Artificial Intelligence in marketing: the past, the present and the future

By Daniel Swepson, Thursday July 23, 2020
6 Minutes

Artificial intelligence, or A.I., is a term of the past, present and future. We’re going to focus on artificial intelligence in marketing, but first, we need to have a bit of a history lesson.

The past

Science fiction first introduced us to the concept as early as 1927 with Metropolis, a fictional German silent film about an urban dystopia powered by robots with robot clones being made in an attempt to resurrect dead loved ones. It’s no surprise it cost 5.3 million reichsmarks to make and only took 75,000 at the box office. 

It’s safe to say the ideology of artificial intelligence has remained on a similar narrative since then, with the Tin Man from Wizard of Oz (1939), through to The Terminator (1984) and Donna J. Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto (1985). It’s clear to see that the perception of artificial intelligence historically has always been closely linked to mimicking or replicating humans, whether it be through robots that can do what us humans do, but better, or additions and alterations to the human body to increase

The present

I’m pleased to say, not many of the futuristic predictions we’ve seen in the mainstream media have come true, artificial intelligence has become far cleverer than that, but so have we because of it. 

A key related subject of artificial intelligence for many is healthcare, and that’s not something to be sniffed at. Modern medicine owes a lot to artificial intelligence and life expectancy globally has dramatically increased since the 1960s according to the World Health Organisation, and we have to attribute a lot of that to developments in science, and artificial intelligence. 

Before we move on, I think it’s important to just give a quick summary of what artificial intelligence is defined as in the Oxford Dictionary; 

“The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.” Now we’ve cleared that up, we can begin to look deeper into our subject, artificial intelligence in marketing.

Marketing is everywhere these days, and because we live in a multi-screen, multi-device world, artificial intelligence in marketing is everywhere. I like to try and categorise artificial intelligence in marketing into two groups – what the end-user sees, and what they don’t. 

What the end-user sees covers a whole plethora of things, personalisation in an email, an ad on Facebook, even the content someone sees when they’re doing some online shopping on their favourite app. It’s an algorithm or piece of software deciding what it wants you to see based on your previous behaviour, your likes, your purchase history or possibly even your location. 

These forms of artificial intelligence in marketing have almost become so common and part of our day-to-day lives that even the end-user is aware of it. Most people when they see a sponsored post on social media of the item they were just looking at buying online but didn’t, know that’s why they’re seeing it. They know they’re being tracked and followed around the internet and brands are paying to target them. Sometimes they don’t like it, but that’s only because usually it’s something they looked at by accident or for two seconds before disregarding, and now the brand won’t leave them alone. Most of the time, consumers don’t mind if it helps them. Chatbots and conversational marketing is a perfect example of this, most people don’t mind booking an appointment with an estate agent to view a house via a chatbot if it means they can do it discreetly in a board meeting when they shouldn’t be. 

Behind the scenes

The other area of artificial intelligence in marketing, which I personally find far more interesting, is the stuff the end-user never sees, and they’re probably not even aware of. Before the end-user sees any creative from a brand or any marketing material, this artificial intelligence is the research and insights that go into analysing the performance of previous messaging, it’s the trend analysis of how users have shared and engaged with coronavirus news stories that impact a channel plan, or the dynamic pricing algorithms behind an e-commerce site that fluctuate pricing depending on demand and availability

A perfect example of this is our recent content strategy work with property startup Guild Living. In addition to reshaping the later living property market in the UK, Guild Living wanted to become the leading voice and go to source of information and insight into ageing, preventing ageing, and for families to learn about how to approach and deal with the members of their families ageing. 

Through the use of powerful social listening tools, we were able to establish the common concerns, queries and conversation topics amongst the several audience segments. It’s amazing how much the narrative of the conversation differs from couples looking to downsize, to grown up children concerned and worried about how to encourage their parents to move into more suitable accommodation. 

Because of this activity, we were able to identify how the conversation in the media was massively impacted by coronavirus. The recent crisis news stories were largely dominated by the poor levels of support and high levels of loneliness amongst our older communities. As you can imagine, the conversation was largely negative, but a 300% increase in mentions of nursing and care homes in the 3 months during the crisis, and over 80% of mentions being negative was a staggering finding. 

Armed with this data, we were then able to manipulate the strategy to be heavily focussed on positive stories, loneliness combating content and to push messaging that highlighted why Guild Living was going to be different to the other accommodation options that are currently on offer. 

The future

We’ve covered the history of artificial intelligence, the present, so now let’s look to the future, specifically the future of artificial intelligence in marketing. 

It’s tricky to predict the future, I don’t have a crystal ball or a time travelling Dalorian. But, what I can see is areas where I don’t think all the current possibilities have been maximised. Home voice control devices being a key one. Back in 2019, it was reported that Amazon had sold 100 million Alexa devices since launch. That’s a lot of devices, when you think of the fact Alexa isn’t the only available device on the market. 

With Alexa in mind though, what if one day it was possible for a brand to run a radio style ad on Alexa devices to customers that have bought their products. What if one day, you were listening to your usual Podcast whilst doing the washing up and there was an ad break during for a new recipe book by the same author as one you’ve previously bought on Amazon. Or, you were listening to the latest album from your favourite singer on your Apple HomePod, and at the end of the album you heard an ad from ASOS letting you know there were only a few pairs in your size left of those shoes you have in your saved items on the app. 

To some, this idea may seem intrusive and too “Big Brother”, but my response to that is, if it means you get a new recipe book for a weekend of cooking, or you get those new shoes for that night out, then who is it harming? 

In marketing, we talk about delivering the right message, to the right person, at the right time. Artificial intelligence in marketing enables us to do this more confidently than ever. It can be done to great success in all elements of marketing, not just the targeted and tailored output the end-user sees. It goes into everything we do at Woven, whether it be creating a persona and messaging strategy, to reshaping an entire positioning of a brand in its market. The history of artificial intelligence may be dark and threatening, but the future, especially for artificial intelligence in marketing, has the potential to be bright, and useful, and improve our quality of life

AI is definitely here to stay and will only get more and more sophisticated as time goes on. If you want to find out how we can improve your marketing efforts using AI, get in touch to speak to a member of the team today.

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