AI and Machine Learning: A Future Forward for Brands?

AI machine learning

The Future, It’s Here: AI and Machine Learning

It’s easy to think of an AI-led world as a thing of the future – that movie-like image where robots run hotels, TV ads know your name, and data is more valuable than the gold people ran to California for decades ago.

Yes, the future is blurry, exciting, full of fear, and countless unknowns. Yes, it is changing every day – and fast. But the future is happening, now. In fact, AI is already integrated into the way each of us experience brands every day – even if we don’t know it. You wake up in the morning and ask Alexa what the weather is. You Google Map how to get to your meeting and blast your Spotify Discover Weekly playlist on your drive. You buy a new book based on an Amazon recommendation. You scroll content on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – all while your bank is making sure you’re safe from credit card fraud. There’s AI integrated into all of those brand experiences.

And it’s no longer something solely owned by the tech giants. Smart businesses and brands – big and small, old and new, B2B and B2C – who want to elevate their brand experiences and build a brand fit for the future are investing in AI and machine learning in innovative and strategic ways, today. 

It’s Complicated

Right now, the breadth of AI is huge, and it’s only getting bigger. AI is being used to improve decision making, fuel creativity, increase speed and flexibility, and personalize at scale. Right now, AI assistants are being trained to display complex human emotions like sympathy. Brands like Microsoft are building teams of data scientists, data sustainers, poets, playwrights, and novelists to develop the right AI personality for their brand. Autodesk’s Dreamcatch is being programed to enhance the imagination and fuel the creativity of the most exceptional designers out there. At the same time, GDPR regulations are arising intricate and important questions surrounding privacy and data collection. Teams are hiring in-house ethicists to help navigate issues. With every innovation, comes another challenge.

Each day, the circumference of possibility expands. And this can be overwhelming for brands and businesses trying to find their place in the future.

 A New World of AI and Machine Learning

As a brand strategy agency that works to help brands navigate their space and build better experiences for the people that matter, we have also been watching AI. There is so much to consider, but here’s some insights we are keeping top of mind.

1. Voice Matters

In the same way that people can be disappointed or delighted by an experience with a customer representative, they will also have an opinion of your chatbot or AI system. So what’s important for brands building chatbots today (as are many) to remember is that the voice of your AI system must reinforce everything you want people to believe about your brand.

Alexa is confident and polite but Siri, unlike Alexa, is sassy. This distinction in voice reveals a difference in brand. Apple strategically built Siri to be just like it’s brand – individual, bold, not afraid to say something different. Sephora’s Kik bot is conversational, fun, in-the-know, and a little bit sparkly (think emojis galore) – just like the teen-targeted brand. On the other hand, Microsoft’s Cortana is helpful, but not bossy. So like any new touchpoint, put strategic thought into the experience and use it to reinforce your brand.

2. Decisions, Decisions – Better? Faster? Stronger?

Take Stitch Fix – an online clothing retailer that offers subscription clothing and styling service. The differentiator? Users don’t actually shop for clothes. Instead, they give measurements, connect their Pinterest boards, submit personal notes of preference, and fill out style surveys. Stitch Fix’s machine learning algorithms take in this data and communicate key findings to the company’s fashion stylists (real life humans!).

In short, AI superpowers the productivity and effectiveness of those stylist’s decisions. With greater speed and better accuracy, stylists can recommend even more creative, personalized, in-tune clothing options. The data collected in the process allows Stitch Fix to see style trends before the market itself catches on. The brand even develops fashions entirely born from data – which they term “frankenstyles.”

The collaboration between machine learning technologies and creative, visionary employees is key here. When you join the forces of human and artificial intelligence, amazing things happen. Innovation increases, creativity soars, and employees can hone their strengths. So never forget about the power and intelligence of your employees – you’ll always need their capabilities.

3. Extreme Personalization at Scale

We’ve talked again and again about the power of personalization – and, the demand for it. Now, AI gives brands the opportunity to achieve unprecedented levels of personalization, at scale.

For example, Mercedes Benz created Cobot arms (with AI-technology) that act as extensions of their own employees on the ground. These cobots allow employees to do less manual labor and heavy lifting, and act as pilots of the robots. Customers at the dealership want to see the car with leather seats? Add new dashboard components? This innovation creates the agility to customize right there. No two cars that leave the dealership have to be the same. And customers can see their unique desires become realities in real time.

Considering the moments and experiences you can tailor to your customer’s needs and desires can be one of the best ways of tapping into the power of AI.

4. Trust, Transparency – Are You There?

Although, there is a lot of buzz out there surrounding AI – there is little talk of trust.

And in a world where what privacy is being questioned more than ever, leaks in data happen every day, discussions around face recognition and data collection ethics are commonplace, and new rules and regulations are emerging in response, ultimately, brand trust matters more than crazy algorithm or hyper intelligent robot.

GDPR gives consumers the right to receive an explanation for any algorithm-based decision. Businesses globally are hiring what people call “AI sustainers” – employees who work to ensure that the systems are working properly, safely, responsibly, and ethically. This all comes in response to a greater demand for transparency, and a larger need for trust – one that has been bubbling over for quite some time.

So put resources and focus towards building trust before you launch into something that risks jeopardizing it. And never forget to be human – brands that feel human to people build better, more trust-filled relationships.

Like Anything, Get Strategic

The future might be here, but the fact is that brands are still struggling to use AI technologies to solve real business problems. It’s not that the tech doesn’t work, it’s that people aren’t clear around how to actually use it strategically.

Part of what’s so scary for brands and consumers alike is how open the world of AI seems. It’s expansive and complex – a huge and often risky investment for brands who might not sure how to approach it.

The worry is that AI becomes a black box. So if you choose to invest in AI, don’t make it just another separate R&D initiative. Get people around the table – not just data scientists, but leaders and creatives too – to think strategically about how AI can strengthen your brand, deepen and complement your employees strengths, help you connect with the right people, position you for growth, and ultimately fuel your business into the future.

That’s the future we can’t wait for.

Emotive Brand is a San Francisco brand strategy and design agency.

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