All posts in “Artificial Intelligence”


Message to Marketers: Mobile Chat Is the Next Killer App

At the recent F8 conference, Facebook announced that its Messenger app has 600 million users, growing 50% last year, faster than its main app. This number doesn’t even consider the other similar apps, like Facebook-owned WhatsApp, WeChat, Viber and many others that collectively have three billion accounts.

Messaging apps are clearly the killer apps on mobile, but U.S. brands and retailers have not yet made themselves available via mobile chat. When you think about all the situations in which you have to call an airline, hotel, restaurant, insurance company, etc., the fact that you can’t instead message these companies on your smartphone for updates, to place an order or make changes to a reservation is shocking.

The user experience on mobile today primarily includes search and browse, both of which have their own place in the customer journey. But messaging as an interaction layer can no longer be ignored. Messaging is an organic interface for a customer to ask for what they want on-demand in a private, personal environment that truly replicates a concierge model — which was the original promise of mobile apps.

With an effective, omnipresent messaging experience, brands may finally be able to effectively leverage mobile, which has been the thorn in the side of marketers for years as apps and advertising have both failed. Consumers view downloading an app as a very high commitment and are very particular about what they keep on their home screen, so they typically only get apps that provide long-term value. Mobile advertising, on the other hand, has not delivered because it still severely lacks context.

For consumers, being able to interact with brands via messaging apps would provide obvious benefits: highly personal support instantly; all communication kept within a single thread; the elimination of phone calls and interaction via other customer support channels; and anytime, anywhere communication on the apps they are using every day. Brands could better nurture relationships, drive loyalty through better customer experiences and decrease operational costs if artificial intelligence is leveraged to automate most of the interaction. The biggest game-changer, however, is that messaging leverages on-demand explicit intent (i.e. the person is stating exactly what they want, when they want it) combined with implicit intent — if brands could carry context forward.

As brands begin to dip their toes into the messaging waters, here are five strategies to consider:

1. Tailor interaction to context. Understanding explicit intent will certainly change the direction of the conversation, but whenever possible, brands should also tap into other contextual factors — the time of day, day of week, user location and weather conditions — to further tailor interaction, product recommendations, offer images, etc. Marketers need to have an “intent model” in place that maps out various customer modes at any point in time and is able to predict what the customer mindset and needs might be in order to better tailor the conversation.

2. Exist across marketing, sales and service. The customer connection on messaging apps should exist across the complete customer journey. Seamless handoffs between various divisions within your company should exist to provide a cohesive experience to customers, while alerting internal teams of necessary customer behavior and insights.

3. Leverage human-assisted artificial intelligence. Consumers expect things on demand. If there is a sizeable lag before a brand responds to a message, consumers will quickly become disenchanted. Wherever possible, brands should leverage artificial intelligence to automate conversations, particularly with less-sensitive issues such as offer availability or order tracking. Some customer inquiries and conversations, though, are much better handled by a human. Elevate sensitive issues to customer service personnel for immediate response to things like payment issues, problems with an order, etc.

4. Extend engagement through personalized content. With messenger apps, people will be inviting brands into their personal space, and because of this, every conversation needs to be treated with respect via highly personalized content, much more so than an app push alert. If done well, a brand could reap huge rewards. Treating chat like an email inbox will not do you any good, but after asking a customer’s permission, sending relevant, personalized information and experiences via the chat thread can drive engagement. Map out scenarios in which you can organically participate in your customers’ lives, without being spammy.

5. Bring messaging functionality to many touchpoints. Messaging is the most successful user experience on mobile, and it needs to be further expanded across various interaction points. Brands that have audiences on apps and mobile web need to integrate a messaging feature within these channels as well. Furthermore, make the chat an inbox of sorts to store all push messages and other promotions, in addition to chats, in a single environment.

Consumers increasingly look to brands to get a job done, help them accomplish something or meet an immediate need, beyond providing a product or service. As brands work toward becoming trusted advisors to individuals, engaging consumers via the most prominent interaction channel in today’s world — messaging — is going to be essential.


