AI Marketing: Can the Matrix Buy Milk?

AI is the continued topic of discussion in 2017 and will no doubt remain so for the foreseeable future.220px-HAL9000.svg.png Enabling machines to learn, make decisions, and adapt to circumstances without input from people (rather than simply obeying pre-programmed instructions) is the reality of the post-modern world. And while it presents tremendous advantages to society and businesses, there are just as many disadvantages. Being a product of a certain generation, I can’t help but conjure up memories of Terminator and The Matrix with self-aware, self-programming machines running amok.

But there are probably more people who subscribe to the more optimistic view that applying a more restrictive, less autonomous form of machine learning to the wealth of data could help identify correlations and patterns that were impossible for humans to see before. And the potential advantages are limitless – new ways of treating illness, quicker response times for emergency services, etc. From a business standpoint, offers will become more personalized, more relevant, and potentially involve less direct interaction (imagine your home being able to order groceries based on what it has learned about your tastes, habits, or medical needs). Imagine HAL 2000 with a heart of gold.

That said, there was quite a stir last year about customer service chatbots last year, but most of these were actually very limited, merely guessing the most likely answer to fit the question. Impressive to a point, but hardly the breakthrough we’ve all come to expect from SiFi. Real AI, underpinned by natural language processing, neural networks and machine learning, will understand how humans think, talk, and categorize concepts, making it smarter and easier to interact with. It’s simply a matter of time and processing power. And the more we use it, to depend on it, the better it will become. So we will no doubt see a proliferation AI buddies in the year to come, such as Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana, etc. .

With AI, we have the opportunity to build decision-support systems that see, hear, understand and collaborate with us to help make decisions faster, more relevant and better informed. Which brings up an interesting idea: to whom do we market? Human beings are the obvious, unchanging element in the process, but are we on the verge of having to think about how to market to the machine? And if so, what does that look like?

If AI has the potential to act without our involvement and on our behalf, then we need to be ready to “sell” to the machine. And if AI can learn to make judgements about our personalities and those things to which we have an emotional or culturally grounded response, then our virtual assistants will be targets for marketing. For example, milk is more than a commodity. My assistant will be able to discern that I have a taste preference for glass-bottled, clover-fed milk. But it will also know that consumption aligns with my workout schedule, that I need to reduce my fat intake due to my age, and that I have a dinner party coming up where milk is likely to be used in cooking. It will have to weigh all of these variables, just like I would, and make decisions about what to buy. And that’s just milk. Now apply that to a car, a medication, or a vacation. The implication is that we will need to consider the possibility of marketing to a device that is weighing the same sorts of variables a human being would way, but which has a very different way of conceptualizing, categorizing, and responding to the world. Welcome to the brave new world of marketing to machines.

 

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Do Awards Matter? Hell Yes They Matter!

I read recently that awards in the ad industry have lost meaning, winner.jpgthat they now longer matter. While I would agree that their relevance has changed, overlooking their role in landing (and retaining) business shouldn’t be ignored. So how important to advertisers are the creative awards in reality? In this era of data and technology, one might expect marketers to talk about creative awards through gritted teeth. After all, much of their time is now spent trying to justify the value of every aspect of marketing at boardroom level.

The rational debate is not over creativity versus effectiveness, but about connecting the dots between creative prowess and advertising effectiveness. The obsession has fallen to data, with some justification. But with more data and more media channels, it is important to have a glue to keep the brand, campaign, or communications strategy together – that glue is fundamentally a great idea, which goes through a creative process to deliver an effective business result.

I certainly understand the nervousness that exists in the minds of our clients, who are trying to look good in front of their bosses. They need to demonstrate their value.  Makes sense. They would rather win effectiveness and not creative awards, which can be seen to carry a greater element of risk. But if an idea is not brave or does not grab attention, how can it be effective? It would be like walking into French Laundry and being served on paper plates. OK, that may be a bit extreme, but you get my point. For work to really cut through and drive a significant change in performance, it has to be highly relevant at an emotional level. And one of the primary ways of achieving relevance is through creativity. Creative awards are a benchmark against which not only great work, but also effectiveness, can easily be measured.

Creative awards also help drive innovation, explore new ways to touch the consumer, encourage the sharing of best practices. Being recognized externally for great work means that the people we employ, from strategists to designers to account folks, can be even more proud of the work they produce and know they are world class. Awards attract better talent, while keeping the best we have from looking for greener pastures elsewhere. Even the smallest shops can raise their profile with some lions, Addys, etc. Metal on the shelf and a mention at Cannes puts everyone involved on the ad world radar.

Awards are a shot in the arm, both for the agency and the clients. And clients, at least those we all dream of working with, have started to take notice because awards do heavy lifting for them as well. They raise their profile, they make them look smarter, edgier, more innovative, more effective. They make them relevant. Clients know that if you are pushing to create award-winning work for them, you are pushing to make the best work possible. And that’s a win/win for everyone.

