IBM’s Watson’s Lucy can be used to determine market segments, develop products, conduct competitive or market analyses, handle media planning, provide the numeric marketing data needs in writing a marketing plan, and assist with salient information in developing a marketing strategy. DR MYLES WAKEHAM, CARL WAKEHAM and MARIA HAMMAN give some idea of the power of AI in marketing.
Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to the creation of human-like intelligence that can process, learn, reason, plan, and discern natural language.
AI comes in three forms, namely, narrow AI, with which we are involved with on a daily basis and which is designed to perform specific tasks within an area (technology with intelligence in a particular domain) and general AI which is not area-specific and can learn and perform tasks anywhere and finally strong AI, which is an artificial super intelligence. Thus far, we have only managed to master narrow AI.
AI uses, among other technologies, natural language processing, speech recognition, robotics, machine learning (ML) and computer vision. An example of AI that you may already be engaging with is SIRI, presently available on Apple iPhones, who reacts to your voice on command. SIRI has the ability to ‘learn’ from you as you request information in the future.
According to Carolyn Frantz (Microsoft’s Corporate Secretary), AI will have a major influence on business and will equally have a dramatic impact on jobs. Frantz asserts that in the future, AI will make as much as 75 million jobs disappear in the USA but will be replaced by 133 million more challenging and less repetitive roles.
Besides its impact on HR, AI will also influence operations and production, inbound and outbound logistics, supply chain management (SCM), finance and as importantly, marketing.
One of the ways that AI is influencing marketing is with AI marketing assistants such as IBM Watson’s Lucy, a cognitive problem solver (in contrast with emotional), which acquires knowledge through a determined learning process.
Lucy can be used to determine market segments, develop products, conduct competitive or market analyses, media planning, providing the numeric marketing data needs in writing a marketing plan, assist with salient information in developing a marketing strategy, creating structured marketing content through a process called Natural Language Generation and so on.
According to IBM, Lucy is a powerful tool marketers “…can use for conducting online research, segmentation and planning and it is so powerful that it can do more in a minute than an entire team of marketers can achieve in months”.
Needless to say, the advantage of a marketing assistant like Lucy is that it can digest and analyse literally all the data a company possesses and once it has absorbed all of this data, marketing personnel, according to Watson, can ask the following questions, when attempting to solve marketing problems:
What are the personality characteristics and attributes of the organisation’s target audience based on a set of predetermined variables?
Which segments, towns or regions should be targeted first in order to maximise sales?
What content mix should be created for the target audience to maximise the attainment of the marketing and promotional mix objectives?
What is the current competitor activity and how can the organisation use such data to make better marketing decisions specifically within environments like retail channels?
The above are questions that companies need to answer in order to formulate marketing strategies that achieve the marketing goals as set by the enterprise. Lucy and similar AI marketing assistants can, therefore:
Create viable segments of a company’s target audience so that it can develop highly personalised content that is designed to appeal to such an audience (target market)
Assist in the planning of marketing strategies by interrogating the needs and wants of the target market and how best to maximise sales and profits because of such market intelligence through programmatic targeting as an example
Implement and control the different strategies so that the firm’s objectives may be realised based on data feedback loops put into place
Create promotion content that is customer-specific so that the organisation’s strategy and promotional mix can be directed specifically at satiating customer and organisational needs and wants.
According to MIT’s Brian Bergstein’s article, which was published in the MIT Technology Review in February 2020, AI as it currently stands:
Cannot question decisions so it is basically led by data which could be incorrect
Cannot explain the decisions it has made to qualify or quantify the decision
Cannot understand causation (why things happen following on from an occurrence)
Cannot measure psychographic typologies
Cannot reason qualitatively, e.g. how people feel about a brand; and as importantly
Cannot understand the concept of, for example, customer loyalty outside of quantitatively ‘crunching’ numbers
So, from the above points, AI must not be seen as a cure-all for an organisation’s marketing woes but rather a tool to assist the firm in achieving better results in the marketplace.
