with Akash Agrawal, Anuj Kapur, Pranvit Nibber and James Yun — students in Markus Giesler’s MBA course Customer Experience Design at the Schulich School of Business (York University).
In the next decade, it is predicted that humans’ relationship with artificial intelligence will have evolved from a limited influence to a steadfast dependency. Imagine a world where virtual personal assistants (VPAs), such as Siri, Echo and Google Assistant are as ubiquitous as electricity and as dependable as a best friend (Florence 2015). These AIs (artificial intelligence) will be driving cars, caring for elderly citizens, teaching students and may even deliver medical diagnoses (Stephenson 2016). These assistants will be so thoroughly enmeshed in people’s everyday decision-making, that they may very well be making decisions themselves! But how will this all happen? And what does this mean for brands, CMOs and CTOs alike? Let’s start from the beginning.
How are our current customer experiences aligned to AI-powered VPAs?
Some believe that humanity has already entered an era in which people are constantly surrounded by connected sensors and other types of collecting devices that generate massive volumes of personal information (Bauer, Patel, and Veira 2014). At the same time, humanity is facing early forms of AI that can not only analyze Big Data, but also provide insights and suggestions from these analyses (Bauer et al. 2014).
Think about everyday customer experiences. Individuals’ choices are influenced by their friends when they shop, and parents may influence what books their children read first. In fact, social networks do play a big role in shaping customer preferences, which is why marketers should target the customer’s main influencers (Risselada et. al 2014).
In the future, VPAs, the new main influencer, will be assisting consumers in making these decisions, reading their children a bedtime story and even discussing the meaning of life. If the old saying, “the customer is king,” is true (Craven 2002), these VPAs act like wise advisors to the kings. Consumers will be dependent on them for everything, just as an average person is currently dependent on GPS-powered map services for navigation. In this way, VPAs will eventually become the obligatory passage point through which consumers interact with the market.
How will our VPAs evolve to become the new customer?
Brands like Google and Apple are turning the immense amount of data and subsequent difficulty of decision-making into a problem that only their AI-powered VPAs can solve. As VPAs become more dominant in consumer decision-making processes, the future of branding will be organized around designing and delivering a customer experience to a brand new customer: virtual personal assistants.
In the future, people will not buy products and services, their VPAs will buy it for them (Stephenson 2016). They will be filtering consumer data and aligning it to the product or service that best meets individuals’ lifestyles, tastes and personalities. For example, VPAs could be making the choice between reading Harry Potter or Charlotte’s Web to one’s children at bedtime. In order to be selected, publishing houses will need to be able to communicate, brand and market to VPAs rather than parents, who once were the actual customers.
What does this mean for the future of branding?
The future poses an especially interesting challenge to brands delivering customer experiences. Are brands Big Data-ready? VPAs will likely introduce the next wave of direct to consumer marketing, making traditional sales channels such as bricks-and-mortar stores and even e-commerce websites obsolete in the wake of brand-to-VPA communication.
Finally, customer experience design will be undoubtedly changed with regard to emotional branding. After all, how does one emotionally connect with an AI? If the language through which brands and VPAs interact is an algorithm (Wolfram 2016), it stands to reason that only the brands that have adapted and speak the VPA language will be chosen. When VPAs become consumers’ natural extension and the key to their decision-making, marketing will be organized around influencing and connecting with AI. If brands cannot embrace Big Data, partner with and "speak" to VPAs, they will inevitably perish.
Bauer, H., Patel, M., and Veira, J. (2014), “The Internet of Things: Sizing up the opportunity,” McKinsey & Company.
Craven, R. (2002). Customer is King - how to exceed their expectations. London: Virgin Books, Inc.
Florence, Mike (2015), “The rise of the sentient virtual personal assistant,” The Drum News.
Stephenson, Chris (2016), “Advertisers won't be persuading humans but algorithms: PHD's Chris Stephenson speaks to Campaign Asia's Atifa Silk,” PHD Media Worldwide.
Wolfram, Stephen (2016), “AI & The Future Of Civilization,” Edge.
Risselada, H., Verhoef, P. C., and Bijmolt, T. H. A. (2014), “Dynamic Effects of Social Influence and Direct Marketing on the Adoption of High-Technology Products,” Journal of Marketing, 78(2), 52-68.