Science fiction has always been a great mirror, to reflect the ambitions and fears of society. It’s entertaining to speculate on where we’re headed, and how it might affect us. Not so long ago, James Cameron’s Terminator movie, suggested that a computer called Skynet, would become so intelligent that it would eventually turn machines on their creators, ushering in Judgement Day.
Whilst an intriguing premise, is not so far from the truth. Artificial intelligence (AI), has been with us for some time, but it’s only now that we’re discovering its influence. One area already undergoing profound transformation, is branding and marketing.
Today’s AI experience
Consider if you will, a typical transaction. Somebody is swiping through their Instagram feed, and they see a product they like. Weirdly, it’s something they were just looking at the day before. Perhaps unbeknown to them, they’ve just been targeted by a brand using AI, to analyse search habits and expose potential customers.
Continuing with the customer, they place an order activating a whole sequence of logistical events. The smart factory picks the product, it’s dispatched to the delivery company guided by geospatial data. In the meantime, the customer receives a reply in the blink of the eye, reassuring them when they can expect their purchase.
Take the experience one step further. The customer received the product, but it was faulty. So, they go to the vendors site, where instead of interacting with another person, a Chatbot processes their request. Through machine learning, a response is provided to answer the customer, accurately and far quicker than a human could.
This kind of customer experience is occurring every minute, of every day, using a variety of AI technologies. Whether customers are satisfied with this kind of experience, is irrelevant. Businesses can’t resist finding ways to use technology, to help them run more effectively. So, it’s up to those of us working within branding, to make it somehow work.
Personalisation or consistency?
With so much data being fed back to marketers, we are soon reaching a pivotal moment, where tailoring the customer experience to the interests of the individual customer, will soon be achievable. In the past, doing this with accuracy and to scale, has been limiting. But AI is now making it possible. Soon the customer experience will be bespoke. Content, message, tone of voice and visual expression will be adapted to the tastes of the individual.
This creates a conundrum for marketers. Brands have traditionally worked as a beacon, attracting like-minded people, through projecting a specific intent and consistency. The repetition of the brand has become something that generates trust. So how will it maintain its integrity, when it becomes so personalised, that it can effectively become all things to all people?
Gate keeper or enhancer?
Another shift taking place is the access to the consumer. So far, we’ve enjoyed a fairly direct path to the consumer through retail, online and mobile. But the growing use of virtual assistants, is placing a formidable barrier, between marketers and their customer. We’re now using Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant to search our options, instead of going directly to the brand, at source. Consciously or not, we’re bypassing the opportunity to be immersed in the brand experience. How will brands reach the customer, when Siri stands in the way?
In addition, the brands behind these virtual assistants, Amazon, Apple and Google, can’t resist placing their offers in front of other brands. If a lightbulb breaks, it’s easy to ask Alexa to order a replacement. But, “surprise surprise,” she recommends the AmazonsBasics lightbulbs, first. This illustrates the emergence of an intermediary in the buying process, who’s loyalties are not yet clear. No doubt in future, marketers will have to pay for the privilege of being “recommended” first, in the same way Google ads work. As always solutions can be found, if the brand can pay for it.
Artificial Intelligence or emotional Intelligence?
It’s a common tenet within marketing, that emotion drives behaviour and behaviour drives action. With the advent of technologies, such as Bio metric scanning, devices will be able to sense our emotional response to messaging. This will provide marketers, with an even deeper understanding of our personalities. Armed with these details, they will be able to configure their response to these emotions. So it’s foreseeable, that headlines will literally change their wording, according to the increase in our heart rate.
When brands start to know us better than we know ourselves, will we surrender to their predictive guidance? Or will there be a tipping point, where we say enough is enough, and take back control. Strong brands are built on an inherent purpose that we relate to. It’s implied that they have integrity and we can trust them. But if AI continues to make such pervasive searches into our lives, will we be happy to let them in? This raises a moral question on the role of brands, that goes beyond the transaction of goods.
There’s no doubt, that AI will have an increasing role to play in business, and it will build exponentially. It’s clear, that it can have tremendous benefit for marketing, but it doesn’t come without its challenges. Marketers and brand managers, will have to be adept at spotting the opportunities that emerging technologies provide, whilst avoiding sacrificing the hard-won trust, that consumers have in their favoured brands. They say information is power, in future, we’ll have to use it with more responsibility.