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.