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Science fiction likes to show us a world where technology is so pervasive, it completely transforms our lives, for better or worse.
Star Wars; Minority Report; I, Robot—all of these films feature sophisticated artificially intelligent machines that work their way around complex, often seemingly impossible problems.
But in today’s data-driven society, there’s no need to watch a movie to glimpse the benefits of artificial intelligence. AI is in the apps we use every day, as well as in the virtual assistants in our homes, thanks to Amazon, Google, and Apple. These services make recommendations and decisions for us in an instant, without much effort on our part at all. As a result, consumers expect brands to know them and deliver more useful products and services on a personal level.
“Good product and service experiences increasingly use data to give you something useful,” says Nick Coronges, EVP, Global Chief Technology Officer, R/GA. “The expectation is that if you’re interacting with a brand through digital, it’s going to learn from your interactions.”
As Coronges points out, unprecedented access to data has opened the floodgates for innovation in the space.
“Things like sensors, images, and data sets became more available,” he says, “but also the data sets were annotated. Add to that better computing platforms such as graphical processing units like those developed by Nvidia, which are allowing us to build more complex algorithms. Those breakthroughs have led to a cultural awareness that didn’t exist before.”
People’s greater awareness about AI demands that brands embrace new data-driven solutions to engage their consumers, infusing artificial intelligence into the core of their product and service ecosystems. Brands can no longer deploy this technology as a clever trick: It must be ingrained in the way they do business. Behind-the-scenes platforms like those created by R/GA Ventures portfolio companies Reply.ai, Lytics, and Clarifai now provide AI and machine-learning services to brands, while R/GA’s Brand AI practice helps companies identify and unlock new engagement opportunities.
Led by Matt Marcus, SVP, Executive Creative Director, and Michael Morowitz, Executive Technology Director, both of R/GA Chicago, the Brand AI team works with companies to move away from one-off utilitarian chatbots and beyond the pilot-and-test phase of AI. The pair believes AI should help build scalable relationships between brands and consumers instead. It should also drive behavioral change. “We’re employing the behavioral economic concept of the nudge,” says Marcus. “We can encourage people to do things that they wouldn’t otherwise do.” Such was the case with Rose the chatbot, a mysterious AI interface that interacts with guests of the Cosmopolitan hotel, in Las Vegas. Rose’s nudges offers guests VIP-like access to experience the hotel’s many amenities, from bars and restaurants right down to the casino floor.
“AI interfaces shouldn’t be designed to just deliver information and be chatty,” Marcus continues. “We’re building systems that are designed to drive business.”
Rose is delivering on her promise to drive business. In the first few months, guests who interacted with Rose increased their on-property spend by almost 40 percent.
AI has started to transform businesses in a variety of industries, including traditional marketing, product development, commerce, and storytelling. Across these categories, brands must start identifying key moments for new experiences without creating any friction for their consumers. This can sometimes feel like a helping hand along the customer journey.
To assist travelers in their decision-making process, R/GA recently developed an AI interface for a major tourism brand. “We’ve created a series of conversational assets,” says Jenna Niven, Creative Director, R/GA.
“The actual system is already pretrained on the landscape of the brand,” she says, “so it has ingested social data, CRM data, website data—all to understand the language of the brand and the language of the landscape. Then we had a huge amount of people actually using the bot, and every time they interacted with it, it learned whether it got the response correct or incorrect.”
The learning aspect of this AI unlocks a new layer of customer service, giving consumers a seamless, personalized experience from the first moment they interact with the brand. “A bot’s long-term and short-term memory can give it context to inform responses,” Niven says. “We can use things like emotion detection to tailor responses and sentiment analysis to know when to pass the bot over to a human. All of these things make sure the user is getting a smooth, positive brand experience from the beginning of the customer journey.”
Whether new or returning, customers should feel a one-to-one connection with brands throughout their journey, from discovery right down to purchase. Marketers will need to find those relevant, useful moments to leverage AI.
“When we transform consumer experiences for brands, it never starts with AI or a chatbot,” says Richard Ting, EVP, Chief Design Officer, R/GA. “It always starts with our designers developing a deep understanding of the consumer and mapping out that consumer’s journey with the brand.
“From there,” he continues, “we look at the various moments along that journey for opportunities to create value-added products and services, brand experiences, or commerce. At that point, our design teams will ideate concepts for the brand. For this part of the process, we have to decide how, where, and when AI can be integrated into the solution.” Ting predicts AI could be applied across all of R/GA’s offerings, from product and service innovation to communications.
For marketers, finding new ways to engage consumers means enlisting technologists and designers who have a common understanding of each other’s roles. This will have long-term implications for the way designers work. Experience designers, visual designers, and verbal designers will all play a key role in establishing a brand’s AI presence.
“Experience designers will have to understand AI’s limitations and potential, and know where to apply the technology,” Ting says. “They will need to know when to leverage AI to alleviate the responsibilities of lower cognitive work, but also know when to leverage it to improve product design and to make our marketing programs more intelligent. By their nature, experience designers will always place the customer at the center of the experience.”
Says Ting: “They are the guardians of the customer. They have to remember to leverage AI to improve humanity and ensure we don’t lose the human connection.”