My Grandparents’ Phone and Ex Machina. How Marketers are Embracing AI

Ex Machina was one of the best movies that I watched last year. I just stumbled across it on Netflix and was hooked right from the start.

If you haven’t seen it, and no spoilers I promise, it’s about the reclusive owner of a tech company who has been working on his own project, an artificially intelligent robot. If you have seen it, I’m sure you will agree with me, it’s awesome.

As a professional digital marketer in my early 40’s, I can remember the phone at my grandparents’ house. It was big, black, kept in the hall, plugged into the wall and had a dial; you would turn the dial to make a call. Now sitting here with my iPhone on my desk, typing this into my PC I wonder if, as human beings, we are actually closer to the sci-fi AI technology as featured in Ex Machina than we are to my grandparents’ phone?

Today, in 2018 I believe the former is true, we are closer to the AI robot in the movie than to my grandparent’s phone. In fact, AI is already here in a number of helpful, labour saving guises. Econsultancy point out that when Netflix recommends titles for you to enjoy, then that is artificial intelligence. Financial institutions use AI technology to identify trends that might indicated fraudulent activity. It might be way off a fully conversational AI robot, but it’s certainly a far cry from my grandparents’ phone.

I think we need to define what we are looking at here. Firstly, AI, artificial intelligence, is the science of making machines do things that require human intelligence. AI, at its most basic level, consists of computer programmes that use data to make decisions. Machine Learning however, takes AI to a whole new level. Here, algorithms are programmed to learn and improve without the need for human data input nor reprogramming.  Despite AI and machine learning being closely linked, we will continue to look at AI.

So, as marketers, how are we able to use AI technologies to better serve our cause? Here are a few trends that are happening, right here and right now. Firstly, we noted earlier how Netflix recommends things that its users might like to watch, this is a recommendation engine at work; similarly, machine recommendations can be seen in Amazon, eBay and other big market places where your data is used to point you in the direction of things that you might like. I used to work with a health and fitness client a year or so back, which involved quite a bit of research on social media; to this day, my Facebook news feed is never far from suggesting that I might like the latest diet fad or weight loss wonder drug.

Ads can be made more specific as the copy can be changed in accordance’s reaction, creating a series of different experiences for individuals. AI is also used to take users on a specific journey, or through a process. Chat bots are used by Dutch airline KLM to handle customer enquiries, putting customers through a process with the use of AI.

At a more accessible level, say for small to medium businesses, this can be seen in “live chat” on many websites where the operators can set up differing responses depending on the key words or phrases the user might enter.

As we are using users’ data to deliver a personalised experience for them, then surely, it’s logical that it’s possible to attract new customers to brands by looking at the process the other way around?

Well it is. By creating a customer type, or audience and using that profile to attract new customers to a brand. This is dubbed a lookalike engine, by looking at the audience’s shared interests and characteristics (including their browsing history) AI creates a persona that is then used to show ads to new, potential customers of the brand. Indeed, Facebook allows advertisers to target in this way, building a profile of known customers and allowing you to target the corresponding profile within their social media platform.

So, we are interacting with AI on a daily basis and it doesn’t seem weird at all. AI helps us navigate through masses of data, products, films, menus and more to help us get something we want; be that entertainment, a product or the ability to complain about something.

Econsultancy comment that there are many ways in which AI can help marketers including dynamic price optimisation, ad targeting, customer segmentation, image recognition, and even content generation. The latter begs the questions of why I am writing myself this and if I will have a job next year?

Moreover, in terms of tangibility though, AI’s voice recognition capabilities are probably the most impactful on our everyday lives. Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Home and Apple’s Home Pod are all arguably the missing link between us humans and the internet. AI voice recognition capability allows us to ask a question of the internet while we are in our home; to turn the lights on or off, adjust the room temperature, choose a playlist or even order something…

That’s the next level, placing an order over the internet using our voice is certainly the next phase of AI, voice commerce is coming.

As humans therefore, we are much, much closer to a conversational robot than we are to my Grandparents’ phone. We are surely moving towards a place where AI can and will seamlessly refine our decisions for us. As marketers, this gives us a whole new dimension of potential delivery.

By Andy Wightman


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