Why Artificial Intelligence is the Hottest New Trend in Digital Marketing

It is fair to say that Artificial Intelligence (AI) - the science of creating machines which can think like humans - is something of a marmite technology. 

Ever since pioneers like the Enigma code breaker Alan Turing first experimented with so-called learning algorithms which could get ‘smarter’ with continued use, people have been fearful of the threat intelligent machines could pose to mankind.

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s post-apocalyptic killer super robot fixed the idea in the public imagination in films like Terminator 2: The Rise of the Machines. But thinkers as influential and respected as Professor Stephen Hawking have made the case in more serious terms.

However, AI is far from all super intelligent robots with the potential to one day outsmart their human creators. And in the world of digital marketing, one form of AI is showing signs of disrupting consumer engagement and ecommerce in ways which will once again shift how brands approach the online marketplace.

Enter the Chatbots

Chatbots are based on a piece of technology which imitates humans in online conversations. Typically embedded in messenger apps, they are programmed to improve their conversational skills with experience through so-called machine learning, becoming more and more realistic as they log and process the habits they encounter chatting with real humans. 

Over the past couple of years, brand interest in chatbots has soared. This is partly due to the fact that messaging apps like Kik, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger have now eclipsed social media platforms in terms of monthly users, representing a newer, younger, bigger market to reach. Chatbots are one cool way of getting on.

Chatbots also offer brands a way to reach audiences on digital media in an ‘authentic’ way. People use Facebook Messenger or Kik to chat, not to be read or watch marketing content; there is a belief brands must use messaging services the same way their audiences do.

Employing real people to engage in real time conversations with potential customers is costly and time consuming. Chatbots, on the other hand, like those available through Kik’s Bot Shop, can push all the key branding messages in a format which fits in with the platform. And, presumably, they learn to get better at it over time.

B-Commerce

Some argue, however, that this kind of content-based marketing approach is not making the best use of chatbot technology, and in fact risks intruding on what makes messaging apps so popular in a very inauthentic way. Indeed, chatbots are arguably having a greater impact in ecommerce, disrupting expectations about how people seek and purchase products online. 

One of the pioneers in this regard was Amazon’s Alexa bot, which allows Prime users to place orders verbally by talking to the chatbot. Alexa captures much of what makes chatbots such a useful tool in ecommerce - once the Alexa app is installed, there is no need to navigate anywhere to place an order, you can do it as you think of what you want. It is instant, intuitive and responsive.

It was Uber, whoever, which really set the trend when it launched a bot allowing customers to order taxis on Facebook Messenger. A flurry of brands have followed suit, the latest being Dominos with Dom the pizza-ordering bot.

Conversational Commerce

The consumer attraction of ecommerce through Facebook Messenger is clear - you can get what you want all in one app without having to navigate elsewhere. It is also consumer led, with the user initiating the sale through Messenger rather than being broadsided with sales messages.

Such transactions have earned the label conversational commerce, reflecting the one-to-one nature of the contact between brand and customer, and the ability to provide real-time information and updates in a naturally conversational way.

In that sense, it seems as if AI is adding the human touch back into digital branding and ecommerce.

 

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Written by Jon Walker October of 2016