Marketing through artificial intelligence begins with the small

Words like that coming from Hawking hung heavy in the air as they conjured the wildly utopian/dystopian themes that play so well in Hollywood and science fiction.

On Madison Avenue, though, it’s a bit different. AI is viewed as a dynamic but mostly misunderstood technological breakthrough. In the race for the next great marketing technology, there is a school of thought that has immediately identified the value of AI and begun to apply it to develop media strategy. Even more are asking: Can we AI our way to brand building or driving loyalty?

There is a natural tension between AI and humanity and it centers on empathy. Will a machine appreciate an individual’s circumstances, which change continuously and at any moment in time, then apply the appropriate sense of urgency to a problem? Will it exercise judgement?

It seems quite unlikely that AI will ever achieve the empathy of a human being – it cannot work in isolation without the human aspect. The ability of a human being to make a judgement based on context is something that machines are far from capable of. For now, at least.

The marriage of technology and society, though, creates a whole new level of opportunity which should be celebrated and embraced – the ability to deliver scale at speed. Modern expectations have engendered a “right here, right now” attitude among consumers. That means an increased workload for marketers. The ability for AI to help deliver value to consumers faster and more efficiently thanks to large data sets opens up real opportunity for brands.

One brand that has seized this opportunity is American Airlines – proving that it’s the smaller AI capabilities that have the potential to create empathy, not just the big things. I have used the American Airlines app many times. Once I’ve checked in online and my boarding pass shows up on my phone, a tickertape appears telling me how long it will take me to get to the airport from my current location. In one instance, when I finally got to the airport, albeit rather late, AA staff actually called me to inform me that my plane was boarding. Yes – a real person! That was the pinnacle of my experience using the app. They’ve expertly balanced the precision of AI with technology that tapped into my emotive, human needs; pulled in GPS, maps, location. Now that’s utilitarian. The next thing to improve this system would be hands-free voice activation.[…]

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