Artificial intelligence makes brand personalities come to life

Source: Taco Bell
Sep 12, 2017

[email protected] staff

Presented here for discussion is a synopsis of a current article published with permission from [email protected], the online research and business analysis journal of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is reinventing the creative landscape for marketers. One big leap: Brands are no longer merely seen as objects, but entities with personalities that can interact dynamically with people, according to Winston Binch, chief digital officer for Deutsch North America, the ad agency behind Taco Bell’s award-winning taco-ordering chatbot, the Tacobot.

Tacobot, still in beta mode, lets consumers order tacos via natural language and last year earned a Cannes Lions award. With over 10 million Alexas in the marketplace, however, voice is expected to drive the next step in AI-driven communications for brands.

“When I think about the power of these technologies, they can function like the best advertising, which is to emotionally connect,” said Mr. Binch on a recent “Marketing Matters” show that airs on Wharton Business Radio, SiriusXM. “But it’s not disposable. You can have long-term conversations with your customers. You can learn more about them. This technology gets smarter.”

With most of AI-driven bots being command based, brands tapping AI will have to develop personalities tied to their purpose to “generate real, collaborative discussions and conversations with customers.” He admits that’s easier for a brand like Taco Bell.

“Tacobot is such a defined personality already,” said Mr. Binch. “[Taco Bell is] about igniting the unexpected. They’re surprising, fun, really social. So, it was somewhat easy for us in Taco Bell to write that character. The bigger challenge is when we work with brands that still maybe don’t know who they are.”

Mr. Binch believes most consumers will be open to machine-driven conversations if it speeds processes and makes their lives easier. He doesn’t think, however, that AI will replace marketing creative.

“I believe that if you’re a great writer, there’s lots of opportunity for you in the near future,” he said. “The reality is that AI is just numbers in code. We still need humanity applied to it to make it truly engaging. So, the robots are coming. Maybe the future is a comedian and a robot together.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think of using A.I. to help define personalities for brands? Does artificial intelligence technology have the potential to elevate engagement between brands and consumers? Do you see more upside or downside to AI-driven brand communications?

"AI, specifically voice activated commerce, has huge potential for specific demographic segments."
"AI shouldn’t entirely replace human support, but it’s an excellent supplement if you make sure it has the genuine voice of your brand."
"...think of “AI” as “augmented intelligence,” rather than “artificial intelligence.” "

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18 Comments on "Artificial intelligence makes brand personalities come to life"

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Bob Amster

“Talking” to your brand? It could work, but it seems that we are pushing some things to the edge of reality (pardon the pun).

Adrian Weidmann

Artificial intelligence is one of the most exciting new frontiers for all aspects of retailing and the shopping ecosystem. The human voice is filled with tremendous insights into our emotions, intentions, reactions, interests, etc. Unleashing those insights through audio analysis adds an entirely new dimension to retailing and shopping. Recognizing those insights and being able to respond accordingly provides the basis for a meaningful conversation between a brand and a customer. The key to success is the need to be bidirectional, discreet, meaningful and not creepy. If this become simply a data-mining exercise to throw more advertising at shoppers in the name of personalization it will fail.

Lee Kent

As AI becomes embraced by many retailers, it is no longer the competitive advantage it once was. Looking for that competitive edge should still be part of the game and creating personalities might just work for some brands. One day consumers will come to expect conversations with bots and will expect easy, smooth experiences with the brand. Why not give them a name and a voice? There is so much a brand could do with that. For my 2 cents.

Kiri Masters

AI, specifically voice activated commerce, has huge potential for specific demographic segments. For instance my grandparents, who are either unwilling or unable (likely both) to learn how to navigate the touch screen of an iPad but could certainly interact with a voice-activated bot.

Other segments besides the elderly that stand to gain significantly from these developments include the vision-impaired, non-English speakers and people who are physically unable to use keyboards and hand-held devices alone.

Neil Saunders

AI isn’t really defining the personality, is it? The writer is doing that when they write the script AI follows. Not that this isn’t sensible; a more conversational AI will likely get better conversion rates and feedback than a boring, functional one.

Ralph Jacobson

Because there is such a great opportunity for brands to come alive with machine learning technologies, I like to think of “AI” as “augmented intelligence,” rather than “artificial intelligence.” There are some really good, established examples of what we tend to call “chatbots,” with online retailers like 1-800-Flowers. This online brand “ambassador” has been learning about shoppers for around two years and has done a good job at finding the right gift for shoppers who use the technology.

I think this is the future of shopping as more and more retailers take advantage of this capability.

Dave Nixon

Brilliant! “Think of “AI” as “augmented intelligence,” rather than “artificial intelligence.”