 

Politics, Protest, and Branding

It’s not just individuals choosing to make a political statement these days. The list of brands stepping forward to voice their concerns over President Trump’s Image result for protestpolicies is growing (we can assume some will show support but I have not seen these yet). The act of creative protest is being seen by many brands as an opportunity to take a stand for what they believe in and share their identity with the world. But is a political protest the right place for brands? Is it genuine or opportunistic? And from an economic standpoint, is it wise?

As with everything like this, the answer is complex, but it comes down to internal branding, culture and employee engagement. These tech firms issued statements to reassure their own people that they care and are taking action. That internal action then flows through to an external brand perception and consumers see the brands they use and buy doing something that resonates.

In my humble opinion, brands don’t really have a choice in whether to be involved in protest now. Nearly everything is politicized in the current environment.  And as people are increasingly buying things based on what aligns with their own social values, it’s almost impossible to remain on the sidelines.

A brand can get involved in politics, but it’s a risk since people care deeply about social and political issues. Brands can make it seem like they’re taking the issue lightly. They can portray to great a sense of gravitas. That runs the risk of a brand appearing like it’s seeking attention rather than making a firm commitment to a set of values. So, when venturing into a politically-charged branding effort, campaign, etc., you’ve got to judge the climate and how the brand’s involvement will be taken, both by its most ardent supports and its detractors. Brands will get dragged into political debates, whether they like it or not, so it’s wise to get in touch with the audience, understand what matters to them, and be on the firm ground with their support. So long as it’s done from a place of authenticity, it will work.

Consumers are increasingly buying into the ethics and points of views of brands and the organizations that produce them which means there is a role for brands in political milieu. It’s wrapped up in marketing and brands with purpose. Add to this that social media has required brands to be current and conversational, and the conversation of the moment is the tectonic changes in politics, media and society.

However, not all brands should be diving into the political fray. Using something as sensitive and incendiary as the now infamous “alternative facts” comments of the administration to sell products won’t go down well in some camps. Not all brands will have permission to do so. Like it or not, history and audience affiliation shape what a brand can realistically do. If a brand belittles or trivializes something important, then that is a mistake.  But if there is a connection to the cause in some way, like Tecate’s obvious association with both Mexico and a segment of the US population that is increasingly welcoming of other cultures, then protesting the wall can amplify the protest sentiment of their target audience and build its value and connection.

In the end the best brands, those we feel a deep connection to, are those that stand for something. They are the ones that people are attracted to (or avoid). They have meaning in the broader cultural dialogue. For better or for worse, brands are stepping up and become symbols that drive beliefs – and actions. People seek out brands who fight for the things they care about. Getting it right and capturing your share of cultural relevance is simply the way of things in a politically charged world.

 

Nativism and the New Innovation Landscape

The U.K.’s vote to leave the EU and America’s election of Donald Trump have both been credited, in part, to a rising tide of nativism, anti-immigrant fervor, and the belief that excluding people will boost the economy. Many native-born voters believe foreigners will (or have) hurt them economically. And with manufacturing on the decline in the US, their pain, though largely unfounded, can’t be ignored. But exclusion won’t bring back blue-collar jobs in an increasingly innovation-centric economy. The emergence of nativist sentiment across the so much of the globe (including Germany’s right-wingAfD party, French politician Marine Le Pen and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) is ultimately going to backfire.

Indeed, the United States’ more welcoming, pre-Trump immigration policies are why Silicon Valley is in California and not elsewhere. A central reason the U.S. has been so successful, so entrepreneurial, is because there are so many immigrants here, bringing not only new perspectives but the drive to create.  And that is precisely how a country should act, actively seeking out the smartest people, the most entrepreneurial people, the most creative people. If a government doesn’t understand that, we have a big problem.

The growing propensity for nativism stifles innovation, leading to new opportunities for countries. Not that I begrudge then that. Far from it. The point is that isolation breeds stagnation and countries need to be aware of this. Countries will, in the near future, compete for the best talent the way companies do today. Smaller countries such as Estonia and Portugal could easily disrupt the large ones that turn away newcomers. Ireland has already been extremely successful in this regard.

Small countries don’t have anything to lose and everything to gain. Returning for example to Portugal, the nation has largely been dependent on tourism for ages. But increasingly they see that technology is a springboard to economic development. Boarders and nationality mean nothing, and attracting talent is a matter of providing an environment that encourages innovation, the sharing of ideas, and the inclusion of a wide range of perspectives. They have beautiful, inviting cities, nice beaches where people can work, and a welcoming culture, so why not create a hub there for startups? Why not position Portugal (or Argentina, or Costa Rica, or anywhere else for that matter) as an innovation hub?

Ultimately, as nativism takes hold, the traditional centers of innovation run the risk of seeing much of draw eroded. They will by no means crumble into ruin, but they will lose out on economic growth as their status as welcoming environments wanes.

