AI offers an unprecedented ability to enable creativity for marketers

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Don't fear artificial intelligence; embrace it, says Deutsch North America's chief digital officer.

Lately, artificial intelligence is everywhere. What was once a fantasy realized on screen in movies like "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "The Terminator" is now a reality, with AI-enhanced devices gradually entering our lives, and a new crop of shows and movies like "Westworld," "Black Mirror," "Ex Machina" and "Humans" imagining the impact this powerful technology could have in the modern era.

These stories are as fun to watch as they are fascinating, but they are also almost uniformly bleak. Hollywood’s vision of the next era of human progress sees mankind threatened, even destroyed by the technology they have created. In the cultural imagination, AI means that at best, humans will be replaced in their jobs and their homes by sentient computers, and at worst, we’ll all be murdered by revenge-seeking humanoid robots. 

And sure, if not properly managed, AI could certainly hold some threats to society. But in the here and now, the outlook is much brighter. In fact, I believe that far from replacing people, AI and the massive, unwritten potential it holds will turn out to be one of the greatest platforms for human creativity the world has ever seen. For brands and marketers, the opportunity is limitless. For consumers, things are about to get a lot more fun and convenient. 

On a basic level, AI offers an unprecedented opportunity for brands to better understand the mind of the consumer. For all the face-to-face research we do to try to get to know each other, humans are notoriously bad at expressing what they really want. What people say in a focus group full of strangers, and what they actually believe privately are often two very different things. In that gap lies potential for failure for marketers, and disappointment for consumers.

AI, with its ability to analyze and draw insights from huge, real-time behavioral data sets, can give marketers the opportunity to deliver on the things people won’t say they want or don’t realize they need—the desires that focus groups can’t uncover, the dreams they don’t think they can ever realize, the problems they don’t know there are solutions for. 

Armed with better, more accurate information, AI tools can then help brands offer a superior customer experience. Right now, we are already seeing this capability emerging in projects like Alexa’s voice-activated shopping capabilities and retail bots that can learn your preferences and find any product you want in seconds.

Technologies like these are showing people that interacting with machines can often be better and more convenient than interacting with humans. As those machines learn more about people’s individual preferences, brands will be able to offer proactive solutions to perceived problems. Eventually, consumers will begin to prefer the personalization and simplicity of a brand-driven AI experience. 

This is opening the gates to a whole new way of doing business and interacting with customers. And it’s here that human creativity will separate the winners from the losers on the marketing side. Eventually, every successful brand will be using AI to understand consumer preferences. But how they approach the information gathering and deliver on the results is what will set them apart. AI will do much of the hard work behind the scenes, but crafting the experience will still be up to humans.

Agencies are already harnessing the power of AI in creative ways. Savings startup Digit is using AI technology to help people save money. It tracks your spending and uses algorithms to find small amounts of money to move into a savings account. This app brings a personality into banking, combining emotion with function and adding value to users lives—I’m still using it, even after they started charging a fee! It showcases the power of creativity and personality through the use of machine learning technology.

Likewise, here at Deutsch we created a "TacoBot" for Taco Bell that allows users to order food through Slack by having a conversation with a bot. The technology makes life easier for the customer, while giving Taco Bell valuable insights into what, when and how people want their tacos. 

Far from replacing people or making them somehow less than human, AI has the capacity to bring us closer together. Greater understanding, tailored experiences and communication are all the result of AI used creatively and responsibly. Will the TacoBots one day rise up and kill us all? Seems unlikely.

Winston Binch is Chief Digital Officer of Deutsch North America.