AI in marketing: Selling through robots

The rise of machines is happening, but not in the way you think.

Artificial intelligence has seemingly taken over the world. No, this isn’t the script for Terminator 6 (Yes, there are 5 of these). It’s in fact an observation I’m stating from the recent global trends in technology.. Gone are the days when AI was a sci-fi director’s archetypical villain, destined to take over from humans. This version of AI is far less threatening, and actually exciting in it’s ability to aid humans in seemingly complex tasks. Emerging as the favourite bet for tech titans around the world, AI has caused a massive structural shift in business operations, particularly in the field of marketing. Here, we explore two such applications of AI in the domain:

 

Conversation based


This side of AI was made for the users. Technically known as Natural Language processing, it has opened up brand new dimensions of a consumer’s relationship and their interaction with the brands and their products.

It’s meteoric rise is mostly credited to the longstanding dream of having your own personal robot assistant, like bringing alive a dream the Jetsons began. Suddenly, the marvels of technology was represented by the words ‘at my command’ instead of ‘at the press of a button’ simply because buttons became old school. Who wants to even use buttons, when you can control your lights, your car, your temperature and even your microwave with just your voice. ;

All powerful, all seeing, Alexa

Taking centre stage at practically every tech conference last year, conversational AI is the new hype amidst consumers. A machine that can talk to you has always been the pipe dream of every sci-fi enthusiast and futurist. Considering these traits are quite common in Silicon valley, it was only a matter of time before it became a reality.

The most prominent example would be Amazon Alexa, the conversational AI that literally shoved Siri, Cortana and any other virtual assistant out the door and took the spotlight. With Amazon’s presence in practically every aspect of life, Alexa had access to virtually every data point regarding a consumer’s spending habits and lifestyle. Whether it’s your supplies needing replenishment, or searching that one track from your playlist, Alexa has you covered. But it didn’t end there, Amazon realised the scalability of this powerful conversational AI early on. It struck a golden deal with leading automotive manufacturers to get Alexa to your car, handling everything from the temperature to your engine status, eventually making it the ‘smart car’.

Add to that, Amazon leveraging it’s vast network of brands and suppliers for third-party integrations at a rapid rate shows the amount of faith being put into AI, as an intricate part of it’s whole superior customer experience promise.

 

Now if this was decades ago, companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook would have had sole access to this technology and thus, have a monopoly of sorts. But it’s 2017, and the power to create things is open source. Which means everyone, individual, SME or an MNC has the means to create and execute content, software and ideas at an unprecedented scale and further share it with the world.

Let’s have a chat (bot)

The rise of Alexa was actually part of a bigger, more all encompassing idea of superior customer experience. Every brand is relentlessly chasing personalised customer experience and marketing at scale, which means everyone wants their own Alexa. This is where chatbots came alive.

Brands needed a candidate that could be accessible anywhere, anytime, solve customer issues in an instant and even convert them, all without any delay or ambiguity, which is what plagues customer service around the world. Doing so many things cannot be humanly possible, so it’s not done by humans at all. Chatbots achieve all the requirements with ease, and the biggest reason for it’s quick adoption and rise, was the ease of creating one. With tools like Facebook Messenger platform and LIVE at the brand’s disposal, building the perfect customer service manager was a matter of seconds.

In essence, conversational AI provides a win-win situation for both sides of the business transaction, giving customers a personalised, efficient and effective service and brands, the perfect customer service executive at extremely competitive rates and minimal infrastructure spend.


Anticipation based


The backbone of most CRMs today, this form of AI helps analyse existing/historical data and accordingly anticipate future actions to a great degree of accuracy. They effectively execute machine learning algorithms to create products that collect contextual information. This creates a  product in a self sustaining evolution, wherein it’s understanding of users is directly proportional to the frequency of them using it.

 

Thinking ahead of time, and users.  

It can help by informing marketers of critical events in the sales funnel. For example, it can point out a user’s growing interest in a product line he/she’s been browsing since their previous visits to the website, allowing marketers to convert at, with an exciting offer at an opportune moment. Countless such events can be anticipated based on the user’s behaviour to keep marketers ahead of their consumers for a change.

It also combs through the complete spectrum of data points, from macro trends of the market to micro trends of the customer’s personal usage pattern. This enables the system to effectively predict the user’s future behaviour, allowing practices like anticipatory design to narrow down the choices and create a better user experience through the product.

Take the example of North Face using IBM Watson’s superior machine learning skills to create a platform that allows their customers to find the perfect jacket for their needs. It does that by taking them through a quick questionnaire regarding it’s use and user, analysing these data points and giving them a set of recommendations matching the request, sorted from high to medium match. Initiatives such as these are the beginning of what aims to be a wave of customised shopping experiences. Another fallout from this trend is of marketers shifting focus from variety of choice, to a personalised option as the USP of major retail brands, which is another way that AI is driving change in the world of marketing.


The Takeaway

Artificial Intelligence is here to not just stay, but evolve and grow into things that we probably haven’t even anticipated of yet. The real question is how this evolution takes shape, and which brand makes the most of it.

According to a recent study by Weber Shandwick run across US, UK and China, more than half of the CMOs of multimillion dollar companies in these countries believe that AI will have a significant impact on marketing and communications, one far greater than that of social media. However the same report suggests only one third of them currently know how to best apply AI to their operations. So the journey is long and full of surprises and drastic changes.

 

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