Brand AI plays are never what they seem to be. In most cases AI technology is still buried too far “under the hood” for a given set of competitors to understand what many brands are having success with.
AI itself is also multifaceted in its applications. Whether it’s in big data, computer vision or other complex new tasks, the underlying technology permits brands to leverage machine intelligence in new and unexpected ways. Natural Language Understanding and Processing and the role it plays in brand AI choices is less understood. It can, however, be more compelling for one particular reason: it gives consumers something they can actually talk to.
This is a massive shift for brands. Before running to the most aggressive growth strategy you can think of, brand AI approaches need to be treated with the subtlety and nuance that gets the best possible results. If brands can use AI in novel ways across their entire customer experience, they don’t just convert more consumers and drive more revenue. They can also transform the responsiveness and satisfaction their customers get with every interaction.
Understanding the Modern Customer Journey
In B2B circles, it’s estimated that the average customer is about 70% of their way through the buying process before they reach out to companies. Where it’s with questions or to explore their interest in products, we can only assume that this percentage is only higher for B2C brands. Sales assistance is more readily available and relied on in B2B scenarios, while consumers are usually able to complete transactions entirely on their own, whether online or in-store (with the exception of cashiers).
For B2C brands, this percentage can only be presumed to be higher. Outside of big-ticket items like cars or expensive services like mortgages, brands tend to simply let their customers loose on websites, review portals, marketplaces, social media profiles and more places where their message isn’t always presented clearly.
In fact, consumers will often purposefully avoid sales representatives, even in store, and usually do it by staring at their phones. Consumers are often left to their own devices, and it’s therefore assumed that “they’ll buy whatever they’ll buy”. This is problematic because there are still opportunities to get their attention and positively influence their purchase decisions. The guidance needed to do this must, however, be immediate and precise for each individual consumer, but achieve this across a large scale of possible interactions.
This is only really possible with a conversational brand AI. For brands to take back ownership of this customer journey, they need to think of all the possible touchpoints where they find maintaining visibility difficult. From there, they need to consider how to deepen their engagement at each touchpoint in order to get more consumer attention and make the most of what they do get. For brands today, this is a matter of finding ways to have a voice, and pulling that voice together across those same touchpoints where consumers already engage.
So, whether it’s ads or a website, third-party marketplaces or in retail stores, brands need to give consumers the ability to reach out and have a conversation about what’s right for them. This conversation won’t always lead directly to a sale. The topics addressed by this conversation could be even anything even tangentially relevant to the brand. Adopting an approach that is open to these conversations is critical, however, because consumers are influenced by a variety of interactions and brand experiences before they even consider a specific purchase. Consumers want instant responses to basic questions. Otherwise, they move on before a brand can actually respond.
Brands in these contexts can’t possibly deploy all the human guidance and assistance necessary except for products and services which are of the highest relative price. The guidance provided in luxury buying experiences – what you get for $50,000 watches and $1,000 sneakers – is something that consumers are starting to expect for $50 appliances and $10 bottles of sunscreen. This is in part because there are so many more choice to make than there used to be, and machine intelligence is the only way brands can satisfyingly respond.
What does AI offer Brands?
AI offers brands a variety of benefits, but engagement, consumer insight and increased sales are the benefits that most stand out in today’s competitive consumer environment.
Engagement today is critical. Consumers are bombarded daily with many thousands of brand messages, and they rarely recall more than a dozen, if any at all. This inundation makes it very difficult for brands to stand out without risking a deeply negative impression. Brands like Carl’s Jr. master this with scantily clad women washing the hoods of classic cars. For brands that don’t want to alienate a large number of consumers, more real value needs to be offered, and that’s where engagement comes in.
Engaging consumers in a dialogue about the products and services they are looking for is far more likely to elicit the response brands want than the one-way messages of the past. The reason those one-way messages are stuck in the past, however, is because the technology needed for a “Brand AI” didn’t exist back then. For the brands of today, advances in technology are finally giving them the opportunity to overcome this classic one-way barrier.
Once brands engage consumers, the benefits of insight and improved sales naturally follow. Conversations with consumers gradually elicit more unique, consent-based first-party insights into what they declared needs and desires are. Leveraging these along with the guidance and recommendations they are already offered can increase sales by as much as 30% compared to traditional web experiences. Consistently delivered, this is something that brands over time will never understand how they did without. Conversational interfaces like the one in the video below are just one example of what’s possible with a “brand AI mindset”.
“Nudge Theory” and Consumer Expectations
“Nudges” aren’t just the annoying things that happen repeatedly to those of us who ride the subway. They’re also intentional behavior modification techniques used by governments and major brands to incite us towards particular action. Nudge Theory was popular in the early years of the Obama Administration, and was seen as a way to encourage “good economic behaviour” by overcoming the natural biases and assumptions that we use daily without thinking.
For brands, thinking about how to influence and modify the behavior of customers without putting them off is essential to driving more sales today. In this data environment, everybody feels watched, observed and even put off by irrelevant marketing messages. Working in more subtle ways to drive conversion is something that is beneficial for both a brand and its customers.
This applies particularly to the situations where you’re being ignored. Without thinking about how to overcome these missed opportunities (excluding the Carl’s Jr approach), your performance simply suffers when you could offer interested consumers a responsive experience instead.
For instance, over 39% of consumers actively ignore social posts made by brands. 88% of consumers are unlikely to buy from brands they ignore to begin with. In the very immediate term, brands need to overcome their inability to offer quality engagements to consumers. Once they overcome that barrier to entry with solutions like conversational advertising, they can also then deploy more engaging solutions across their entire customer journey. They can also connect those conversations to the interactions they’ve already had with consumers, winning with nudges at every possible turn.
We Want To Be Suggested To
Consumers need guidance, recommendations and personalized responses. How many times do you visit a website or walk into a store uninterested in being sold, but still at a loss for what actions to take? Offering consumers the opportunity to receive intermediary engagements – real assistance that helps them get the best outcomes for them – is the surest way to increase their likelihood of actually purchasing a product.
This isn’t just an assumption, examples are plain as day. For instance, 70% of beauty consumers are overwhelmed by the number of products available to them and 63% are confused by the claims they make. Consumers actually want a response to this – half of them are open to “virtual beauty advisors” and other tools to assist them in finding the best products for them.
With brands in all verticals facing the same challenges, it’s only a matter of time before brands begin to deploy a brand AI focus and “win with nudges” at every stage of the customer journey.