 

Love, Passion, and Attachment

Brand love is a rich concept in the field of consumer behavior. If the consumers love a brand, then sales volume of the brand will increase, as brand love gets transformed into brand loyalty. So, marketers should formulate appropriate strategy so that the brand has a strong emotional appeal and target customers fall in love with the brand. This matters because post-consumption satisfaction is likely to lead to emotional attachment with a brand over time with multiple interactions with love.jpgthe brand. It implies that cumulative satisfaction over a period tends to lead to an emotional bonding between consumer and brand. Satisfaction with the brand positively influences the feeling of love towards the brand. Individual romanticism and brand love, the romantic individual is highly emotional and seeks pleasure. So, brand love is also an attitude towards the brand, creating that sense of brand love we so desire. Brand love is highly affective in nature. As such, favorable brand experiences lead to love towards a brand over time. Favorable brand experience positively influences brand love. Individual romanticism and brand experience, romanticism enriches the experience-seeking process surrounding any act of consumption through subjective personal introspection. But is love enough?

Increasingly, you hear people talking about brand attachment, which has three central elements:

  1. Affection: (connection to the external face of the brand)
  2. Connection: (the brand’s alignment with my values)
  3. Passion: (desire for something specific within the brand)

When these three emotions are in play, it is highly likely that there is attachment. It may be an indirect influence on the brand, but it is a strong influence. More than brand loyalty, brand attachment almost becomes a part of you.

Whatever it is that attracts you to a brand to begin with most likely has to do with the way marketing and advertising have served up the content about that brand. It’s the first date, so to speak, when the brand catches your eye and makes you take notice.  This is the point in which you are then brought into what “virtuous circle of brand attachment.” There are three specific phases for the brand, which follow along this path. From each of these, it leads to the other:

Advertising & Marketing to –> Brand Attachment to –> Financial Performance

So, if I am so attached to a brand, let’s say Basil Hayden bourbon, then it follows that by my buying it repeatedly, their financial performance improves. Multiply that by millions of customers, and your bottom line is happily shored up by engaged, repeat customers.

The good thing for brands and companies is that people with strong brand attachments influence other people around them. So, in this sense, there are advocates that develop from their strong brand attachments. These fans or followers of the brand are not only becoming fans or followers to stay, they are also bringing their friends along, increasing the brand’s customer base. They are true brand evangelists, meaning their connection goes beyond brand loyalty. It builds a sense of devotion. It builds passion. The benefit to the brand is that these loyalists are more motivated to devote their time to trying to bring others into the fold. They defend the brand, degrade alternative brands, and devote more time to the brand through brand through engagement is social media.
The message is simple. Find out what your customers’ passions, connections and affections are. Target your marketing efforts with that in mind, and see how they follow by becoming attached to your brand – not just showing loyalty, but true attachment.

 

 

Embracing the Whiteboard

Navigating nearly any company today means being well acquainted with whiteboards, sharpies, and post-it notes. But how they’re used differs from setting to settings. In most corporate environments, you rarely see them used as a tools for innovation. Whiteboards in conference rooms are often devoid of any meaningful content and those hanging in offices are typically to-do lists.  Post-its are reminders to call such and such department, mini to-do lists, or notes to pick up milk on the way home. In contrast, agencies (whether design, advertising, or any other creatively inclined job type) use them as tools for ideation and collaboration. The reason is simple: in any creative firm, we sell time and thinking. Whiteboards and post-its are the tools by which we bring these things to life.

This isn’t to say that corporate environments lack the creative spark, but deign and idea generation follow a different pattern and are one of a number of functions. Additionally, most corporate environments are not designed spatially to drive collaboration in what is, ultimately, a very public, very exposed way of creative problem solving. People are spread out over multiple floors and grouped by departmental function rather than by task. What this means is that cross-functional teams are difficult to bring together in a single space where they can have discussions and working sessions with a shared work pallet. In an agency setting, because we sell ideas above all else, the shared space becomes the norm out of necessity. Collaborative ideation is the central theme of most interactions, and therefore the public expression of the ideas are emergent. In other words, we must come together and work very collaboratively in order to fulfill our central functions – design and innovation. You have to see thoughts develop in real time, respond, build, break, and build again.

Why does any of this matter? Because what I’m suggesting is that for a corporate setting to become more adaptive, more creative, and more inspired, it needs to embrace the idea of an iterative, public work process. It needs to take a design thinking approach to daily problem solving. Design thinking is an approach that can be used to consider issues and resolve problems more broadly than within professional design practice, and has been applied in business and to social issues. Design thinking includes “building up” ideas, with few, or no, limits on breadth during a “brainstorming” phase. This helps reduce fear of failure in the people involved in the work and encourages input and participation from a wide variety of sources in the ideation phases.

In order to survive in today’s complex world, organizations need to generate, embrace, and execute on new ideas. That takes creativity and a creatively capable workforce. It also means embracing the whiteboard and ideation in an open forum.  It’s the secret sauce, or in evolutionary terms, it’s what keeps you fit. Organizations without it can’t compete. So, pick up the sharpie, break out the post-its, and step up to the board. The end results will transform your company and your brand.