Let’s be honest about the state of marketing. It is overtly commercial, nearly everywhere you turn your gaze, and talks to you as if it knows you (and sometimes it knows too much). Advertising straddles the line between creepy and invasive, and the storytelling that was so good in the heyday of advertising in the ’60s and ’70s has given way to offers, invites, and tricks to drive click-throughs in the hopes of a sale.
In my role working with a variety of startups, a recurring theme has recently emerged of bringing humanity back to marketing—you know, the personal call or the knowledgeable shopkeeper.
On the B2B front, this is a reaction to “nurturing” campaigns, which I believe fall somewhere between neutering a brand and butchering a potential relationship. On the consumer side, ads that retarget based on browser history, what is picked up by the mic on a phone, or what is put into a shopping cart make it blatant that data about our behaviors is used to market to us. The result? We don’t believe the advice we’re given and, instead, are willing to buy into the agenda of the recommender.
Where is the humanity? Ironically, artificial intelligence could be the answer. AI gives brands a way to show off their personalities, provide people with fast and accurate answers, and scale to a variety of audiences. But as with Siri (snarky) vs. Alexa (confident yet impersonal), AI can also create a brand voice that creates a lasting impression.
For consumer brands, the “voice” of AI helps marketers establish a vibe that is hard to do with banner and text ads. Here are some examples that showcase AI as both a part of the product and an experience with the brand.
• Lemonade: Who would have thought insurance could be edgy? The folks at home/rental insurer Lemonade have a “we’re in it with you” attitude, which translates to how their app messages you, and it appeals to Millennials with end-of-year donations with leftover funds.
• X.ai: Scheduling meetings is a bore and hardly the most intellectual effort. But X.ai’s Amy and Andrew Ingram play the AI-powered role of personal assistant with a light but helpful negotiation style that gets meetings on the board without the endless back and forth.
• Lowe’s Lowebots: In the store the size of a typical Lowe’s, finding what you need and which version of it can be daunting. But Lowe’s in-store helpfulness has an AI spin in the form of Lowebots, which you can question and have them guide you around the store. AI enables you to talk to them about what you need, then they take you to it.
• Hilton’s Connie: More, um, robotic is the voice of Connie, the AI-powered robot at some Hilton hotel locations. Still more of a robot than a brand voice, it does allow people to ask someone other than the concierge for help.
• Under Armour’s Record App: While you won’t be offered a personality to talk to or a cute-looking physical robot, this app uses AI to calculate and provide custom fitness and nutrition plans based on its use and data from other fitness apps. Humanizing the advice is key to Under Armour’s brand strategy of doing things that make you better.
For B2B interactions, AI is going to emerge under many guises, some more obvious than others. The voice of the brand will still be delivered by reps that handle customers themselves. But under the cover of better scripts, more impactful conversations, and improved training, here are three interesting ways AI is going to change the selling process:
• Qurious.io: This sales training app “listens” to what works for top sales reps and teaches those tips to the newer/more junior folks.
• Drift.com: This platform speeds the time between site visits and sales conversations by using AI to collect customer input, route the call to a rep, and put a meeting on the calendar in one short online chat. (Full disclosure: I have worked with Drift but am not an investor.)
• Chorus.ai: This tool analyzes meetings and conversations, then gives feedback for improvement and improving conversations. Sales-enablement and sales-training teams get to give feedback using AI as the heavy.
Many AI projects are going on that will bring news, weather, content marketing, and internal data decisions to a higher level. But using robots to deliver humanity is the cause I am most hopeful for.
P.S.: This article was conceived, written, and edited by real people.