Balancing the Divide Between “Creepy” and “Cool” with Artificial Intelligence

While technology continues to advance, we’re seeing marketers use helpful tools like self-learning algorithms to determine when a customer is most likely to respond to their messaging. Things like Artificial Intelligence Marketing (AIM) have also surfaced, allowing marketers to leverage database marketing techniques as well as Artificial Intelligence (AI) concepts and models, such as machine learning, to provide a new form of direct marketing to customers. While these concepts allow for more personalized, contextual touch points, there is still a fine line between what is considered informative content and what’s outright creepy.

As we mentioned in last week’s post, by now we’ve all heard the news about when Target found out that a young woman was pregnant before her own father was even aware. By following this shopper’s habits and recent purchases, the large retailer began sending coupons for baby items which caused alarm for her father. Instead of ditching AI altogether, however, Target tactfully and strategically created personalized booklets that included pregnancy-related ads in addition to random products that they knew the consumer wouldn’t be interested in, allowing them to provide their shoppers with relevant messaging without being too explicit.

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Target is a perfect example of how companies can use intelligence to create experiences that fit naturally into the shopping process. While consumers expect well-informed, relevant and timely content, they also expect retailers to respect their personal space. With this, retailers are learning to toe the line by utilizing AI to reach each customer at the right place and at the most appropriate time. They can combat the idea that these personalized engagements are creepy by understanding who their audience is and how personal they can actually get. For example, our research team recently looked into the types of engagements consumers prefer and found that, while each shopper is different, almost every consumer welcomes personalized content. With AI tools, retailers can determine which type of shopper they are catering to and the best way to engage.

Retailers are also learning how to use AI to bridge the gap between physical and digital touch points. Using beacon, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth technology, retailers can work with brands to deliver timely and relevant location-based mobile alerts that prompt customers to their mobile app by flagging items they expressed interest in when they enter — or are in close proximity to — a store. Notifying nearby shoppers about when an item they’ve been waiting to buy goes on sale, or is almost out of stock, or about special offers to entice them to make the purchase before time runs out. Working together, proximity marketing technology and artificial intelligence connect a shopper’s path-to-purchase from start to finish.

Artificial intelligence offers marketers this opportunity to build smarter marketing strategies by analyzing each digital engagement and delivering content in real-time. Retailers can unlock insights from existing shopper behavior — such as moving their mouse over a certain product, or adding an item to a Wishlist — and in turn create hyper-personal, real-time engagements. Retailers can leverage the data from these engagements, both online and off, to interact on a much more personalized level and predict what customers want, before they know they want it.

Originally published at on February 24, 2017.