Application of AI in marketing
AI, and systems like Lucy (there are numerous others), will undoubtedly have a huge impact on content marketing as they become more affordable and more popular. They will help companies better understand their audience, and the data garnered by means of AI will allow marketers to position brands more effectively in the minds of current and future customers and put together more effective strategies so that organisational objectives may be attained.
AI will also help them understand what outcomes they can expect by pinpointing accurate customer expectation so that customer-specific targeting can be better planned based upon more reliable forecasting and market intelligence. According to the publication Smart Insights: The Financial Brand (March, 2018), the applications of AI in marketing can be found in Figure 1 below:
Figure 1: Application of AI in marketing
At present Cookies and other engagement tools follow customers as they interact with websites, products, and applications by providing various data sets that will form a personal ‘ecosystem’ that is programmatically targeted by tools and systems. Here relevance is the key to successful engagement by the consumer with variable pricing bases upon the propensity of interest and purchase.
AI can have an explosive impact on marketing throughout the organisation’s relationship with its customers… from demand generation through to the instilling of customer loyalty. It can therefore be used to cement strong and mutually rewarding relationships with customers and help to maximise the lifetime value of the customer.
The IMM Graduate School’s Dr Myles Wakeham is a motivated and well-connected academic and businessman who was instrumental in introducing and adopting CIPS at CPUT as a series of qualifications. He has consulted to a variety of institutions and organisations, such as the South African National Treasury, National, provincial and local government. He is also involved in international research, and with an academic consortium has researched the impact of IT on university education.
Carl Wakeham is a semi-retired ex marketing executive specialising business and brand strategy based on the Wild Coast. He is an ex director and shareholder of a marketing company based in Johannesburg. His special interests are brand development and positioning and has had the opportunity to work throughout Africa with businesses within the Naspers Group and many others He has had the opportunity to gain experience in the Far East and selected countries in Europe where he has lived. He has a BA/MBA and studied other business related fields whilst living in the Philippines and Ireland. He provides a consultancy service to various clients based on project work specifically in the communications /digital fields. He is actively involved in a digital media company where he is a shareholder.
BIO: The IMM Graduate School’s Maria Hamman has over 17 years of combined market research and CX consulting experience. She has worked on both market research projects and customer experience improvement projects with a broad knowledge of research due to working with multiple research methodologies both qualitative and quantitative.
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It is May 2020. Students of the IMM Graduate School are busy writing their Final Assessments, not in a traditional examination venue, but rather on a computer, possibly at home. Now, in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown, the world has no idea how long the coronavirus will directly and indirectly affect us. What we do however know is that every individual, every company and every institution, has indeed been affected by the coronavirus in some way or another.
In this regard, Euromonitor International, a London based independent provider of strategic marketing research, did a comprehensive study to forecast how Covid-19 will possibly affect consumer trends over the medium to long term. To accomplish this, Euromonitor International re-analysed the 10 global consumer behaviour trends it identified for 2020, prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. The objective was to potentially predict consumer behaviour once life return to (the new) normal. Below is a summary of the findings:
Trend 1: Beyond Human
According to Euromonitor (2020), prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus consumers looked at technology, including Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robots to take over certain human functions. Using a robot will certainly be welcomed by many families in completing mundane tasks such as washing dishes, ironing and even making a good cup of coffee. Companies were investigating how AI can be used in their long term strategies to improve efficiencies.
But now, during the pandemic, people are either in quarantine or lockdown, some choosing self-isolation. This has led to a need for contactless services and technology. There has been a rise in the selling of voice controlled technology, the use of chatbots (to obtain information) and the demand in smart speakers and – household devices.
Companies are now investing in robotic automation for example in some medical sectors. Walmart, is using robots to clean its floors. As people are increasingly becoming comfortable to use robots, robots are going to move from a novelty item to an essential item.
