The Rise of Intelligent Marketing

By Christi Olson, Head of Evangelism for Search at Microsoft

Digital transformation is a relatively recent phenomenon defining an entirely new era, comparable to the industrial revolution of the early 1800s.  Driven by technology, digital transformation is an underlying shift in the way live, work and communicate.  It infuses intelligence into the landscape of our lives, enabling us to accomplish things once only dreamed possible.  We can talk to our cars, shop from the convenience of our couch and search the world from the palm of our hand.

At the heart of this transformation lies the field of search and its ability to enhance our lives with immediate access to information.  Search is on the precipice of taking another step forward as it leverages AI and machine learning to empower users with actionable voice requests through new UIs, including screenless and virtual.  This includes booking reservations, getting store hours, ordering food, making appointments, etc.

Intelligence is driving a new breed of search that is less about unilateral ad copy and more about bilateral conversation.  It’s less about basic website listings and more about share of SERP.  It’s less about nameless, faceless searchers and everything about you, the end user.

Today’s leading retailers are beginning to incorporate AI and machine learning into their marketing and business models to create stronger, lasting customer relationships. 

Digital transformation extends into the furthest corners of our lives – healthcare, entertainment, education – no field is left untouched.  This especially pertains to retail marketing.  While digital marketing was originally a subfield of marketing, this is no longer the case.  Retail organizations are scrambling to create new marketing roles and departments that support an omnichannel approach.  Leading retailers are ready to embrace the power of AI and machine learning, redefining how they engage with their customers through chatbots, voice interactions, personal assistants and other connected technology.  It’s the rise of intelligence resulting in maximum consumer ease and minimal consumer friction.

Intelligent Agents & Services

As search incorporates more and more AI and machine learning into its results, users will be able to expand past informational answers and take actions through voice requests.  Also known as intelligent services, these AI powered interactions will include asking questions, booking travel, shopping transactions – the possibilities are endless.  These intelligent services will not be provided by humans, but rather intelligent agents that will not only respond to your voice requests, but interact with each other to build a community capable of learning.  As these agents interact more and gain more data from the world around them, they will get better and better at responding to user voice requests to create meaningful, actionable conversation.

Graphs

Where will all of the world’s data live?  Two of today’s technology giants, Microsoft and Google, have created massive graphs or ocean-like knowledge bases of structured data where intelligent agents can pull information for the end user via text, voice or even image.  At the end of 2016, Wikipedia reported that Google’s knowledge graph houses over 70 billion facts.  Microsoft’s graph combines with the power of Azure cloud services to allow customers to use unique data from their organizations to drive AI transformation- bringing together both business and customer data.  It easily allows third parties to connect to productivity data such as mail, calendars, contacts, documents, directories and more.  This creates infinite possibilities for new products and creative application, coming insights from the world of work with device insights and contextual awareness of the physical world.

[Ro]bots

Over the decades, science fiction writers have imagined a world with flying cars, magic microwaves and talking robots.  As imagination now meets reality, how will AI really impact our daily lives?  Are robots taking over?  Not exactly, and not in the way that SCIFI movies would have us believe.  AI is slowly beginning to appear in daily technologies resulting in higher efficiency, personalization and overall convenience.  Bots are driving a new layer of intelligence across everything we do.  At a basic level, bots can perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, such as crawling the web to index, organize and delivering search results. Chatbots incorporate voice into the equation, to deliver voice results from frequently asked questions.  Bots and chatbots are able to learn and improve as they encounter unfathomable amounts of data.  For instance, searches are getting smarter, delivering desired results faster and based on the context of previous services and location.  Search engines are now intelligent agents that understand conversational nuances so that a search for “Who is Harry Potter?” defines a fictional boy wizard while a search for “What is Harry Potter?” defines a best-selling novel series.  Your smart speakers talk to a skills bot which enables you to order a pizza, make a dinner reservation, or even turn off your lights.  So yes, [ro]bots are beginning to appear, but hardly as the maid in the Jetsons or the killers in Terminator 3.  They provide a pervasive intelligence through a variety of innovative devices to enhance our lives.

Preparing an Intelligent Brand

Today’s leading retailers are beginning to incorporate AI and machine learning into their marketing and business models to create stronger, lasting customer relationships.  Here are some ways to begin transforming your brand in the age of intelligence:

Take Authority

One of the most important ways to establish brand intelligence is to be the authority of your brand within today’s graphs.  Each retailer is responsible for ensuring their NAP (name, address, phone) is appearing accurately across the growing list of data sources.  Consumers are no longer relying solely on websites for retailer information, but trusted third party sources such as Yelp, Google/Bing Maps and OpenTable. According to Yext’s internal research, they saw 4.8X more actions from intelligent services than from websites.  Examples include accessing store hours and locations, booking reservations, getting directions, finding coupons, reading reviews, etc.  Retailers should rethink the value of their website and imbed structured data within their site to ensure the engines can easily retrieve information to support intelligent activity.

Build Conversations

Up until now, chatbots have been primarily used for customer service.  But now that word error rates have reached human parity and chatbots have AI capability, they will gain importance throughout each stage of the customer decision journey.  Gartner predicts that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with an enterprise without speaking to a human.  Retailers should begin brainstorming ways to leverage chatbots throughout the consumer experience.  Microsoft has created a bot developer framework to help retailers get started.

Create Skills

Voice search continues to go mainstream as we incorporate it into our daily tasks.  Consumers are showing strong interest in using voice across all demographics and in new voice devices such as smart speakers.  In a recent local voice search study, Bing researchers found that 40% of respondents who did not currently own a smart speaker, plan to buy one within 6 months.  Skills enable intelligent services on connected devices, such as smart speakers, to help retailers engage with consumers in new ways.  Microsoft offers a Cortana Skills Kit to help retailers create intelligent, personalized experiences for their customers.

Be Relevant

How will bots determine the best singular answer to a voice request?  How can retailers ensure their brand gets into the consideration set?  It’s going to be relevance.  A recent article in Mediapost on relevance introduces the term “relevance score” and how it will drive results of future voice searches.  Not only will brands need to be relevant, they will have stay prominent with high user ratings.  As consumer relationships become more bilateral and conversational in nature, reviews will play an even bigger role in helping agents determine which result to pick.

Interested to learn more about Microsoft’s perspective on intelligent marketing?

We’ll be at Advertising Week New York in a few days speaking throughout the week on the Bing and Playstation stages on AI, leadership and culture, plus a raft of other topics that are top of mind for advertisers and marketers right now.

Check out the Advertising Week Session Calendar and look forward to seeing you there!

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