AI, the current buzzword for all marketers and advertisers, is a big concept that is being activated in multiple ways by thousands of companies. But it doesn’t have to be intimidating.
Let’s get fluent about the different types of AI in global marketing (we’ll focus on the big four!) and what they look like when they’re brought to life by real companies. Plus, all AI is not created equal, so we’ll dive into which are more consumer-friendly than others and what that means for your privacy.
What is AI?
Technically, the definition of AI, or Artificial Intelligence, is “intelligence demonstrated by machines, in contrast to the natural intelligence displayed by humans.” AI is essentially the science of programming machines to be smarter than we are by making accurate predictions based on large sets of data.
In real-life practice, it’s how you receive product recommendations while browsing online, it’s that magical skill that understands your voice when you speak to Siri or Alexa, it recognizes the faces in your photos, it automatically moves the spam emails you receive into your Junk folder, and it sends you a text message when it suspects you might be a victim of credit card fraud.
The best part about market AI is that as it gathers more and more data, it can improve itself and become smarter without needing the programming of a human.
Here are four different forms of how AI’s impact on marketing comes to life.
1. Virtual Reality
VR is when you’re immersed in an environment outside of your own reality. It’s the experience of a world that doesn’t actually exist. Created with stereoscopic sound and 3D computer imaging, VR creates an immersive, believable experience that makes you feel like you are there both mentally and physically. Turn your head and the world turns with you, so the illusion created is never lost.
2. Augmented Reality
AR is the augmentation of your own reality, the one that you’re currently in and surrounded by. AR lets us see the real-life environment right in front of us — my computer screen, my cup of coffee, my colleagues milling about — and overlays it with digital augmentation. So, the real world and the digital world are intertwined.
(AR and VR are probably the “sexiest” forms of AI — you can see them, they make you feel something, or they can train you to learn something new.)
An emergent and experimental medium, voice recognition is still the Wild West of AI. Marketers approach voice in the spirit of innovation by making content that is specifically built to respond to voice queries and are exclusive to devices like Alexa.
Advertising in voice is still in its infancy. While advertisers are still trying to figure out how to make it work day-to-day, imagine the world of voice to become something like this: You check the weather for Big Bear, CA because you’re going on a camping trip. Alexa tells you the weekend forecast, but then she also recommends the nearest CVS so you can pick up mosquito spray. Imagine the same for encouraging you to stop in to get your shot in advance of flu season or recommending that you pick up granola bars and flashlights for hurricane preparedness.
There is an application of AI called machine learning — which means that a machine can learn on its own without being programmed to do so by a human. Its system has the ability to automatically learn and then improve from experience. This changes our whole world as we know it!
AI will gather information like what types of shows you watch on Netflix, the kinds of products you buy on Amazon, how many minutes you leave your refrigerator open, whether you prefer the scenic route or the quickest route in the car, and what kinds of jokes you like.
Privacy Please: AI is a part of my life, but I’m uneasy about data collection.
AI is not just about making predictions, it’s also about responding to our commands and requests (add this to my calendar, send a message to Mom, etc.). This prompts a vast and as yet unresolved debate about privacy and data ownership.
For these services to function, you, the consumer, need to be willing to consistently feed a corporation data about yourself. Just imagine this push and pull — consumers want convenience and corporations want data, revenue, and market share.
The CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) went into effect on January 1, 2020. Californians will finally have certain rights over the data that companies like Facebook and Google collect from them. It’s certainly not full control for consumers (we just have to accept that our lives are being mined for data in order to live in a technological world), but for the first time, changes are being introduced to a previously unchecked and unregulated data collection industry.
Even those not in California will be benefiting from this law: now, businesses are required to inform you about what type of PII (personal identifying information) they are collecting from you and why they want it. You may even be given the same opt-out and deletion rights that Californians now have access to because it will be easier for the company to do a full widespread rollout than target and customize state by state as various laws unfurl.
This law was predated by Europe’s GDPR, or General Data Protection Regulation, an attempt to harmonize data privacy throughout the European Union. Essentially, U.S. publishers were subject to new data collection regulations, even if they don’t market their publications to overseas readers. At the time, I was living abroad but working for USA TODAY, and from the day GDPR was pushed through I found it near impossible to read the stateside news as the articles were extremely limited — and the ads had disappeared entirely!
Essentially, we’re living in the middle of a major time of experimentation, and our only choice is either to opt-out entirely or to hang on for the ride.
AI’s Staying Power
Some forms of AI in marketing are more reasonable than others. Some are fun and consumer-friendly and others are not — not at all. These are relatively new concepts, and AI is really one of those experiences that you have to try before you can understand it. Something like a voice-assisted device (like Alexa) or a game in AR allows the consumer to “get it” very quickly. Others…not so much.
Let me give you an actual example of AI. I recall working on a very expensive project to encourage potential clients to sponsor my company’s virtual reality endeavors. This involved rigging a race car at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway with multiple tiny cameras from different angles. The client raced the car around the track, after which time the full five-person Emerging Tech team “ secreted away in a little room with many multi-plug power strips to keep all the equipment running “ spent days cutting, editing, and rendering that camera footage to create a virtual reality experience to deliver to the client in person.