Cristian Grossmann

AI is an exceptional tool to engage with customers. It’s a quick, fun way to get them answers they need quickly. It’s also a way to gather feedback to always keep your finger on the pulse of your customers. AI shouldn’t entirely replace human support, but it’s an excellent supplement if you make sure it has the genuine voice of your brand.

Cynthia Holcomb

I sure hope AI has the ability to go beyond current voice selection prompts used by everyone from the Federal Government to Comcast, and the millions of other companies whose voice prompts are a path to nowhere but frustration.

Will it be nice having a personified “brand personality” chat with customers? If all goes as planned and the customer can get where they want to go or what they want, then yes. Any hiccups, then just like when a human personality rubs another human the wrong way, so will the “brand personality.” And then, of course, the tone and word selection of the conversational language of the “brand personality” must be relatable to the caller or otherwise due to the subjectivity of words and tone, the “brand personality” could be a turn off to a demographic of customers. Tricky stuff.

Doug Garnett

Some days I really worry about how many marketers seem to have lost contact with common sense.

Online “authenticity” has generally delivered anything but authenticity. “Relevance” has turned into “this consumer is relevant to ME! (Bwa-ha-ha-ha).” Content marketing is mostly a big bait and switch to foist advertising on people who were attracted by non-advertising.

Now we get the idea that algorithms will become personality?

AI and bots can have tremendous value doing what tech does — eliminate the repetitive, mundane activities. But the theory it can be personality is warped. Yes, some tech company might promise it. But we should remember how many promises from tech simply don’t ever happen.

Retailers need to stay focused on using algorithms (it’s NOT true AI these days) to speed things up, save money, and respond quicker.

Kai Clarke

Brands have always been personalities in and of themselves. That is the crux of great marketing … attaching a current “personality target” to a brand. Coke is a great brand. So is Budweiser and Subaru. They don’t need AI to do this for them. Attaching the driving “Barkley” dogs to a Subaru car gives it more personality. This has been true for years, since great brands attached benefits to themselves that personified their audience. Artificial intelligence will not make brand personalities come to life, only great marketing can do this.

John Karolefski

Here is my first thought: What a wacko idea! I would not want my brand of toilet tissue or cat sand to have a personality. Upon reflection, it might work for such already-engaging retail brands as Costco and Trader Joe’s. It could help define an evolving brand such as Whole Foods. Or the whole notion could be another example of techno-nonsense.

Hilie Bloch

A.I. is the best technology now available to define the personalities for brands and help segment targeted customers. By collecting specific publically available data streams from social media and integrating that information with proprietary sources from brands and their retail partners, companies are better defining their value proposition to shoppers. This results in an ongoing conversation between brand and customer that both extends the shopping experience well beyond the store or site and establishes the platform for marketing moving forward.

Dave Nixon

AI should be deployed in order to achieve scale and consistency in gathering a richer data set around your shoppers or customers. But it will not be a replacement for genuine, 1-to-1 authentic customer service needs. Using AI across a retail or CPG enterprise can allow many more interactions, that provide that richer level of data that can be acted upon. This “data cycle” creates opportunities to increase the level of Customer Experience overall. It will supplement our CX work at scale than becoming the standard. AI will not necessarily (currently) handle the sentiment and empathy perspectives we leverage in verbal communications.

Liz Crawford

The future is here. Brands are the natural heirs to AI.

We have been trained to interact with brands from childhood. That brands should be animated with AI is only the next step in our complex relationship with them. Hey — brands are our “friends” already, but now we can finally talk to them! Is Ike the toybox coming to life in the middle of the night?

Ricardo Belmar

AI is just one more tool in the toolbox for brand marketers. Used well, and enhanced by voice, it can absolutely deliver a great experience for customers. If exploited, like any other marketing tool, or depended on for too much, it will not lead to authenticity but just the opposite. Maybe this really will come down to the writers of the personality behind the AI. Then again, let’s not forget what happened to one of Microsoft’s early chatbots on Titter in recent years that was fooled into spreading hateful messages. Hopefully the technology is beyond that now, but technology is only as good as the marketers who control it!

Joel Rubinson

Talking to a bot makes a brand come alive? What is this, a Twilight Zone or Black Mirror episode? Lars and the Real Girl? AI, natural language bots are a good idea, but they are not people.

Kim Garretson

AI is emerging across the marketing landscape, including in the planning departments of retail and brand agencies and marketing departments. A product call Lucy, built around “her” as a helpful tool, from Equals3, uses AI natural language to speed and ease where retail marketing dollars should be targeted.

"AI, specifically voice activated commerce, has huge potential for specific demographic segments."
"AI shouldn’t entirely replace human support, but it’s an excellent supplement if you make sure it has the genuine voice of your brand."
"...think of “AI” as “augmented intelligence,” rather than “artificial intelligence.” "

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