14 Jul 2017 13:05 IST

How the bots are helping brands

Artificial intelligence is changing the way customers choose brands and buy things

Two recent changes in Google’s AdSense network meant to increase transparency in how the technology major is dealing with violations and removing ads from websites has turned the spotlight on artificial intelligence (AI) and how brands are using it to improve their products and services.

This March, Google was forced to thoroughly review its advertising policies and brand controls after major US advertisers such as AT&T, Verizon and Johnson & Johnson pulled their ads from Google and its video service YouTube.

Three months after companies began yanking ads from YouTube because they were popping up next to hateful videos, Google has stepped in again, officially banning pop-ups and pop-unders in the AdSense network to provide a good user experience.

Google has been actively working toward fighting malicious ads for some time now, and has been developing AI tools to engage with consumers.

Indian brands too are turning to AI for this reason. Suhale Kapoor, Executive Vice-President and Co-founder of Absolutdata, a research and analytics firm, says brands these days are rapidly embracing the capabilities of AI to change the dynamics of marketing, and to provide a personalised user experience.

“Since AI has become a part of our lives, marketers are realising that AI can help them to better understand, connect with, and create superior purchase experiences for consumers,” he adds.

With chatbots, virtual personal assistants (VPAs), and voice-activated apps changing the way consumers and brands interact, Kapoor insists the role of technology in human lives has evolved from influence to dependency.

“AI has become more like a glue to stick customers and brands together,” Kapoor says. Apart from “Google, brands such as Apple, Microsoft, Knorr, Skype, Hilton and Amazon are other examples which exemplify the power of AI to change marketing.”

Sachin Jaiswal, CEO, Niki.ai, says AI is an integral and established component of consumers’ daily experience.

Whether it is choosing a movie based on social media recommendations, searching for weather updates on the mobile or interacting with online customer support via bots, AI is behind the scenes delivering very personalised interactions.

Engaging customers

“Customer engagement remains an issue for many brands to tackle,” says Jaiswal. “With an ever-evolving customer base and lack of sufficient manpower, efficient customer engagement (and retention) becomes a problem,” he adds. To counter this, AI has come to the rescue of many brands, especially in the retail and the e-commerce sector.

For example, shoppers can be told which belt matches a pair of pants, or which wine can be paired with a chicken dinner.

And retaining them

“Brands are using similar marketing automation tools to send the right communication. For example, if the user doesn’t move ahead or is stuck at one of the sections in the app or the website, these suggestions are given via AI-powered marketing tools, which could increase the chances of retaining the consumer,” says Jaiswal.

AI programmes are subtly nudging consumers to the next step, especially when they are considering making a big-ticket purchase online but are not ready to hit the buy button.

As Absolutdata’s Kapoor adds, “What really makes the magic happen is when AI drives the process from behind the scenes, creating personalisation that guides the consumer, enabling them to pick up where they left off, and reading their cues and preferences effortlessly to expose them to offerings most relevant to their needs.”

Kapoor insists that customers tend to choose a brand over others when they get personalised messages, or something that helps them through the struggles of buying and decision-making.

Saurabh Mathur, Planning Director at VML India, which is a digital agency and part of the WPP Group, says, “AI is already allowing marketers to apply machine learning across analytics, media strategy and customer service. While its application is only expected to rise with improved functionality, there is an increased interest in using AI to improve the experience that consumers have with brands through the pre-, during and post-purchase lifecycles.” This, he insists, helps consumers choose brands with superior experiences.

Since Google turned to AI and machine learning to help it identify objectionable content, several Indian e-commerce ventures are realising its true potential.

Precise findings

Harsh Shah, co-founder of fashion e-commerce portal Fynd, says since customers tend to shop a lot online, “more than ever before, this gives e-commerce companies a lot of data points starting from which products customers view, which products they like, what they add to the cart and finally purchase. “If we train our AI model around this data, we can get a person’s favourite brand, design and colour. This is where AI pitches in: it helps study the data and decode customer’s favourite brands. Recommendations become much sharper and customer experience gets more enhanced.”

Absolutdata’s Kapoor maintains e-commerce giant Flipkart, too “has been working on an AI solution to boost efficiency and reduce the cost of products for customer. Not only this, EdGE Network, Fast Filmz, IndiaLends, Rail Yatri, Recipe Book and SigTuple are six Indian startups that have recently been selected for a two-week mentorship bootcamp by Google to learn more on AI and machine learning.”

After all, these brands will soon have to learn how to create a hyperpersonalised customer experience, directed to meet every customer’s needs. Since AI empowers marketers to not only use the available data but also put the unused data to work, many retailers are letting AI uncover consumers’ usage patterns and recommending specific actions with immediate benefit. To that end, marketers are then free to chase the next big opportunity and supercharge revenue.

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