The Digital Revolution: AI’s Impact on Local Business Marketing

Artificial Intelligence

A rule of thumb when it comes to artificial intelligence: never ask an AI to do something that you don’t understand. When employed properly, artificial intelligence can be a powerful labor-saving tool in your kit — but you need to have the ability to check their work. Otherwise, the AI can get things wrong or, worse still, make something up entirely.

That being said, there’s a reason why “AI” is the buzzword on everybody’s lips: almost everyone, in every industry, will find a use for AI in their future.

For local businesses and franchisees, this may not seem obvious: AI can’t change someone’s oil, or bake a pizza, or give someone an eye exam. Not yet, anyway, and probably not for a while in any case. But one area where artificial intelligence will probably become part of a small business owner’s everyday life is in digital marketing.

Here are some of the ways that artificial intelligence can help with digital marketing:

Generative Artificial Intelligence

The biggest splash in tech lately is so-called “generative AI,” where users provide a generative artificial intelligence program – like ChatGPT – with what’s called a “prompt.” These prompts are a question or directive for the AI to craft content based on the parameters you establish. 

Using this process, a small business owner can create blog posts, ad copy, FAQ pages, home pages, and social media updates in moments. While it’s important to edit the resulting copy carefully for errors and odd turns of phrase, a good generative AI algorithm can cut the workload of your marketing copy down significantly.

Enhanced Targeting Through Predictive Analytics

When you’re running a digital campaign, there are a lot of numbers and metrics to track. Which ads are performing, and which audiences are they performing with? Are you getting a good return-on-investment running your creatives through this or that publisher? Is it worth it to run your ads all day, or should you focus on specific peak hours?

A.I. algorithms are advancing, equipped to analyze performance, target data, and help with those crucial digital marketing optimizations. While some programs generate recommendations and insight reports for users others are evolving to take a more active role, directly implementing optimizations. Although these programs are not yet foolproof, and it’s essential to monitor their actions regularly.

However, these are just tools – and no matter what the tools are, you’re going to need a marketing partner who will adapt to changing market conditions and know when and how to use these tools to their fullest potential. Like the “rule of thumb” we listed in the opening to this article, the key is finding a partner who understands your business — that way, when AI comes knocking on the doors to your business, you’ve got a partner who knows when to follow the machine’s advice, and when to ignore it.

Customer Engagement and Chatbots

Obviously, the personal touch is a key component of small businesses. That being said, even in the world of small businesses not everything requires you to handle it personally.

AI is increasingly useful for customer service value-adds like e-mail marketing, allowing a program to respond with tailored messages for valued customers. Automated SMS messages are also something that AI can take the pain out of small businesses. Additionally, some AI algorithms can help field scheduling, or customer service complaints.

Anyone who has dealt with a phone tree or online chatbot knows that there are limits to what these things can do (again, so far anyway) but like everything else these tools are improving all the time. So while it’s important to leave your customers with some method of getting in touch with a flesh-and-blood person as an anti-frustration feature, AI is increasingly capable of handling the bulk of routine issues. All these things combine to free up more time in your day.

Content Moderation

The internet is a participatory environment: unlike the old days, where you could drop an ad circular in someone’s mailbox or buy a thirty-second spot on the radio, today’s marketing is becoming increasingly less one-way than it used to be. On message boards, Yelp and Google reviews, social media pages and more, customers are coming off the sidelines to make their opinions known.

The problem with that, of course, is that every opportunity for user-generated content and comments is another vulnerability for your brand. On the one hand you’ve got the potential for profanity, slurs, and other content that could hurt your brand. And on the other hand, you’ve got the potential for negative customer feedback to get in the way of you enticing potential business.

That’s where AI content moderation comes in. Computers never sleep, and they can crawl your site at all hours of the day and night to look for the kind of content that you don’t want, flagging it for an in-person review when you wake up and keeping it away from prying eyes in the meantime. You can set the parameters to be as strict or as lax as you prefer for your own audience, and AI algorithms learn over time to adapt to your preferences.

Facebook has, notably, begun using AI tools to do things like allow you to create specialized alerts if people on your Facebook page are using specific keywords, and potentially alerting you if users are getting into unfortunate arguments underneath your latest marketing push.

AI programs that can trawl through conversations to flag you when a negative Yelp review hits the web is another possibility — and though you won’t be able to delete the offending comment yourself, you’ll at least be alerted to a potential opportunity to make things right, replying to that customer with an explanation, an apology, or a make-good — showing everyone else who stumbles across it how responsive and service-oriented your business can be.

This technology is still in infancy, of course, so a combination of AI and human moderators still gets the best results. But who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Loyalty Programs

Another potential use for AI is tailored loyalty programs. Traditionally, loyalty programs have utilized a one-size-fits-all approach: spend X amount of dollars, receive Y reward. 

But what if the reward doesn’t feel like an incentive to a specific customer? Giving someone a free sub sandwich on their tenth purchase is only valuable if a sandwich is what they want – if they’ve been swinging by the franchise for beverages or cookies, they won’t be interested. Deals on contact lenses won’t be very appealing for customers who only wear glasses. And a discounted oil change won’t mean much to someone who drives a Tesla.

AI-generated loyalty programs can tailor the rewards to a specific customer’s buying habits and preferences, offering discounts on things the customer actually uses. This allows the incentive to actually incentivize. Some may even be able to do this on-the-fly, allowing the AI program to upsell the client based on the contents of their cart.

Prepared For The Future

The revolution in AI is touching a lot of industries, and in this changing, dynamic landscape, uncertainty is common — and uncertainty can bring a lot of fear about what’s coming next.

The important thing is for local businesses and franchisees to not simply wait and see – but to actively prepare for it. Staying ahead of that curve means embracing innovation, and testing and learning from new solutions that leverage AI to streamline marketing efforts.

As AI technology continues to advance, businesses that stand ready to incorporate these advancements into their strategies will enjoy a competitive edge. We could not be more excited about Balihoo’s recent acquisition by Insticator brings a whole host of new technologies and developments right under our roof, and it highlights our commitment to staying on the cutting edge.

As we look to the future, local businesses are encouraged not to wait passively but to prepare actively. Balihoo is in your corner and ready to help our clients stay well-equipped to thrive in the evolving marketing ecosystem.

Written by
Sean Kelly, Senior Content Writer

Sean Kelly is a Senior Content Specialist, St. Louis-based engagement expert with 20 years of experience in content writing, and 8 years in adtech.

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