Selling to the machine

In light of the improvements to Siri announced at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) this week, Raj Balasundaram, vice president, solutions and strategic services at Emarsys, asks what the new wave of AI-powered personal assistants means for marketers.

If there’s one thing we know about Apple, it’s that it really understands how consumers want to live their lives, and this week at WWDC it has shown us that it is taking personal assistants seriously. Siri is getting smarter, and Apple’s digital assistant will now be able to more easily make suggestions and create reminders that are tailored just for you.

Apple has faced tough competition from Google and Amazon in recent years when it comes to AI devices in the home, but the consumer appetite for this technology means it’s still all to play for. In fact, PwC’s annual Global Consumer Insights Survey 2018 reported that 10 per cent of consumers around the world own an AI device such as a robot or an automated personal assistant, and one in three (32 per cent) say they plan to buy an AI device. That represents a significant opportunity for brands to engage with customers in new ways and provide them with relevant products and services at just the right time.

However, as AI becomes a part of everyday life, and consumers increasingly shop and communicate through these types of devices, marketers will be faced with some new challenges:

Machine-to-machine communication will become the norm
Personal assistants are becoming increasingly popular to help consumers with everyday tasks such as buying groceries. However, this means that brands are not actually selling to the consumer themselves, they’re selling to a personal assistant. Yes, we have the marketer at one end of the transaction, and the consumer at the other, but in between there are two systems which are communicating with one other. Sending static emails or content will no longer work. If everything is handled by a personal assistant, there must be a drive towards APIs for personalisation to get past that “gatekeeper”. Whoever has the best machine algorithm will win!

Emotional content will remain significant
There are two parts to the buying process: one is getting a shortlist of items and the second is actually buying it. This second stage is where creative marketing and emotional content will come in. Machines will get you past the gatekeeper and onto that shortlist, but marketers must find innovative new ways to win the hearts of another human through AI devices. This is particularly important to ensure customer loyalty remains with the brand and isn’t transferred to the device.

Enhanced personalisation will drive new opportunities
IOT devices similar to Amazon Dash will become more prevalent. These will make it easy to order the same small products from the same retailer time and time again. But if you’re making a more considered purchase, for example a new evening dress, personalised content will play a major role. Consumers will have a lot of choice and non-personalised content will be automatically filtered out. Personalisation is key for marketers to really understand the customer and expand engagement opportunities on these devices.

Marketers will explore new types of product discovery
If you want a personal assistant to buy you something, you’re just going to tell it to do it. Once you’ve decided what you’re buying, the execution is made through the voice or through the artificial intelligence layer which is doing the personalisation. However, there is still a job to do at the front end of that to make sure the customer discovers new content and is inspired to act. Hence new methods of how consumers explore products needs to be adopted.

The shift to voice must be managed
Voice is becoming the main interface, and consumers are embracing it in a big way as a more natural way to communicate, not to mention multi-task. Indeed, the more casual interaction has significant potential to take brand loyalty to a new level. But not everything can be done through voice. Some purchases – for example, a new jacket or a piece of furniture – you will always need to see. As the use of AI devices expands, it will be interesting to see if more contextualisation, such as screens on speakers, start to come back in to aid better purchasing decisions.

While it’s still early days for AI devices, the outlook is promising, particularly as technology giants such as Apple continue to make significant investments in product innovations. As consumers change the way they go about their everyday lives, marketers need to be prepared to step outside their comfort zone and work with the machines to deliver better, more personalised experiences.