Artificial Intelligence, Real Opportunity

Ian Stockley, CEO of Indicia, considers the implications for mobile of the rise of the digital AI assistants. 

Indicia - Ian StockleyWe are entering an interesting phase in the relationship between marketing and technology. In recent years, both have become natural bedfellows. Technology has enabled marketers to not only communicate their messages to consumers at scale over the internet, but also, to analyse reams of customer data to create more personalised brand experiences and interactions.

Like any long-lasting and fruitful relationship, technology and marketing have become inseparable. Brands continue to find new ways, through the use of technology, to enhance the customer experience. Moving on from social media, programmatic advertising and big data, the next phase in this relationship is the rise of the digital AI assistant.

Ever since Apple introduced Siri to the world, digital AI assistants have captivated consumers. In a customer engagement study from the Direct Marketing Association, 48 per cent of respondents expressed an interest in artificial intelligence for brand engagement, and younger age-groups were even more enthusiastic (79 per cent of 16-24 year-olds, 76 per cent of those aged 25-34 and 62 per cent of 35-44 year-olds).

So it appears that consumers are comfortable with the idea of interacting with digital AI assistants but, so far, brands’ offerings have met with mixed reactions. Apple’s Siri, although being one of the first modern apps able to understand natural language, is still considered to still be rather dumb compared its other competitors – mainly Google Now and Amazon Echo.

However, mobile brands such as Samsung, which recently acquired Viv (the developers behind Apple’s Siri), and Sony, with its Xperia Ear – a virtual assistant in a Bluetooth ear piece – demonstrate how AI is set to define the next generation of smartphones. With mobile and tech brands starting to really invest in their digital AI assistants, the implications for mobile marketing are exciting and worth examining.

Improved mobile ad targeting
As digital AI assistants become more advanced, possessing enough intelligence to facilitate an actual conversation with a human being, they will be able to understand consumers on a truly intricate level.
With this level of detailed understanding based on our conversations, digital AI assistants would have enough rich data on consumers to understand not only what types of ads we want to see, but what the optimum time will be when we would be most receptive to marketing content.

This type of sophisticated data tracking from digital AI assistants could potentially solve the problem with mobile programmatic ad buying. The absence of cookies on mobile has meant that programmatic ad buying on mobile has been difficult. While there have been solutions to combat this, advanced digital AI assistants could provide marketers with rich consumer insight that would make automated ad buying on mobile devices far more accurate.
Better mobile eCommerce
Mobile ecommerce has taken off in the past few years, and contactless payment has recently led the way. Apple and Samsung introduced contactless pay on their mobile devices, bringing the reality of a cashless society one step closer. Digital AI assistants on mobile have the potential to take the promise of eCommerce, which is to simplify digital financial transactions, and make it an even more effortless process.

A few brands have already begun using digital AI assistants to improve how customers make financial transactions. MasterCard recently announced the launch of a new chatbot for banks and merchants to help them build better mobile experiences for customers. Banks will able to use MasterCard’s chatbot, powered by artificial intelligence, to communicate with customers through text messaging and speech.

Perhaps the most exciting part of this is that chatbots can send customers offers based on their location data, and also send them advisory content to make better financial decisions. This is eCommerce, but taken to a whole new personable level that could only be achieved through artificial intelligence.

More human and personable mobile marketing
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of artificial intelligence is the potential to make marketing a far more human experience – even if it is only an imitation. With the rise of ad blockers on mobile devices, you could argue that mobile marketing has increasingly become intrusive, unengaging and, most worryingly of all, unwanted.

When artificial intelligence reaches a point where digital assistants can imitate human language and form coherent conversations, it could fundamentally transform mobile brand experiences and consumer behaviour. Signal Pepsodent, a Unilever-owned oral brand, developed a chatbot on Facebook, to encourage kids to brush their teeth. The basic premise is that kids will receive a tailored experience based on the answers they give to chatbots’ questions, and the episodes will be shown on their phone at a time of their choosing.

The above example only touches the surface of how digital AI assistants like chatbots and other AI apps within smartphones can make mobile marketing more human. In essence, digital AI assistants could replicate the same experiences consumers have in store when they speak to a shop assistant, financial advisor or travel agent, only they would be having a conversation with their mobile phone.

However, there will be concerns around the misuse of these technologies. For example, Amazon Echo is a cloud-based AI assistant for your home that listens to conversations using sophisticated microphone technology, and acts accordingly when asked a question or given a command. Not surprisingly, privacy watchdogs have voiced concerns that devices like Amazon Echo could eavesdrop on and record our conversations. Amazon has assured consumers that this will not be the case and developers of digital AI assistants will need to follow Amazon’s example and ensure consumers’ privacy is never at stake.

All of the above may sound like science fiction, but just 10 years ago, it was hard to imagine that our mobile phones would take on the roles of a video player, radio and mini-computer simultaneously. Technology has made mobile marketing more advanced than ever before, allowing brands to create apps and analyse reams of data. Artificial intelligence is the next stage in transforming marketing as our mobiles become more than just devices, but an extension of the interactions we have with people, brands and businesses, and the environment around us.

Ian Stockley is CEO of Indicia