- Google has acquired Onward, a startup that creates solutions for businesses to automate customer service or sales, Onward said in a blog post. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
- Onward offers an AI-powered chatbot, called Agent Q, that consumers can text and receive product recommendations. The bot is automated to answer simple questions by grabbing answers from a database. Workflows were created to help it answer more complex questions through follow-up.
- The startup also considered what to do when questions get particularly more difficult to answer by a bot and created a visual bot builder that lets users build chat decision trees to provide customer service but also knows when to involve a human to provide assistance. The features can be used with Salesforce, Zendesk, Shopify and Hubspot, TechCrunch reported.
Google's acquisition of Onward is in line with the company’s broader strategy to give marketers more automation tools and signals that it continues to see AI and Google Assistant as key parts of its future business. Since outlining its "AI first" initiative last year, Google has added new solutions to its ad business that incorporate AI or related technology. The company unveiled responsive search ads in July and a YouTube smart-bidding strategy — both powered by machine learning. In April, Google launched new automated processes for AdWords that offer suggestions for optimizing ad campaigns based on previous ones.
Marketers view AI as a way to automate customer interactions and provide more personalization, as well as to help them analyze customer data and identify prospective customers and market trends. Among B2B marketers, 53% say AI will boost a marketing campaign's effectiveness in driving revenue, a survey by EverString and Heniz Marketing found. As their interest in AI grows, marketers are also investing more in the technology. Spending on cognitive and AI solutions is projected to grow 54.2% in 2018, reaching $19.1 billion, according to an International Data Corporation forecast.
The AI space is intensifying, with new offerings available to marketers seeking to incorporate more automation and personalization in campaigns. IBM this week unveiled a suite of new AI marketing solutions, including Watson Ads Omni, an iteration of Watson Ads that allow marketers to deploy AI-powered interactive placements on any digital site. Other tools include the IBM Media Optimizer, helping to optimize programmatic media spend, and Predictive Audiences, which can help marketers develop models of their target customer to allow for more precise targeting and contextual relevance.