It’s like something out of a science fiction novel. It’s 7.15 in the morning. You’re getting ready to leave the house for a meeting on the opposite side of town. The machine in the corner of your room anticipates your mood, senses that you’re feeling a little stressed. She knows the traffic is heavier than usual and you probably won’t have time to grab a coffee on the way. “You don’t need to leave for another five minutes”, she tells you. “Relax. I’ll make you an espresso for the journey. I ordered more capsules last week. Also, don’t forget your bag. You left it upstairs in the bedroom”.
Advances in artificial intelligence and the increasing interweaving of smart technology with our everyday lives signal a future where the machines know us better than we know ourselves. Meanwhile, the potential to market products and services in a more personal, data-driven way continues to grow. The era of personalised marketing is upon us.
Ask data giant IBM. Rashmy Chatterjee, the company’s chief marketing officer for North America, is upbeat about the potential for data-driven personalised marketing. “Cognitive marketing solutions enable us to use the data marketers have and combine it with third party data to uncover relationships, needs, and messages at a greater scale, that we could not uncover manually,” she explained in a 2017 interview with Forbes.
Through cognitive marketing technologies such as IBM Watson, marketing professionals are able to “improve storytelling, build and optimise relationships, and delight clients at every step of their journey through an intimate knowledge of their needs,” Chatterjee says.
An AI-driven world
Of course, it is not only around the house where our increasingly connected devices are allowing us to make purchasing and professional decisions more efficiently. Recent studies point to the ability of AI to parse legal contracts faster and more accurately than lawyers. In the hospital, algorithms outperform radiologists in diagnosing pneumonia from chest X-rays.
When it comes to our personal devices, the impact of AI is even more apparent. Chatbots shepherd our digital experiences, engaging us in conversation and guiding our interactions based on the inputs we give. Developers and data scientists scramble to produce tools for sentiment analysis that can identify mood from our body language, facial expressions, and speech. At the same time, social media giants like Facebook are invested heavily in AI research, as companies large and small race for the future.
In this relentless chase, much depends on the capacity of AI to make sense of the vast quantities of data we create every second. “The amount of data we are collecting is much higher than our ability to consume it”, says Tomás Ratia García-Oliveros, the CEO and co-founder of Frase, an AI-powered research assistant for content creation headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts. “Automation through AI can help us close this intelligence gap and accelerate our understanding of the world”.
IBM agrees. Its purchase of the Weather Channel’s data technology platform back in 2015 signalled the importance of large-scale data aggregation. If you can better predict the weather, you can better nudge people and businesses into commercial actions. That winter coat you meant to purchase before it gets too cold. The umbrella you left in the car that you need to find.
The personalisation of experience
Big data helps companies decide how to allocate resources in real-time. An airport using weather data intelligently is an a better position to minimise delays and give passengers a better experience inside the terminal.
David Kenny, the head of IBM Watson and one-time CEO of the Weather Channel, is a powerful advocate for big data. He stresses the power of data-driven AI to help people make decisions across many aspects of everyday life, not simply selecting what clothes to wear for the day. Kenny points to the work of Watson in personalising film trailers to different audience segments. How do you make the same film appeal to a boy of eight and his grandmother in her late fifties? “Same exact movie, it’s just which 30 seconds of the movie did you pick out”.
The potential for marketers in this area is vast. Cognitive platforms such as Watson hoover up the oceans of unstructured data online to obtain a more rounded sense of the person. This highly personalised approach allows a marketer to “put yourself in another person’s shoes” and to begin to think of them as a guest to your business and a potential purchaser, as Rashmy Chatterjee, Kenny’s colleague at IBM, puts it.
Learning to speak
At the heart of this transformation is the growing ability of AI-driven neural networks to understand and generate speech patterns in humanly recognisable ways. If marketing is the art of persuasion, then natural language processing (NLP) is poised to play a central role in the marketing mix.
Nowhere has this been clearer than in the growth of so-called conversational marketing, as made popular by companies such as Drift. Recommendation engines are a prime example of conversational marketing on automation steroids. “If you like this book/dress/recipe/piece of furniture, you might like this one too”. The personal touch makes us feel the machine understands us. And don’t forget it’s great for sales.
This kind of more casual interaction extends to the creative process. Ratia García-Oliveros of Frase envisages a time when writers will rely on AI research assistants enabled inside their document. These research assistants will casually converse with the writer as she works, making topic suggestions and conducting impromptu research on the fly.
“In the future, we will see improved “assistants” that can engage in conversations with the writer, almost turning the creative writing process into a conversation with your document”, Ratia García-Oliveros remarked.
The idea of interactivity in content creation is hardly new, but the deep learning capacities of AI is taking the concept of human-to-content interaction to a new level.
Hold on tight
As the chatbots and the Siris and the Alexas of the world become more polished in their turns of phrase, the more we will feel comfortable offering up the kind of increasingly personal data that feeds machine learning. “When you take this unstructured data and you become cognitive, you get a much better sense of the human and therefore a much better sense of the client”, Rashmy Chatterjee explains. And so the feedback loop continues.
The future of marketing is cognitive, and the future is here now.
How do you think AI will change the way you work? What’s the biggest impact it will have on the world of web design? Let us know your thoughts in a comment.