Artificial Intelligence is transforming not only how we interact with computers but also how we interact with one another. Algorithms choose what we see in our Facebook feeds, what shows are recommended on Netflix and even how we might reply in email. And the power of AI is increasingly available to marketers. In this article, I provide a high level overview of AI today (and I promise I won’t go completely geek). Then I will provide you with several fun, interactive examples that illustrate the emerging role of AI in marketing, as well as some tips you can use right now to make your marketing programs feel smarter, more personal and more engaging to your shoppers, even if you aren’t quite ready to jump in the deep end of the AI pool.
They just celebrated Historical Heritage Day at my son’s school. He chose Alan Turing for his research (picture my chest puffed with great, fatherly pride). My son studied him and then went to school dressed as him to teach the class what he learned. Pretty cool. I also learned quite a bit. I’m proud on so many levels for the choice. Go look him up. Even if you think you know who Alan Turing is, you will probably learn something new. It’s his work in Artificial Intelligence (shockingly) in the late 1940s that’s so relevant to us right now. We are at a turning point.
The Turing Test is an experiment he proposed in 1950 (made famous in Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep). My geek side wants me to go deep but let’s just say the Turing Test is the gold standard for today’s AI. To pass the test, you have to make a computer that a human, through interrogation, can’t tell is a machine. This has been explored deeply since the very first computer. But today we are getting really close.
Chess. Jeopardy. Go. Humans are no longer a match. Think about Jeopardy for just a second. You might be thinking, “I could win at Jeopardy if I could Google all the answers.” But keep in mind that Watson was not able to access the internet during the competition AND, most importantly, Watson had to learn to understand these heavily nuanced questions, listening to Alex just like the other contestants, before it (or insert proper robot pronoun) could buzz in and give an answer. (Ok, Jeopardy geeks. Technically, Watson had to understand nuanced answers to provide the correct questions.) Either way. This ability to learn is the key.
Q: So what does AI have to do with the future of shopper marketing?
How often have you had to go deeper than the first 10 links of a Google search in the last few years to find your answer? Think about the hundreds of digital ads you see over the course of your day. I am actually shocked when an ad feels like it doesn’t match me at this point. Think about Siri, Cortana, Alexa and Google Now. They are all inserting (although sometimes frustratingly) direct AI interactions into your everyday life. And the fab four are getting smarter and easier every day.
Siri and crew may be in your face, but AI-like interactions are happening all the time. And the technology is becoming more accessible to all. That’s driving some pretty cool innovation in and around the shopper marketing space. So let’s get to the examples.Some are old (in AI years) and some are new. But I’m hoping they all get you thinking and spur some ideas as you test them.
THE HELPFUL SHOPPING ASSISTANT
North Face was one of the first to integrate Watson into the online shopping experience. The North Face Expert Personal Shopper is pretty amazing. Try it a few times. Simply answer the questions the first time. Then go back and try typing your answers differently using more natural language and see how it adapts.
THE TASTE MAKER
Knorr used another of the numerous Watson tools to help you discover foods that fit your unique flavor preferences. You’re going to have to pack an extra u or two to visit the British Knorr Flavour Profiler. I’m a Spicy Rebel, which is not only accurate but is also now printed on my business cards. I’m curious if yours fits you as well.
Amazon was at the forefront of so many ecommerce innovations. But let’s face it, it has not created the best shopping experience. It is an awesome place to buy but not necessarily the best place to shop. With the new Amazon Explore, they seem to be working to find the right balance of curation and data-driven personalization. Careful. It will suck you in.
THE FOOD FINDER
When Facebook made their big announcement about messenger bots the internet buzzed. They provided the access and developers came in packs. There are a ton of bots out there already. But honestly, there are not very many great ones…yet. But a great bot is just waiting for a great idea to emerge. You have to hunt, but there are definitely some good ones. And the list is constantly growing. The ease of use is promising. Give @dinnerideasbot a try and you’ll see some of the potential. Try a few random ingredients and you may be surprised with the results. I also recommend you give WTF is that a try. It’s fast and easy. Think about how you could take that a step further.
Fake it ’til you make it, right? You don’t have to be an AI genius to connect with shoppers in a personalized, relevant way. Yes, data makes these things scalable like never before. But there are also things you can do right now with more limited resources to speak more personally with shoppers. And it doesn’t even get Orwellian if you do it right. If you dissect the examples and think about what really makes them work, it’s really about getting a few key things right. Serve shoppers’ needs, provide value and shoppers will appreciate it.
WHAT YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW
Make it easy. Don’t make the shopper work for it. Make it obvious what you want the shopper to do with clear calls to action. Always balance the shopper’s effort with value.
Keep it simple. Reduce the clutter. Lead the shopper. Make sure your messages don’t compete.
Connect the dots. Create a seamless experience across multiple marketing elements. Consistency builds momentum.
Learn everything you can. Great shopper marketing starts with a great insight, right? But it should also adapt over time. And to do that you have to measure…constantly…and evolve.
Get personal. Use your research and insights to truly understand the needs of your shoppers. Segment them as much as possible. Then target them with tailored messages. Change with the seasons. Get the occasions right. Watch current events. Between sophisticated, retail tools and 3rd party partners, there is no shortage of ways to reach your shoppers.
Stay on the lookout during your own shopper experiences. Look for experiences that feel connected and personal, especially this holiday season when marketers will be out in full force. Great examples are hard to find. If done right, these experiences are often invisible. You don’t notice them unless there’s a disconnect. So look closely and ask yourself questions. What worked/didn’t work about that experience? Did it speak to me…personally? How did it help? How can you bring that to your shoppers? Shopper marketing is only going to get more complex. If we don’t get smart about data, we can’t keep up. And without AI, we’ll never be able to scale our solutions.
So start small. Start now. Learn. Evolve. And engage your shoppers.