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Big brands in the retail world are exploding with creativity in tech. Amazon’s checkout-free physical stores can sense exactly which items a customer picks up and charges them automatically as they walk out the doors using the Amazon Go app. Starbucks’ virtual barista service allows customers to place orders directly from their phone via voice command. Nike customers can design sneakers in-store while providing tons of personal data for further targeting from Nike marketing. All this landscape-changing innovation is thanks to two small letters, AI.

Let’s start with the basics: Artificial intelligence (or AI) is something you already use and know — it just has an intimidating name. Technically, its definition is “intelligence demonstrated by machines, in contrast to the natural intelligence displayed by humans.” 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.

In fact, artificial intelligence is so important to our lifestyles and our businesses that Google CEO Sundar Pichai asserts that it will have a bigger influence on humanity than fire. That’s right. Fire.

So how can we, local business owners, get in on the game? How can we bring deep machine learning down to earth and make it real? AI in advertising is not a scary concept — it’s applicable to your local business now. Let’s digest it.

Use AI to Optimize the Creative Assets You Already Have

Let’s say you already have a display ad that you’re using to promote your business. There are so many elements to the design of that ad — color, typography, call to action, imagery — that can actually be picked apart and given a score by machine. Add to that score CTR tracking and engagement tracking (also done by machine), and you can confidently move ahead with your advertising knowing that you have revised your ad to be at its peak performance.

Maybe the messaging is too wordy and needs to be shortened, maybe the use of animation is too distracting, maybe the call to action is unclear. All these items can be flagged by AI, and then revised by you, the business owner, or your marketing partner. This is data-informed design. It’s the ultimate in AI in advertising. The goal is not to make the prettiest ad, but the most successful ad.

Let’s take a look at some before and afters.

Before and after of a client's display ad using LOCALiQ's data-informed design

Some simple A/B testing for Carpenter Realtors resulted in full-size imagery that is a photograph featuring real people instead of stock animated imagery. Even though the call to action button is much smaller in the revised ad, that imagery change resulted in a 33% increase in clickthrough rates — something we never would have known was it not for that AI scoring.

Here’s another for Bee Window, Inc. This company experienced the opposite revision of Carpenter Realtors’ ad above.

Before and after of another ad using LOCALiQ's data-informed design to improve ads.

Even though the messaging — a chance to win $12,000 in home improvement products — and the size and placement of the logo remained the same, the removal of the image featuring real people resulted in a 17% increase in the clickthrough rate.

At LOCALiQ, we’re implementing data-informed design in our ad creative all the time. It’s an effort to bring the future of AI in advertising used by big national brands to local businesses by using deep machine learning to find the optimal typography, hierarchy, use of images, and messaging.

Give Your Ad Creative an Augmented Reality Makeover

Here’s another possibility for incorporating real AI into your small business, albeit one requiring a little more risk and potentially a little more budget. With some imagination, opportunities are plentiful ““ sometimes the silliest ideas are the ones that work best in AR.

When augmented reality was new to market, the only way to incorporate advertising was to stick a logo into an editorial-created experience. That was expensive, even for big brands, and relatively rare because it was too new to be proven effective. Now, it’s possible to create faux-AR for any regular ad creative.

As the advertising industry struggles with “banner blindness” (we’re so used to being served ads that we aren’t paying as close attention to them), 3D photos have emerged as a new format that engages customers while keeping production costs low. AI converts any regular static ad into 3D. The image below for Machu Picchu tourism was a simple static image, but with the magic of AR, it seems to come to life.

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For business owners with a product (like tech gear or auto), AI can be used to show a 3D view of what you’re selling. Imagine an avatar or miniature version of it that appears on your phone right inside a standard ad unit. The customer can twist it, turn it, and even stand up and walk all around it.

This process of making miniature versions of real-life products to interact with on your phone is called photogrammetry. Even the big guys use this simple technique to bring stories to life. Check out how USA TODAY used photogrammetry to provide readers with an up-close look at the costume designs from each Academy Award-nominated movie last year.

While the AI techniques are simple, the engagement is powerful.


  • taking a virtual 360 walk around your store with hotspots showcasing certain products.
  • bringing a hot slice of pizza or a fresh-baked pie to life (yum!) using photogrammetry and then clicking to order — or even using it as a game to catch as many pieces of pizza in your mouth as possible.
  • using your phone’s built-in front camera to provide a Snapchat-like experience with facial recognition to put your customer behind the wheel of a new or used car.

See? You don’t have to reinvent the wheel (or reinvent fire) in order to use AI in your own business.

What are the Bets You Can Make on the Future of AI?

Trying new ways to advertise always carries a level of risk, but a modern business owner must have a sense of disruption — a willingness and curiosity to do things differently than you did five years ago. Plus, you and your fellow business owners yourselves are changing since much of our days are shaped by devices in our hands.

Go ahead and keep utilizing what works; don’t throw it away simply because it’s not the coolest, most modern solution. But bet on something new. AI may be something that makes sense for your business and your modern consumer. It’s the world of digital, so if you make a decision and don’t like the outcome, you don’t have to live with it forever. You can always recalibrate.

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