When we think about artificial intelligence (AI), over-the-top Hollywood images of humanlike robots colonize our craniums. Whether it’s Bladerunner assigned to assassinate “replicants” because they’ve gone beyond their charter or Ex-Machina’s Ava who could be a kindly, beautiful humanoid or a devious device, images of robots taking over the world are part of pop culture’s fascination with man meeting machine. However, in the real world, AI is both full of promise and a dash of peril, but not the “danger, danger Will Robinson” kind. AI is neither robots taking over the world nor a silver bullet. So what is AI and what can it do for brands? Should all brands be considering the use of AI to deliver experiences? Like most things in life, it’s not a binary code of either/or.
Automation versus AI
Automation has become a fact of life in modern-day America. Since the 1970s, companies have been automating everything from assembly lines to customer-service tasks. In marketing, automation has been used to free up people from the routine tasks they perform every day enabling them to concentrate on more creative pursuits. Whether it’s Buffer to schedule social posts or MailChimp to systemize email communications, automation helps businesses make more efficient use of time, talent and technology. As our own Chris Howe says, “Industry disruptors, like Uber, are leveraging technology to automate the predictable aspects of their business and delivering a seamlessly integrated experience that traverse from one channel to the next.”
AI or machine learning is not automation, but it is part of it. In the early days of automation, the same task was performed over and over again, with no deviation. In fact, one out-of-place variable, and the whole machine process broke down. Today, the most successful automation efforts embrace computer or machine learning. What this means is computers take past experiences or data and apply them to a series of situations via algorithms. The result is processes that get better and better. These computers are programmed to replicate the progression of “thinking” – learning from mistakes and building on successes, resulting in enhancement of the overall operation of the system, whether it’s cars, online shopping or digital music like Spotify. We’ve even brought AI into our homes with Alexa.
Predictive, Customized Experiences
As consumers worldwide tried to make sense of literally millions of data points, Google answered with more and more refined results in their search engine. Amazon personalized its consumer interactions with a smart algorithm that marries keywords to a customer’s purchasing data, making for a streamlined online shopping experience that gets better each time you click and scroll with suggestions that are actually helpful. While privacy concerns have remained a flashpoint, consumer adoption proves that we would gladly give away some of our privacy for the convenience of customization. That’s why it’s estimated that there will be 67 million voice-assisted devices in homes across the U.S. by 2019. We may be welcoming AI into our homes, but as this SNL video points out, we don’t all experience life the same.
AI’s potential should not cloud our judgment about when it’s appropriate to deploy automation. Who hasn’t been through a thoroughly frustrating experience in customer-service phone-tree hell? Sometimes you need actual humans to solve your problem, and no amount of predictive analysis and press-button choices will replace a human interaction when you really need it. Making options available to opt-out to an actual person should be intuitive and instantaneous. While AI technology may reduce staffing costs and streamline workflows, keeping customer experience front-and-center is vital. After all, your brand reputation is on the (customer service) line. Brands would be wise to take stock of their reasons for automating. Are you automating solely for your brand or will it truly help the customer?
Can AI Help Your Human Brand?
Perhaps ironically, the rise of brands as almost human has coincided with AI’s rise to the forefront. As big and small data flows into brand hands, companies had a driving need to understand and integrate that data and transform it into enhanced experiences. Simultaneously, customer demand for personalized and curated experiences was on the rise through social media and other brand touch-points. With AI’s learning potential, this technology incorporates past data to enhance future performance, making each brand touchpoint better than the last. The result is often surprise and delight, but occasionally, consumers can feel spied on. Like mentioning something in jest while your phone is on and having that product magically show up in your Facebook feed? Jeepers creepers.
Balance is key to smart deployment of AI. Understanding consumer preferences is vital, but knowing just the right dash of customization and thoughtful AI application is a modern brand’s charge. This is further complicated by the fact that consumer behavior is a constantly moving target. So, brands must remember that AI deployment will never be a one-and-done scenario – setting up the machine (learning) and leaving it. Algorithms for integrating data must be monitored and moderated by humans. With seemingly “magical” insights from big and small data, brands can become overwhelmed with possibility. Yes, this technology has the power to transform, for brand good … or bad. AI customization should always make a brand more relevant, more human in the eyes of the consumer, not less.
In our next installment on AI, we will go beyond the big brands to address the practical application of machine learning into the brand environment. Find out who’s doing it best and what’s coming down the brand pike. To learn more or for any question you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.