more impactful," says AutoGravity CMO Serge Vertanov.

But this personalization isn't only about advertising.

And it's not just about the marketing that companies send out to prospective clients.

Increasingly, it's also about the product experience ... the experience of being a customer and interacting with a brand. Essentially, the job of being a marketer is expanding beyond the pre-sales phase as it's more and more important to transform customers into brand advocates.

"By tapping into AI and machine learning, marketers and brands have an opportunity to deliver progressively better customer experiences that are frictionless, contextual and personalized to customers - based on where they are and what they're doing in the moment," says Thom Gruhler, the former CMO of Microsoft Windows and current CEO of Fjuri.

"When you look at the market, the brands that are the most wildly successful obsess over product and customer experience. They steer every aspect of that experience, and increasingly that means tapping into AI."

One challenge, however, is very clear.

If armies march on their stomach, AI exists thanks to data. And data -- truly big data -- has one serious enemy: privacy.

Analysts who study the matter see challenges in the future ... especially in Europe.

"GDPR will have a major impact on marketing in 2018," says Oliver Schonschek, a 
technology journalist and a lead analyst for Insider Research in Germany. "The aim of marketing people must be to get the consent of the users in a very intelligent way."

GDPR, of course is the General Data Protection Regulation that the EU is implementing shortly. Since just about every major technology and enterprise company does business in Europe, it's become a global challenge.

It's not one that CMOs are unaware of, of course.

And it might just be the challenge that drives marketing back to creativity, along with technology.

"In the current context where individual privacy concerns are coming back with a vengeance, there will be a technology shift whereby personal data becomes more protected," says Anna Winterstein, CMO of Smarter Time. "Marketing might have to learn to do without that crutch."