The goal: to have the sales team meet in-person with these potential clients we just entertained in Las Vegas. Ideally, the sales team would arrive for this meeting with a virtual reality headset and the actual client’s experience queued up and ready to run. But once away from Las Vegas, these very high level and very busy clients didn’t necessarily want to spend an hour of their day doing this meeting. After all, they just spent half a day with us in Vegas. So, what to do: “Oh, just send them a link!” said our head of sales.
And right there is where virtual reality becomes not an innovation, but a nuisance. A link to what? To view virtual reality on your desktop? That’s not VR, that’s just video. For VR to happen, the consumer needs noise-canceling headphones, a relatively cumbersome headset, and must be able to find a specific piece of content within that headset, and — because both eyes and ears are completely covered — must commit to being fully immersed.
VR disallows multitasking. By its very nature, VR requires you to commit to VR and give it your undivided attention. So, unless the consumer really wants to jump in with both feet (and both eyes and both ears), VR is not the right platform for companies to reach a large audience.
So when comparing VR with AR, marketers have discovered that AR is significantly easier to scale. Why? Because the customers they are trying to reach already have the necessary equipment — a smartphone. There is no need to buy additional equipment to experience AR. Plus, the content is easy to access — simply open up your Camera and wave it in the appropriate direction. It’s less of a commitment from customers, who can quickly give it a try and move on. Then, they can choose to dig deeper if their time and interest permit.
This nimble nature of AR is proving to be more feasible to both create and consume this type of AI content.
Putting Real Money Where Your Virtual Mouth Is: 6 Real-World Examples
Let’s see some examples of how real marketers have used the four forms of AI in global marketing described above.
1. Augmented Reality: The New Yorker
Watch the first episode of the Netflix series Abstract: The Art of Design featuring illustrator Christoph Niemann and you’ll see how The New Yorker experimented with AR on its front and back covers.
Scanning the cover with your device on camera mode allows an illustrated skyline of Manhattan to pop out of the cover and onto your screen, allowing you — with screen in hand — to rotate around the artist’s version of the city.
(Niemann oscillates back and forth between the terms “virtual reality” and “augmented reality,” perhaps thinking they’re interchangeable. They’re not — he created “augmented reality.”)
2. Augmented Reality: USA TODAY
In an effort to create empathy and bring a breaking news story to life, USA TODAY built an AR rendering of the burning Notre Dame cathedral within 36 hours. By being spatially placed in the real-world environment, a reader could learn about the damage and what was saved by interactively tapping on points of interest.
3. Voice: Estee Lauder
Global makeup and skincare company EstÃ©e Lauder partnered with Google Home to create Liv, a voice-activated skincare expert who answers customers’ beauty-related questions. People can ask Liv about the best skincare routines and what products should be a part of their pre-bedtime rituals.
Rather than being inundated with thousands of results, as would be the case with traditional web searches, Liv gives consumers just one answer, and often recommends Estee Lauder products in her replies.
4. Virtual Reality: Live Nation
In 2016, Live Nation made great use of virtual reality by live streaming 10 music concerts — a dream come true for live music lovers. Virtual reality shuts out the real world and places the consumer deep within an entirely different environment; this something that doesn’t happen frequently — other than in movie theaters, at concerts, or inside a windowless casino. So this was the perfect environment to make use of the fully immersive aspects of VR. Plus the consumer only needed to buy a headset, not a ticket!
5. Data That Uses Natural Language Processing: AlphaSense
AlphaSense is an AI-powered search engine designed to help investment firms, banks, and Fortune 500 companies find important information within transcripts, filings, news, and research. The AI in marketing technology expands keyword searches to find relevant content. (So no more poring through pages of documents to highlight by hand all relevant phone calls from September 3, for instance.)
6. Data That Uses Predictive Analytics: Hospital IQ
So far we’ve looked at examples from companies who are utilizing AI to increase their profits or their brand awareness. AI-powered data is also useful for companies who are seeking to become more efficient. Boston Medical Center recently implemented a predictive analytics tool known as Hospital IQ (which has successfully scaled and is now available across the healthcare industry — not only at BMC!), which allows healthcare institutions to allocate rooms and staff based on predictive patterns.
By analyzing previous patterns of demand, they are able to estimate how many staff members and rooms are needed during certain peak times.
Now I get it. How do I apply it?
Because of the cumbersome — though cool — nature of VR, and the lack of organized success metrics around voice, in the world of AI local businesses stand to benefit most from AR or data. Let the major corporations experiment first!
AR is most obviously beneficial for those with a brick and mortar; show off a new store location and allow consumers to interact with specific items, or scan price tags to find a hidden discount. For those without a brick and mortar, data is your friend. Try something simple to make your day to day duties simpler — for instance, invest in a chatbot to respond to reviews or social media posts on your behalf, or relinquish control of a sample set of your digital ads to run programmatically and allow AI machine learning to optimize on your behalf.
Whatever you choose, remember that we are in a time of experimentation, and you’re not required to get it right on the first try. Experiment, optimize, then pick what works, and move forward with it. Whatever AI element you choose will place you squarely in the world of innovation, keeping your business nimble and open to new skills and success.