Make sure AI doesn’t turn you into a brand dinosaur

Do you have a ‘man on the moon’ moment?

When you can remember exactly where you were, and what you were doing.Too often these moments are tragic; the death of Princess Diana, 9/11, Grenfell Tower. Sometimes, and with a World Cup upon us, they are sporting. For me, exhilaratingly, they are often concerned with technology innovation.

I vividly remember one such moment. It was 2002, the creative director of the agency I was working for walked across the studio, “Have you heard of this new search engine called Google?” The rest is history.

I had a similar man on the moon moment in May during the Google I/O 2018. Sundar Pinchai presented Duplex, an artificial intelligence system for accomplishing real-world tasks over the phone:

Commentators were quick to point out the problems. The very real ethical issues of a computer being able to accurately impersonate a human. The fact that Google Duplex didn’t represent a breakthrough innovation in terms of the problem it was solving; as John Harris of the Guardian put it, “Now, when was the last time you came to book a haircut or restaurant table and concluded that the task was so onerous that you would ideally delegate it to a machine?”

But I was seduced. Why? Because Google Duplex is the technology that best encapsulates the promise, excitement and fear of AI (machines able to perform tasks that would typically be performed by humans, and with ‘human’ intelligence and sensibility).

Yossi Matias, Engineering VP at Google writes: “Allowing people to interact with technology as naturally as they interact with each other has been a long standing promise. Google Duplex takes a step in this direction, making interaction with technology via natural conversation a reality in specific scenarios.”

For many, AI has been placed firmly in the box marked ‘science fiction’. What Google Duplex demonstrates, with ease, is that machines that interact naturally are here, and they will only get smarter.

How will this affect brands and marketing?

According to Forrester, 33% of US adults already use intelligent agents like Alexa or Siri. In the run-up to Christmas 2017, City AM reported that “A third of UK shoppers delegate Christmas shopping to artificial intelligence”; not just to buy specific products, but to make gift suggestions and seek out the best deals. And intelligent decision engines like our Brighton neighbours and friends 15gifts, are simplifying consumer journeys and using AI and machine learning to recommend products and increase incremental sales.

In an digital world where a high proportion of consumer journeys start with search, what will change when they start with “Alexa, recommend the…”?

In Baked In, Alex Bogusky and John Winsor write that the the old way of selling was to create safe, ordinary products and combine them with mass marketing. Whereas the new way is to create truly innovative products and build the marketing right in. In other words, realise that the marketing is not the product, the product is the marketing.

Today many consumers’ natural default is to avoid interruptive advertising. Witness the growth in ad blockers, or the number of us that choose content free of traditional ads.

As artificial intelligence brokers an increasing number of purchase decisions it will become essential to operate as a human-centred brand. One of the few, not one of the many. A brand that people seek out and ask for, that benefits from peer observation and word of mouth, and doesn’t rely on mass marketing to drive small year on year sales increases.

Does this describe your brand? Is this how people feel about your product or service? Unfortunately, this is the case for far too few. Ask yourself, why should people ask for my brand? Is it truly human-centred? Does it answer a real need? Does it create consumer value? Does it consider its impact on wider society?

Take a look around your house, at the food you buy, the clothes you wear, the car you drive. In 20 years, many of the brands you consume today will no longer exist, forced by competitor disruption, by human-centred brands (like Harry’s, like Brewdog, like Netflix) that put the the consumer first, that are considerate of their wider impact, and that understand how to use new technology to create and share value in a changing world.

Don’t be a brand dinosaur. Join the Rebellion!

Written by Mark Ralphs.