Example: Meituan Diaping (China)
Meituan Diaping, in Beijing, China, is a leading food delivery company. Since February 2020, it has been using autonomous vehicles to deliver its foods. Even though this was technology that the company was developing pre coronavirus, the pandemic forced Meituan Diaping to implement the technology sooner than originally anticipated. Their no-contact delivery has allowed it to respond to consumer demands firstly, but it also addresses environmental issues, as the vehicles ease traffic congestion and the electric cars are more environmentally friendly than normal fuel-operated cars.
Trend 2: Catch me in seconds
Through the internet and digital technology, consumers were used to receiving more content in less time. People were not interested in reading long-winded advertising messages. They were seeking personalised, authentic and appealing messages and communication channels. The consumers were expecting brands to identify the most useful content for them. They needed brands to reassure, to provide engaging narratives, and consumers therefore demanded short, speedy and multisensory messages.
Now, amidst the virus pandemic, social distancing and fewer face-to-face interactions have become part of our day-to-day lives. Consumers are worried by the virus and its implications. They are distracted by the merging of work-, home – and play life, all in the same physical space. When reaching out to consumers now, brands must rather be reassuring and supportive, as opposed to selling a product. Brands must show what they are doing to fight the virus and improve public health. Consumers want to be engaged and have fun with brands in these difficult times.
Companies would need to be agile and relevant to engage with people who are preoccupied and scared. This will place them in a good position post lockdown. The world is possibly going to face the worst recession ever, consumers are going to be extra careful on where they spend their money. Brands that were proactive during the lockdown will possibly stand out and be favoured above those that that did not engage in positive ways with their audiences.
Example: Giffgaff (UK)
Giffgaff is a mobile telephone network. The company launched an advertising campaign called ‘putting community first’ with the objective of providing people with the means to be there for each other and be able to share, through a mobile virtual network. Giffgaff went further to provide consumers with information and tips on how to deal with isolation and mental health concerns. Its focus on people rather than product or services allowed the company to build positive brand associations.
Trend 3: Frictionless mobility
People had the freedom to move around in congested cities. This has, in developed economies at least, shifted the consumer’s mind-set from ownership of some form of transport to access of transport. People had the freedom to move around and used apps and technology to access transport and pay for transport tickets.
The coronavirus has stalled this mind-set – people movement is limited and people are vigilant and cautious when it comes to mobility. People have moved away from sharing transport due to the inherent health risks, and in some cases are starting to use their owned transport again. There has been an uptake in cycling again – in Germany pop-up cycle lanes have been created, specifically designed to have enough space to allow for social distancing amongst cyclists.
Whilst consumers will slowly start resurfacing once the worst of the epidemic is over, flexible working hours will be more of the norm. Over the longer term, frictionless mobility will still be important, but maybe not to the extent as pre covid, i.e. rush hour traffic may be something of the past or at least the intensity of rush hour will be substantially reduced. Companies should be looking at investing into alternative sustainable solution, which include the removing or limitations of health threats that transport sharing brings about.
Example: Wheels (US)
Wheels, an electric bike start-up company, suffered huge losses due to the contamination scare. Wheels partnered with Nanoceptic, a company manufacturing self-cleaning service products. Nanoceptic develop a skin on scooters’ bike handles which continuously self-cleans. This allows Wheels to safely redeploy their fleet of scooters, and to adjust rental pricing plans for better deals with regular users.
The bottom line is that companies need to actively limit any health threats to their consumers.
Trend 4: Inclusive for all
Consumers were demanding that companies develop products and services that are accessible to all people, including those with physical or mental disabilities. Consumers wanted brands, products or marketing initiative which make inclusivity the foundation of their business – companies had to embrace people with disabilities, and actively try to understand the needs of such consumers. Business had to enable fully immersive opportunities for everyone.
Now, with the Covid 19 virus in full swing, this trend has become even stronger. Anxiety levels are high, especially for disabled people as they tend to have lower immune systems which makes their risk of catching the virus even more pronounced. Disabled people also requires carers, which makes social distancing impossible in some cases. It has become even more important for disabled people to have access to information. As the general public has a better understanding of the disabled’s world due to themselves being in isolation or lockdown, there has been an increase in community spirit. People are investing their own time in helping such people and putting pressure on companies to do more.
