Jeremy Waite of IBM on how AI helps firms make increasingly informed decisions about customer behaviour
Fully understanding consumer behaviour can be very challenging for marketers. In light of recent high-profile cases of personal data misuse, customers have been increasingly sceptical about giving up their personal data, preferring to share content privately through messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Snapchat or Messenger. At the same time, GDPR regulations mean businesses are unable to use vast quantities of data they collect on customers without their express permission.
This means that, rather than offering personalisation, marketers have to rely on creating “personas” – types of customers they can target who don’t require personally identifiable information. Coupled with this, they are increasingly turning to the latest augmented or artificial intelligence technologies to build a better picture of consumers and how they are likely to behave in their decision making.
One company at the forefront of the AI revolution, IBM, has reinvented its offerings over the course of a century. One of its key areas of development is around its Watson artificial intelligence platform. It first gained worldwide attention in 2011 when it beat US game show champions on Jeopardy! and IBM recently launched Project Debater, demonstrating AI advances not only in understanding natural language, but also in being able to form it into a reasoned debate. Watson has since been developed into a suite of cloud-based AI tools designed to help businesses with their commerce, marketing and supply chain by using a voice- or text-powered intelligent assistant.
For example, thanks to IBM’s acquisition of The Weather Company, including Weather.com and The Weather Channel mobile app, Watson is able to use 2.5 billion internet of things (IoT) sensors across the world to help companies in several ways. “Weather is one of the biggest factors in driving consumer behaviour, such as determining what they are going to buy and when,” says Jeremy Waite, chief strategy officer of Watson Customer Engagement, Europe. “It’s also massively important for logistics such as shipping, especially for brands that need their products to be on the shelves very quickly.”
Whereas 10 years ago brands were in control of the online relationship with customers via email and social media, gathering all the individual data they needed in the process, the power over data has recently shifted back to the consumer. “What makes IBM unique is we are able to use AI to analyse vast amounts of anonymous data in order to find triggers of what companies should do next,” Waite says. “It’s like having your very own voice-activated data scientist and marketer sitting next to you.”
"The average employee wastes a day a week searching for information to do their job which could be done in a few seconds with a digital assistant."
But isn’t there a legitimate concern the adoption of AI technology could lead to reduction in jobs, particularly in marketing? Far from it, says Waite, who believes that Watson should be viewed as helping people to do their jobs more efficiently. “The average employee wastes a day a week searching for information to do their job which could be done in a few seconds with a digital assistant.”
AI tools such as Watson Marketing Assistant can help staff add value in other parts of the business, leaving tasks that can be automated to technology. AI technology has been used by the All England Lawn Tennis Club to analyse tennis matches going back decades, even assessing crowd reaction and assisting media teams in producing highlights packages of Wimbledon. “There’s huge pressure on staff in those two weeks to produce high-quality content,” says Waite. “This technology frees them up to be more creative in other areas.”
Similarly, IBM’s Watson technology is being used at the World Cup in Russia by Fox Sports to allow fans to put their own highlights packages together. Fans can choose the players and tournaments (going back to 1958) they want, and “play types” such as goals, shots, saves and red cards.
AI has an increasing role to play in helping businesses with their digital transformation. AI-powered virtual agents, or “chatbots”, are widely used by organisations to help customers solve the vast majority of queries, and the technology can help automate processes that would take far longer manually, be it cataloguing images and video for sports content providers or producing marketing reports and invoices for clothing manufacturers.
Yet the reality, according to research from PwC, is that 85pc of digital transformation projects still fail. All too often, though, it seems this isn’t a reflection of the technology itself, but because of the people involved – either through a lack of buy-in from the chief executive or a short-term perspective.
“The key is to invest more in people than we do in technology,” says Waite. “Nate Silver famously said that we ask too much of our technology and not enough of ourselves. With a board willing to buy into and back the right vision in the long-term, and a strategy that filters down to the marketing teams, transformation works.”
It is only when the culture towards digital changes, everyone’s views are aligned and AI becomes a board-level agenda that AI in business can really hope to succeed.
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