AI and Marke­ting

AI is becoming a crucial tool to make marketing more efficient. Whether it develops into your secret weapon or your competition depends solely on you. For the symbiosis of man and machine can be both a blessing and a curse.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) up till now has sparked either apocalyptic fantasies or amused derision. Movies like to show robots rising up to take over the world. But in real life, the abilities of virtual assistants like the iPhone’s Siri are still widely ridiculed and put to the test with obscene and inappropriate questions.

Time for a reality check. When you ask Siri: “Do you sleep?” She will answer: “I don’t need much sleep.” Wise words indeed. Computers don’t need sleep, take breaks or eat food. AI is the key to previously unimaginable efficiency, scalability and individualization of products and services. Yet successfully managed firms will ensure their brand identity doesn’t get lost in a torrent of ever-increasing personalization.

AI as a filter between customer and brand

The fridge orders butter on its own, Siri books flights for us and Netflix’s algorithm decides which films are worthy of our attention. In the future, intelligent assistance systems will help us organise most aspects of our lives based on our saved profiles, our interests and our needs. It will filter information, put it in context and make decisions for us. This will be a fundamental shift in people’s behaviour: We will no longer search for things, we will let them be found for us.

For brands, this means that they will no longer only need to woo consumers for their attention. But they will also have to battle more and more to make it into the relevant set of an algorithm. AI will become the new gatekeeper between brands and consumers.

Marketing caught between individualization and intact brand identity

Thanks to programmatic marketing [LINK] we will soon only see advertising that is truly relevant to our lives. Even better: It will be created especially for us. Algorithms will piece together personalised ads according to our user profiles in a fraction of a second. Moreover, this will be possible at nearly all touchpoints. There will no longer be just three different ads made – there will be 300,000. Every brand will then be able to reach every consumer at the perfect moment at the perfect place with the perfect message.

The question is, how much personalization is required to reach each potential customer. And how much a brand can undergo without losing its own identity. Will a virtual assistant like Google Now apologise to me and my neighbour in the same fashion? Will it say, “Sorry, dude,” instead of, “Please excuse me,” just because that suits me better?

Despite all the excitement about the new opportunities created by technology, brands need to be acutely aware of the danger of sacrificing their precious brand identity on the altar of individualization. One of the biggest challenges facing brand managers in the coming years will be finding a balance between marketing like a preening peacock and a color-shifting chameleon.

AI creates space for creative thought

AI will destroy jobs. The first thing to go will be work that is monotone, standardised and regimented. Anything that can be automated will be. In short: AI will spell the death of mindless tasks. That also applies to mindless and repetitive work done in the areas of communication, marketing, pricing and sales.

What we currently see in many marketing departments is a trend to insourcing. Sophisticated creative and strategic tasks are increasingly being pulled from outside service providers to be realised using in-house resources. Conversely, those same service providers are taking on marketing services like charting and others. Companies focusing on retaining quality work should be commended since it’s those tasks that robots will not be able to perform, and this is the only way to secure jobs long-term. All those going in the opposite direction – to that of a service provider manager – should think twice. They might just be making themselves obsolete.

The good thing about such developments is that machines can take over lots of annoying tasks. For people, this should mean more time and opportunity to focus on truly important matters.

Bots as the secret weapon for empathic superhumans

Bots are perfectly suited to automated tasks. They can answer standard customer questions, provide recommendations based on previously defined rules and even organise our calendars. But they’re not particularly good at dealing with unforeseen circumstances. They don’t have the necessary conditional capabilities, no suitable If-Then options. Bots simply aren’t made for exceptional situations requiring a quick and intuitive response. It’s here that the almighty algorithm has to defer to good old gut instinct.

Automation is not appropriate for any situation needing an immediate emotional connection. Would you use a chatbot for a police emergency hotline? Of course not. On the ground of emotional reasons alone. When disturbed or possibly traumatised people call for help, trust and human empathy are essential.

The same goes for current POS service standards. If I decide to invest tens of thousands of euros in a new car, I most likely wouldn’t be willing to buy one from a robot. Personalised service is an important factor towards a positive buying experience. After all, such decisions aren’t just based on cold, hard facts – they are often highly emotional.

This is why AI should not be considered in black and white terms. In many cases, there can be a beneficial coexistence. Take, for example, football commentators. They, too, are only human and not two-legged encyclopaedias of sporting history. The often arcane and obscure player knowledge that they seemingly dole out in a casual manner during a match is actually fed to them on a computer screen in real-time. But they can package and present it far better than a virtual assistant with a metallic voice. When perfected, such symbiosis between man and machine can lend us superhuman powers. AI can bring out the best in people. Boosting productivity and creativity, it allows people to utilise their most precious resource – their brains – like they should: cleverly, meaningfully and efficiently.

Strong brands don’t need autonomous marketing

It will take several years before all of AI’s marketing potential is fully realised. The journey to the future has only just started. Only when those tasks that can theoretically be done by algorithms are actually turned over to AI will we see truly smart assistance systems. Google Now, Siri and the rest are just a first hint at what’s coming. Eventually, marketing will rely on many machine-assisted core applications. Areas such as content marketing, pricing and sales strategies and lead generation are all prime candidates for this. In the blink of an eye, AI will find and prepare content needed for our work. The decision what to use will still be made by a human. Until these assistants can autonomously carry out such tasks, they will need plenty of time to learn from user reactions. What we already see in Amazon’s approach should herald autonomous marketing as the next logical step. The company’s recommendation and pricing mechanisms are the epitomai of machine efficiency.

Unfortunately, such systems trimmed to maximal efficiency are also completely soulless. That special something of a brand, its identity, is lost. At the same time, AI-related moral questions will become a test of a brand’s character. A fundamental question will be to what degree AI is allowed to represent a brand publicly: Which tasks will a company hand over to automated systems and to what extent? Another core decision will be determining the moral and ethical code given to the algorithms. Self-driving cars make clear that this can be a question of life or death. If a pedestrian unexpectedly walks into the street, there will soon no longer be a human driver at the wheel to react. The algorithm will decide who lives – the passenger or the pedestrian. Such ethical choices will cut quickly to a brand’s core values.

In the future, brands will still grab our attention and excite us with creative and strategic surprises. Those that simply deliver their products as expected will become even more interchangeable than they already are today. But strong brands won’t be able to hand over their marketing to an autopilot. AI will undoubtedly help us make brand management more efficient. AI will work towards efficiency – but humans will still ensure it has an impact.

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