Disabled people, on the other hand, benefit from technology, for example, a greater ability to access virtual reality. Online communications enable more people to interact virtually and participate in a variety of activities. This certainly helps people with mental health problems as well as physical disabilities.
Example:UNESO World Heritage (Machu Piccu)
UNESCO, with their immersive virtual tours, allows all people, including those with physical disabilities, to access Machu Piccu in Peru. It allows viewers to really get a feel for the greatness of the site. Uvisit, the platform that UNESCO uses, enables any business to set up a virtual tour or event, allowing it to reach new audiences.
Trend 5: Minding myself
People were focused on mental wellbeing, including preventing the physiological effects of stress, worry and sleeplessness. Traditional stimulants such as alcohol and tobacco was used by practicing so-called ‘responsible stimulation’. Companies provided products and services enhancing mental wellbeing.
It has now become a matter of rebalancing, of creating a new normal. People need to manage their anxieties, therefore consumer behaviour will focus on self-care. Now, during Covid 19, people are secluded, and many are living in fear of the unknown and even claustrophobia due to living with family with no outlet for physical and/or mental space. People need to learn to live in the new state of unprecedented normality. As there are higher levels of anxiety levels due to the lockdown, people are using products and services that helped them manage their feelings and handle the severe emotional and physical situations. Herbal products and legal cannabis products are in higher demand. Social networks are used to fill the gap left by lockdown and social distancing. The uptake on relaxation and medication apps have increased.
Even after the dust of the coronavirus has settled, mental health will remain a focus. Consumption patterns will focus on the ‘self’ and good mental and physical health products will be in demand.
Example: Mindhope (Spain)
Mindhope provides mental health services. The company started a new therapy platform which connects consumers with psychologist. The platform also facilitates online appointment bookings, and is very easy to use. People who are already struggling can therefore easily cope with the use of the technology.
In general, mental wellness orientated solutions will become increasingly important as Covid-19 has already demonstrated its huge impact on physical and mental health – the ease of use and accessibility for all are key success ingredient.
Trend 6: Multifunctional homes
With the advent and growth of the coronavirus spread, people started cocooning themselves – home became a shelter from uncertainty. Businesses are actively exploring and implementing remote working and the world has seen a rise in the use of technology to make it easier to work, shop and play from home.
Now home equals the office. People are socialising in virtual space. Social media has replaced people’s previous social gatherings. Every day has become casual Friday as people are working in casual clothes from home.
School going children of all ages have moved online and people attend gym -, cooking -, and other classes online. People are now celebrating birthdays both alone and online. Consumers are using online platforms less to promote themselves, as in the past, but rather to stay connected with others. Livestream and video chats are increasingly being used by all.
Euromonitor (2020) predicts that the transition from home as the hub is here to stay. It may not be to the extreme that it is during the lockdown, but working from home will certainly become a greater reality. Consumers will furthermore change their at-home-habits – more working from home and more casual dressing will become the norm. Virtual lifestyles will run parallel with physical activities and – lifestyles when the world ‘comes out’ again.
Example: Zoom (US)
Zoom is a communications technology company. It provides functionality for companies, groups and individuals to create and attend virtual meetings. These services are offered free of charge to schools in some countries. It has become a social platform where people do remote video chatting, share drinks, do quizzes and party.
Companies need to invest in technology and other equipment to facilitate employees to effectively work from home.
Trend 7: Private personalisation
Early in 2020 consumers wanted to received tailored products and services. But there was a general hesitancy in providing personal information due to fears of who has access to data and how will such personal data be used. Business was forced to heavily invest in secure data collection methods in order to ensure privacy.
