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Siri and Cortana have applied for your job: the rise of AI in Marketing

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Jonathan Seal is strategy director at Mando Group.

What does the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) mean for consumers and marketing departments?

The growth of connected devices and systems is changing the nature of business and marcomms as decision-making networks develop powered by artificial intelligence. Four giants (Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple) are all taking significant steps to build their AI capability, either through development or by extensive acquisition of other AI companies.

AI is now a significant priority for these global leaders. Google has purchased approximately 15 AI-focused businesses in the past three years alone, pushing towards a billion dollars of investment. Apple has purchased four AI-related business in the past six months; Amazon has invested in AI including its Echo and Alexa innovations and Microsoft is evolving Cortana and other products, such as Skype Translator that translates your messages in real-time.

These innovations are still a long way from being perfect. Amazon’s algorithms still recommend products you’ve previously purchased, Siri still falls over at some obvious requests and Office365 will only find relevant documents if they’ve been tagged effectively by your colleagues. Exact representations of human behaviour and the ability to routinely pass the Turing test are still a long way off, but for the first time AI is getting serious attention from all the major technology players and across every aspect of digital experiences.

The good news is that the tech giants are also creating services which can be leveraged by third party developers and applications. AI-driven platforms like Google’s Tensorflow, Microsoft’s Cortana Analytics and lesser-known players, such as Chatterbot, SoundHound and Violet, are already being used in a wide-range of applications, from mobile apps through to children’s toys. These products can accept questions and provide intelligent answers that are personalised and tailored based on what they know about the user.

Up close and personal

So, how will intelligent technology ultimately help optimise the customer experience? Will interaction with machines become the ‘new normal’? What role will people play in the marketing department of the future?

For marketers, the number one appeal of AI is in driving hyper-personalisation at scale. The ability to hyper-personalise the brand experience has not been possible until recently. The technology to gather and act on contextual information in real time was unavailable to most businesses. Now, thanks to cheaper processing power, expanded cloud storage options and affordable analytics software packages, brands have the opportunity to develop one-to-one dialogues and unique products and services.

As data-gathering sensors become embedded in products and sophisticated facial recognition systems allow marketers to understand how customers are emotionally responding to communications and content, brands will be better able to identify a consumer’s specific needs. The ultimate intent is to serve a solution before the person has even realised and articulated their need.

AI and machine learning can clearly provide tools that support impressive concierge-style service for customers to engage in conversational interactions with brands; whether alone or supported by human backup or escalation. The big platform providers all have their own flavour of this personal assistant and that’s only going to grow as they exploit opportunities to cross-sell and up-sell products and services.

The next logical step in this journey is for AI systems to anticipate a customer request and deliver help above and beyond what is expected, creating surprise and delight. However it’s also clear that such automated systems can be seen in a very negative way, combining the sense that brands are fooling you with the worst of automated telemarketing. Interestingly, AI is even being used to try and disrupt telemarketing by using recorded voices to try and keep cold callers occupied on the phone for as long as possible.

More on successfully managing those consumer concerns in my next blog. Until then, I’ll leave you with this prediction: in five years’ time brands are unlikely to be asking ‘how should we use AI?’ but ‘how effectively is AI empowering our business ambitions and enabling us to serve customers better?’

Jonathan Seal is strategy director at Mando Group. The agency recently published a whitepaper on the subject of AI in marketing which can be downloaded for free.

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Jonathan Seal

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