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The machines have risen: TBWA\ Asia Pacific and Hall & Partners series uncovers brand readiness to AI

In the first in a series of five articles, written by TBWA\ Asia Pacific and Hall & Partners, innovative marketers and digital leaders discuss the rise of the machines and whether brands are ready.

Augmenting Marketing

We’re perpetually in love with the new. New tastes, products, strategies and mantras. We have a tendency to be seduced by the shiny allure of the latest must-have. And in our multi-faceted media world, that obsession with new is currently centred on the frighteningly fast acceleration of new digital tools.

New techniques, new disruptors, new algorithms, new toys, bells and whistles emerge with extraordinary rapidity, giving brands the ability to reach more people, sell more products and know customers with increasingly greater degrees of insight.

What’s so fascinating then about our exclusive new report – The Rise of the Machines – is that some of the most influential brand experts we’ve spoken to believe that, whilst technological advances are undeniably beneficial, the personal touch is even more vital today.

This diverse group of leaders, at the cutting edge of how brands and marketers are utilising technology to build strong relationships with consumers, believe that machines need the human element to make them truly effective and provide insights with real meaning.

That’s one of the key observations of the report, a joint Omnicom project between Hall & Partners and TBWA. It cuts through the hype to determine the difference between the vague potential of technology and what’s truly meaningful, where investments should be made now and what’s in store for the future.

Some believe it’s the language of the machines that needs most attention. One tech company boss told us: ‘Natural language that relates to people’s personalities is how you create better experiences. How can we use customers’ digital footprint to enhance their emotional experiences through the machine, to make it more relevant and personalised, to get closer to consumers and understand their behaviour? To do that we need to consider somehow utilising a more natural language.’

While technology enables brands to benefit from a huge increase in the breadth and depth of data, it still requires experienced marketers to transform all of the information into insights that tell a story – and to make sense of an echo chamber filled with meaningless technological buzzwords that muddy the waters.

Marketing has always been focused on creating a message, putting that message into a piece of content, transmitting that content to an audience through a channel in a bid to increase brand loyalty, demand and sales. It’s a reassuringly old-fashioned technique made especially powerful by myriad channels, content formats and tools.

Which is why one of Asia’s top luxury brand managers told us he’s adamant that if marketers are to preserve the human connection that has brought such success in the past, they must hire more millennials for whom this technology is second nature. ‘One of the hardest things is keeping up with tech trends and that’s where companies need to be more connected,’ he told us. ‘If they’re all 40 plus, they’re maybe not as connected as millennials, the ones with their fingers on the pulse. If companies want to be closer to what’s going on then they will need to move quicker and be more agile. You don’t want too many people high up to be stuck in their ways.’

The great irony of our machine-fuelled marketing age is that while it’s never been easier to develop the data – be that behavioural, attitudinal or advanced analytics - the sheer enormity of what we are able to generate and interpret can complicate what is, at heart, a very simple process. We must still understand the contextual, have empathy, use intuition, listen and interact, to create an intimacy that algorithms can’t - and that requires us. Or at least us making technology more responsive.

One bank marketing boss we spoke to believes that bots - or simple ‘robots’ that run automated actions over the internet designed to amass data – can help to ‘humanise’ machines. He says: ‘Marketing needs to be more human and transparent which means that bots are the future…once people are more comfortable with the idea of bots, we can clearly say this is our artificial helper who will assist you. Consumers will become much more educated about them in 2017 and beyond, and when that happens they will be more trusting and so will provide more accurate and meaningful sets of data. The rise of applications like Siri and Cortana are just the beginning – smart brands will capitalise on those and create bots that engender even greater loyalty in their customers.’

Not all agree. Another confessed that just because digital can do it, it doesn’t mean you should. ‘I think we are some way off allowing machines to make considered purchase decisions for us,’ he says. ‘So marketers need to exercise caution. Consumers want control and enrichment, not to be controlled.’

The possibilities of new technology are awesome but only, say our respondents, if the human element is integral to their operation. Technological hyper-targeting, the internet of things and tactical measures tell you what customers do, not necessarily why they do it.

As the report makes clear: ‘If brands are truly to benefit from what technology can provide, then marketers must be more adept at tapping in to feelings. And that means building a culture around the devices. A reactive ecosystem that feeds off the data that the technology creates.’

At the heart of our exclusive report sits a basic truth about how we can make the most out of our new mechanised world – the machines need us to tell them what to do and how to behave because they don’t have the emotional intelligence to connect with a human like we do. They’re not here to replace us but support us. One-click solutions, advanced geo-fencing and multi-device targeting technologies only really work if we help them to become more human and we resist allowing them to make us complacent.

The report by TBWA\ Asia Pacific and Hall & Partners will be published across five parts on a weekly basis. The next chapter looks at the fear of automation and how marketers are responding.

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