Now, people are more worried about the virus and more prepared to share data in the name of public health. Privacy concerns are put on hold in the short term. There will be a widespread increase in online ordering and payments, also amongst older people who tended to shy away from this previously, not trusting online shopping. Online shopping has become a necessity and is not a choice anymore. Companies would need to make privacy messages clear, especially for new audiences. Companies would furthermore need to review how they communicate to customers on the benefits of sharing personal data.
Example: Sentinel Health Care (US)
Sentinel is a health tech start-up that monitors consumers’ health remotely. It has launched a fever tracker application, enabled from a wireless thermometer, that sends real-time updates about an individuals’ health to healthcare systems, healthcare providers and so on. Sentinel identified a gap in the market which they were able to leverage by engaging with healthcare professionals to provide a personal solution that appeals to consumers’ desires to have a health monitor join the crisis. But consumers realised that they need to share personal data in order to be able to use Sentinel’s application. The benefits of sharing personal data, in this instance, far outweighed general fears of the potential mismanagement of data.
Trend 8: Proudly local going global
Consumers want products that both have both a local and national flavour. Covid-19 has catapulted this localisation. Consumers are searching for both national and local products and brands that highlights their local cultures, social norms, and traditional habits. Niche brands rode this wave by accentuating the localness of brands as part of their global marketing strategies. Businesses started increasingly to focus on local suppliers as borders were closed, whilst multinationals increasingly localised their overall operations. The virus has created a sense of ‘getting through this together’ through local business and communities support.
Post coronavirus consumers’ fear of contagion will still be strong enough to drive demand for local products. Local producers would need to provide stock and make the products that consumers want. Supply chains will become more transparent as consumers will want to know where their products are sourced. There will be a continued support of local business. The expected recessions after Covid- 19 will force multinational companies to invest even further in local manufacturing and supply chain services to provide more local products.
Example: Withies Delicatessen (UK)
Withies is a delicatessen in Somerset, United Kingdom, that offers local produce. With the outbreak of Covid, Withies started offering a new delivery service of freshly baked products to anxious or self-isolated consumers. Companies that adapt and introduce new services or products secure future trust and loyalty from consumers. In addition, they are expanding their reach to new consumers.
Trend 9: Reuse revolutionaries
Ethical consumers wanted a waste free future where products lasted longer and less waste was produced. Previously legislation surrounding the use of plastic shopping bags have changed in many countries, ranging from the banning of plastic bags under certain circumstances, to the consumer having to pay for plastic shopping backs in other. Such changes had led to the sharing and reuse of plastic in general. This trend lessened through Covid as people were afraid to touch products previously used, even if cleaned. There was a temporary move back to single use – and disposable products and staying healthy and safety.
Now, brands need to rethink – it is more about being clean than being green, as anxiety has moved consumer’s focus to health and safety. Over the medium term consumers will be worrying more about reinfection than green products.
But over the long term sustainability will still remain high on consumer’s agenda. Consumers will slowly return to sharing, reusing, renting and refilling. Companies will still need to embrace the reuse trend and educate consumers about the safety of reusable options. This will include clear instructions on how to reuse and recycle to avoid the spread of the virus.
Example: Refill APP (UK)
Refill APP allows consumers to refill their water bottles from a tap at specific points in the United Kingdom, free of charge. Water is generally found from either fountains or businesses which provide clean drinking water to the public. But now, with the close of many companies, Refill App’s listing has changed. For those companies, however, that can continue to safely provide drinking water, Refill still provides their locations on the app, but with an included message on health and hygiene.
Trend 10: We want clean air everywhere
Younger generations have increasingly raised concerns on air quality and demanded companies reduce emissions to provide these generations with a sustainable future. Awareness of air pollution impacted where consumers travelled and ate. Consumers favoured brands that were doing something about air quality. Companies globally continued to look towards technology to fight pollution.
Limited travel due to the coronavirus had a reversing effect on climate change. Furthermore, there is less room for eco-anxiety. Rather, the focus will shift to indoor pollution, where people will be anxious about their own health, and cleaning, washing hands, disinfecting things and so on will continue. As the lockdown loosens, consumers will refocus on sustainable living to the advantage of both people and the planet. There will be a combined focus on both the prevention of air pollution as well as being clean as the impact of pollution on people with respiratory problems will increase respiratory viral infection.
