The following is a guest post from Cheryl Barbee, a strategy director at Wire Stone, a digital marketing agency that's part of Accenture Interactive.
Brands are becoming more human. As consumers increasingly expect brands to hold the same values, consistently deliver on expectations and even offer a personality similar to their own, marketers are increasingly challenged to think about mind-reading over messaging, relationships before revenue and interactions ahead of transactions. And where data, connectivity and digital technology were once the drivers of this "human transformation," now artificial intelligence (AI) promises to wildly accelerate its progress by adding subtlety, scope and scale.
While AI is to poised to become a powerful brand ally, marketers would be wise to keep four central truths in mind before diving in:
1.) Brand AI is all about empathy
Whether interfacing with an AI, a customer service representative or across another medium, empathy is the key to providing positive customer experiences. This is why brand marketing relies so much on customer journey maps and understanding what customers are thinking and feeling across each and every interaction. It's essential to know what the brand is doing right and at what points customers are more likely to become unhappy or frustrated.
When a brand is cold or non-responsive to customers' needs, that's a bad experience. AI on its own isn't necessarily more prone to delivering experiences that lack empathy — it will simply behave as programmed — although customers wary of AI may be more critical of these systems than they would be of humans offering less empathetic responses. To avoid this, marketers must recognize those difficult experiences and iterate to remove them where they arise.
For example, consider situations where customers are in a highly distressed emotional state: a product has failed at a critical moment, a customer has an emergency and needs to change an itinerary, etc. Conversational brand AIs need to anticipate both the functional challenges and emotional challenges in these scenarios. The successful ones will deliver not only the right service or content but the right language and tone as well — achieving an advanced level of careful communication that even humans can struggle to get right.
2.) Brand AI will be able to recognize and measure how customers feel
The technology to support this level of nuance in AI communication is rapidly arriving. Analysis of chat-based interactions is already capable of determining the state of a customer's emotions, and the ability to recognize emotion from the tenor of the customer's voice will soon be available.
The work of iterating and improving brand AI responses based on this data will be a whole new landscape for brand marketers to play on, where stress points and opportunities within the flow of each interaction are waiting to be customized and refined.
3.) Brand AI will make scaling customer service and other interactions simpler
An optimized brand AI can provide a situation analogous to putting the company's most capable and successful customer service representative in charge of every customer conversation, while also making them available 24/7. At the same time, smart use of AI will utilize all records of past interactions with individual customers in order to provide both the content and personalized nuances to best serve each individual.
4.) Brand AI is best introduced through experiential marketing
There are some technologies that can only be properly understood through experience. For example, a TV ad can't communicate what it actually feels like to interact and have a conversation with a brand AI. Marketers introducing this technology should make the most of experiential marketing efforts that bring these AIs front and center with the public. Marketers should design opportunities for customers — or potential customers — to experience brand AI so that they actually understand it, and to help dispel any concerns stemming from unfamiliarity with the new technology.
The arrival of brand AIs will necessitate a fresh exploration of how brands themselves are built. The current approach of constructing a message and conveying it through images and copy will give way to many more brands born out of interactive, conversational and empathetic experiences. As this happens, what it means to be a brand will likely become more about espousing values and acting out of a complex consideration for emotions. In short: brands are about to be much more human.