On the 25th of May 2017, Google’s AlphaGo AI beat the world’s best Go player in a three game match. The highly complex strategy board game is known for its difficulty and huge set of possible moves, which is what makes this victory such an impressive feat for the champion gaming bot.
Increasingly, we’re hearing about the growing capabilities of artificial intelligence, with many of us encountering and interacting with this technology in our everyday lives without even realising it. With audiences becoming more and more attuned to traditional advertising methods, as well as using a huge variety of tools and platforms to consume and distribute information, it has become the marketer’s primary focus to harness the latest technological innovations in order to reach and engage users. In addition to the demands of consumers, marketers are also looking to exceed the expectations of their clients by using tools and strategies that will allow them to deliver their services more efficiently.
When they’re not busy toppling board game champions, these rapid changes to the marketing landscape are being led by Google, with the tech giant already playing a huge role in shaping the use of digital technology for both businesses and consumers alike. In fact, their CEO Sundar Pichai recently announced a move from ‘mobile-first’ to ‘AI-first’ over the coming years, which gives a strong indication of how instrumental this technology will be in the future of search. The same can also be said of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, whose own investment into AI technology and machine learning has been well documented, as have the efforts of many other influential companies and emerging start-ups.
While AI is often discussed in terms of its future relevance, it is important to remember that this technology is already being implemented by companies throughout the world, across a variety of industries. To provide us with an introduction to some of the tools and techniques that are being used, and to predict where this may lead us in the near future, here’s a closer look at how AI is shaping the world of digital marketing:
AI is already influencing ad creation, targeting and measurement, which is only set to increase over the coming years. One of the most interesting examples of these innovations in recent news was the revelation that Mattersight would be using voice analysis to deliver personalised ads on home assistant devices. According to reports, Mattersight will be using their voice analysis technology in order to deduce speaker personality traits, allowing advertisers to target users based on this information.
In addition to ad targeting, companies are also using AI to gather performance data that will allow them to measure the efficiency of their marketing efforts, which in turn will also contribute to greater accuracy in future campaigns. Google recently outlined how they will use this technology to provide attribution precision to users of their Analytics, DoubleClick and AdWords services, debuting ‘Google Attribution’ at their annual marketing conference. The aim of this service is to give users a clear picture of their marketing performance across devices and interaction points, allowing the contributing sources to gain their deserved recognition, as opposed to attributing all credit to the user’s last click.
While creativity is often the most downplayed aspect of AI innovation, it has actually been used to create visual ads for quite some time now. Back in 2015, M&C Saatchi created what was dubbed as the ‘world’s first’ AI Ad for coffee brand Bahio. This was powered by an algorithm which continuously tested design and copy changes, gradually eliminating elements which failed to engage while reintegrating those which proved successful. In more recent times, the same agency has used IBM Watson to create ad campaigns for Toyota, using behavioural data from Facebook to personalise the content.
The biggest obstacle facing AI ad targeting is the objection to data use, which will be particularly challenging in the European market, due to new European Union laws which will come into place in May 2018. Companies who use data in what is deemed to be a discriminatory or irresponsible fashion could face huge fines, demonstrating the barriers that technology will face as lawmakers seek to ensure that legislation keeps up-to-date with these advances.
Visual Recognition Tools
Visual recognition tools have played a vital role in the development and widespread use of augmented reality applications, which have drastically enhanced the ability of brands to engage their customers and cultivate user generated content. Crucially, these tools bridge the gap between ‘real life’ and digital experiences, providing marketers with greater control and insight into user journeys, and providing unique experiences which encourage addictive use (as is exemplified by the surge of business using Pokemon Go to attract customers in summer 2016).
The most recent example of visual recognition being used to enhance online search is the announcement of the ‘Google Lens’ tool at this year’s I/O conference. Combining image recognition and information about the user’s location, the tool uses the camera feature on Google mobile devices to provide detailed information about these locations or objects. This information ranges from simply identifying an unfamiliar object, to performing more complicated tasks, such as logging into a wifi network using an image of the password sticker on the router.
Aside from the obvious ways in which these tools are able to enhance user engagement, they also provide tech companies with the ability to capture data and further enhance their learning ability. Despite the differences in how Facebook and Google are using visual tools to serve users, their aim to use them in order to understand and respond to user needs is fundamentally the same, as this Variety article points out.
If you regularly read news articles and reports online, it’s highly likely that some of the content you’ve consumed has been composed using artificial intelligence. The most famous of these tools is ‘Wordsmith’, a platform created by Automated Insights which turns data into coherent pieces of content. Wordsmith has been used by several high profile names in the industry, including The Associated Press, who have used it to generate sports coverage and quarterly earning stories, freeing up journalist time and extending their ability to cover multiple events.
To give you an idea of how prominent these tools could soon become, technology research and advisory firm Gartner estimated that by 2018, 20% of business content will be authored by machines, listing reports, press releases and legal documents amongst the range of content that could soon be produced using AI. This is supported by the number of content writing tools that have popped up in the past two years, one of the most recent being PingGo, a start-up which allows users to generate press releases based on answers to journalistic questions on their chosen ‘story’. The company was founded by Sarah Lee, the owner of a PR firm, with the aim of making press coverage more accessible to small businesses and projects that do not have the budget to invest in traditional PR.
Although most content writers are quick to point out that machines lack the ‘humanity’ needed to inject personality into writing tasks which require a high level of emotional sophistication, research shows that audiences are finding the content produced by bots to be increasingly informative and coherent, evidenced by Christer Clerwall’s study ‘Enter the Robot Journalist’. For now, computer-generated content still falls short in terms of its readability and persuasiveness, however, this could drastically improve in the coming years.
Another limitation of current content production technology is its reliance on human input, which is required in order to map out the content and provide the facts needed to produce it. This could change as computer intelligence improves, providing content bots with the ability to understand and produce natural language. Back in 2014, Google’s Ray Kurzweil predicted that computers would be more intelligent than humans by 2029. Considering the progress that has already been made in the past few years, it is not difficult to imagine that bots could become capable of highly sophisticated writing in the not-too-distant future.
While it’s safe to say that AI marketing is still a developing platform in the world of digital communications, it is far from being a distant, futuristic entity that has yet to be harnessed. Brands across the world are using AI throughout their campaigns, while tech companies are piling resources into pioneering the technology needed to facilitate these services for users and businesses alike.
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