6 mobile marketing strategies that need to die

When it comes to technology and innovation, the bandwagon mentality rarely works. By the time everyone is doing it or using it, it’s probably nearing the end of its natural lifecycle. That’s why the great innovators take a look at what everyone else is doing and then invent a new way to revolutionize technology.

Mobile marketing is currently experiencing a mad dash toward the familiar and predictable. Like kids scampering to collect the candy after the piñata bursts, mobile marketers are looking to scoop up strategies they think will help them market to their audience, but many of these strategies aren’t worth pursuing anymore.

Let’s take a look at six trategies that are sputtering, confusing and ineffective, or simply need to die:

1. Thinking of mobile channels solely as apps and mobile Web

Earning a coveted place on the app home screen – next to the likes of Tinder and Facebook – is an extremely difficult feat. Consumers also demand more context-aware experiences than mobile websites and advertisements provide. Companies must think beyond these traditional channels for customer connection on mobile and consider mobile wallet and Facebook’s new Messenger for Business.

Within a mobile wallet like Apple Passbook, people can store loyalty cards, offers, and more. For consumers, the psychological hurdle of saving something to a mobile wallet is much lower than downloading an app, and by eliminating friction from their daily lives (offer redemption, loyalty program rewards), the consumer is more inclined to engage. These saved passes can also trigger context-aware experiences based on a person’s location (geo-fence or beacon), similar to the in-the-moment marketing opportunities that apps provide.

Similarly, the new Messenger for Business is reimagining customer communication and support by enabling brands to engage with their customers privately within a private chat thread.

Companies must explore channels like wallet and Messenger that require less buy-in from consumers to opt-in.

2. Adopting new technologies that are not integrated into ‘one view of the customer’

With every new technology and emerging channel, companies are adding more and more silos of customer data (app, beacon, online marketing, email, CRM, social, etc.) none of which talks to the others. As a consumer, I might receive a personalized experience that reflects my loyalty to a brand online and an experience in-store that treats me like a stranger, even though I have spent hundreds of dollars with the company. Brands need to stop creating channel-specific databases with customer insights and instead work to create a single profile of every customer that incorporates data from all channels to create an omnichannel experience that fluidly moves between touchpoints.

3. Relying only on humans for customer support

The future is now and, unfortunately for technophobes, robots and automation are taking over. Companies should not rely solely on humans to power interactive chat or in-store support. Brands must centralize knowledge and rules of engagement in the cloud – instead of the heads of distracted, transitional sales associates and customer support employees. Lowe’s, for instance, recently piloted robots in stores to replace human associates for some shopper needs, like finding products in its massive aisles. While not every company will be able to afford actual robots, the smartphone can be used as the interactive channel for artificial intelligence-driven support that automates virtual responses to customer inquiries in and out of store, like product recommendations, product finder and availability, order status, etc.

4. Ignoring intent

Many marketers looking to contextualize user experiences rely on location – and completely ignore user implicit and explicit intent. What if a man walks through the women’s department? Should he get a message on his smartphone about a sale on lingerie? Unless it’s Valentine’s Day or a similarly appropriate holiday when he might be shopping for his wife, probably not. When a company is able to understand users’ intent at a given moment, it can help them accomplish whatever they are trying to do by providing the right experience, content, or functionality.

5. Collecting every piece of data you can [whether you use it or not]

Forget pocketing all of the candy. Just find the delicious pieces. Big data is a spectacular pool of information to pull from, but it must be mined, sorted, and distilled – and most importantly, protected. In a time when security breaches are on the rise, data minimization is more important than data maximization (collecting anything and everything). Companies should think about the information they are collecting and ask themselves whether they need it all, if the risks of collecting the data outweigh the benefits, and how that data is benefiting customers.