Consumers will seek solutions against pollution and require companies to actively innovate in their drive to prevent pollution.
Example: BYD (China)
BYD is the biggest electric vehicle manufacturer in China. With the coronavirus epidemic, BYD adjusted its production lines to supply face marks and hand sanitisers, to the volumes of five million face marks and 300 00 bottles of hand sanitisers produced per day. The switching of BYD’s production to manufacture protective equipment captured consumers’ hearts. Companies such as BYD may, post lockdown, be ahead in terms of consumer goodwill relative to companies who did not similar things during the virus spread.
As per Euromonitor International (2020), the coronavirus has to a greater or lesser degree, impacted all the pre-identified consumer trends for 2020:
The trends ‘multifunctional homes’, ‘beyond human’, ‘minding myself’, ‘proudly local’, ‘going global’ and ‘inclusive for all’ experienced an immediate spike as a result of the virus. This was followed by a long term shift in consumer behaviour relating to these trends.
‘Catch me in seconds’ experienced an immediate spike but is expected to follow its pre-covid patterns.
‘We want clean air everywhere’ has not changed, but may be even more pronounced due to the correlation between poor air quality, the coronavirus and respiratory problems.
‘Frictionless mobility’, ‘reuse revolutionaries’ and ‘private personalisation’ were trends that saw an immediate drop but which will expectedly recover after normalisation.
The key take-aways from this research conducted by Euromonitor (2020) are:
Currently, both consumers and business are dealing with extreme disruption, necessitating the need for rapid adaption. Brands need to be repurposed as being useful, helpful and supportive.
In the near term people and companies should use this time effectively to do tasks that they have not had time to do before. Planning should focus on returning to a new normal.
In the long term companies will be forced to reshape their future strategy planning, build in flexibility, prepare for multiple scenarios and possibilities and overall embrace technology.
Angus, A (2020). How is COVID-19 affecting the top 10 global consumer trends 2020?, webinar file in How is COVID-19 affecting the top 10 global consumer trends 2020?, Euromonitor International. Available here. [Accessed on 15 May 2020]
Technology and convenience define the new face of retailing
Retailing in South Africa is changing dramatically, with the evolution being led by technology and a greater need for convenience. The ‘IMM Journal of Strategic Marketing’ reports in its latest issue (Issue 2 2018) that, in an environment where consumer demands are becoming ever more sophisticated, retailers have turned increasingly to digital technology for solutions.
“Digital technology will be the biggest driver of change in retail for the next five to 10 years,” predicts Doug Murray, CEO of The Foschini Group (TFG). Among the group’s brands are clothing chains Foschini and Markham, sports retailer Totalsports, and homeware retailer @Home.
Indeed, TFG has prioritised the adoption of technology and Murray notes that two group directors are charged with keeping track of the latest technological developments and their application in areas relevant to the group.
Among these is the efficient use of big data gleaned from sources such as loyalty programmes and shoppers’ in-store and online product-buying preferences. “Our marketing is highly targeted to the preferences of individual customers,” explains Murray. “Using data analytics to understand our customers and communicate with them in a meaningful way is a key element of our strategy.”
There are other challenges too. Clicks, for example, is working to resolve the often lengthy queues at its in-store pharmacies. “They are the biggest source of complaints we have from customers,” observes CEO David Kneale.
Turning to technology for a solution, Clicks has recently introduced a mobile app which enables pharmacy staff to inform in-store customers when their medication is ready for collection.
Other articles in the latest edition of the magazine include an analysis how artificial intelligence (AI) may impact the future of advertising, and a look at breakthroughs in neuroscience that will benefit marketing and sales professionals.
The ‘IMM Journal of Strategic Marketing’ is published by the IMM Graduate School and is available in print and digital formats.