6. Taking advantage of every opportunity to interrupt

Like anyone trying to make a deep connection, mobile marketers must pick their spots. Everyone likes to receive a cheery text message from a friend, but an onslaught of ill-timed chirps can be distracting and ultimately a turn-off. Just because you have the power to instantly reach your customers anytime, anywhere doesn’t mean you should. Brands must show restraint. Do consumers really need to get a push alert with a 20 percent discount “TODAY ONLY” every time they pass your store? Show sophistication and discipline by only reaching out and engaging when it’s in the right context. Your customer will notice and you’ll be rewarded.

With billions of dollars in potential revenue up for grabs, mobile marketing efforts must focus on the complete customer journey and avoid the myriad crash-and-burn mobile gimmicks out there.


Robots For CPGs? Sort Of

The buzz about artificial intelligence is starting to tiptoe outside of tech circles. While some worry about robots eventually taking over the world, a more meaningful discussion is burgeoning within the marketing realm.

Companies like Lowes are piloting in-store robots, which are trained to greet customers and help them find products in their massive stores. The company is hoping to free up their store associates by having a bot assist with simple questions, like “where are the hammers?” — leaving humans to handle more complex customer requests. While incredibly cool, hardware AI solutions like robots are expensive and cannot scale. As a result, software-only AI tools are launching that use a consumer’s smartphone as the interaction touchpoint to help brands automate customer support, provide personalized interaction and lower operational costs. For most brands, AI will take the form of a “virtual brand assistant,” a bi-directional text-an-agent widget that is embedded on existing and emerging touchpoints.

For CPG brands, AI can open a new channel of two-way communication and automate consumer interactions at scale, empowering marketers to assist with in-the-moment needs, market relevant products and extend their role in consumers’ lives. AI will truly take off in marketing if brands are empowered to connect with consumers within the channels that they are using everyday, be it Facebook, mobile wallets, Twitter, etc. Here a few examples of how AI might take form for CPG products:

OTC Allergy Medicine: A consumer who is in the airport waiting to take off could ask her brand AI assistant what the pollen count is in her destination city. The brand would inform her of the expected conditions, provide relief tips if the environment differs greatly from her home city and any medicine she might want to take along. The consumer is armed with information that she could have found on her own, but has instead taken the opportunity to engage with the brand, deepening her loyalty.

Cooking Spice: While grocery shopping for tonight’s dinner (location known via beacons or geo-fence), a consumer would ask his AI brand assistant for recipe ideas. Taking into account the rain outside and the time of night (a late 7:30 p.m. instead of the normal 5 p.m. shopping trip), the spice brand suggests a simple, comforting recipe that is prepared in less than 15 minutes. Later, while the consumer is cooking, he asks the AI assistant about cooking technique, which is answered immediately.

Laundry Detergent: In the middle of doing her family’s laundry, a consumer comes across an unusual stain on her son’s soccer shorts. Unsure of what it is, she takes a photo and asks the AI assistant if it knows what the stain might be. After asking a few questions, the virtual assistant is able to decipher what it is and provide a recommended course of action. Without having to spend the time conducting a Web search to get advice on how to remove it, the consumer was able to quickly get an answer and move on with her day.

Baby Diapers: A price-sensitive father has a few retailers where he can pick up diapers. While he is out running errands, he asks his brand AI assistant which of his preferred retailers has the lowest cost today on the diapers. Without needing to spend time checking retailer websites, calling the stores or physically visiting them, he is empowered to make the best decision.

In all of the examples above, the AI assistant has propelled the brand to become the hero in consumers’ lives. The brand surfaces only the exact information that is being sought in real-time; there is no need to sift through irrelevant information or even use archaic search to get the information needed. AI technology also empowers the brand to take every opportunity to personally cross-sell and next-sell at times when the consumer would be most receptive: in-the-moment, based on his or her real-time intent

For brands, adopting software-only AI will be equivalent to hiring an army of highly knowledgeable customer service personnel who act as friends and brand experts who know are ready at a moment’s notice to offer advice and support. The level of unmatched personal support and attention that can be paid to every customer whenever and wherever they need it does not come close to rivaling anything that we have had access to before.