Welcome to the Tuesday 2¢ . It’s Tuesday, the weekend is a distant memory and it’s time to let off some steam and give our 2 cents on a hot industry topic. This week Ian Truscott thinks about the upcoming age of the machines - if chatbots might kill the marketing star - or if the story will continue, and marketing with it.
You don’t need to be a gifted futurologist to predict the future of consumer experience. It’s very possible that we will soon live in a world where our virtual assistants will learn what we like and, hooked into the few remaining fulfillment retailers, will deliver to us the products of our desires and needs, maybe even before we know we need them ourselves.
Our buying habits and consumption will be observed and as the last of the washing powder is tipped into the machine, a fresh box will appear at our door. Two machines will collude on the transaction, no need for us to peruse the hundreds of options in a supermarket. A virtual assistant will know our tastes and the brands which match our aspirations, and another little chore will be removed from our busy lives. The great consumer Skynet will decide.
This information exchange is one example used by our CEO to illustrate the value of data and content, and is actually just the first step in what he envisages to be the future of information which extends into implants and beyond.
It’s a fascinating conversation during which it was suggested to me that while this would be a great day to be a lazy consumer, it would be the day that marketing dies. After all, with machines making the decisions, is there still a role for marketing?
This is for sure the near future, but it’s not terribly new. As marketers, we already worry about influencing this machine to machine conversation, feeding words into our web servers which we hope will influence that big decision engine for all consumers – Google.
In the world of virtual assistants chatting to us and learning about our needs, you could argue that price will soon be outweighed by convenience. Not convenience as we know it today, but an unseen butler placing before us all that we need for our day. The 10¢ potential saving on washing powder will be ignored due to the fact it’s just there.
Unless, of course, your personal bot thinks you are a thrifty value shopper. Then, maybe, the price of things will become a key determinate in the market. But I mention price in this article as when price is taken out of a buying decision, how do we decide? And how will our personal bot decide?
Many years ago when working in America for the first time, I was invited for cocktails after work. Back then I had no experience of after work cocktails and was unsure what to drink. So I asked the waiter for “the cocktail that James Bond drinks”. During that same secondment in the US I was taken to a shooting range and when confronted with an array of pistols to choose from, I asked for the “the gun that James Bond uses”.
I suspect that during my 30 years as an active consumer, my views on what washing powder fits my lifestyle has become fairly set, and same goes for many of my day to day essentials. Plus, you wouldn’t need to be IBM Watson to detect my brand and product loyalties to Apple, Amazon, Woodford Reserve, Lufthansa (sorry BA), Enterprise-rent-a-car, Pizza Express, Rioja and the Jagdschloss Hotel in Munich.
But when my twenty-something self was faced with a decision of what gun to shoot, there was nothing to go on. It was my first experience (and so far, my last) of making that consumer decision and so in making that decision, I reached for a story, an aspiration, a feeling of something.
I suspect that the people who make the Walther PPK today in Fort Smith, Arkansas, while proud of their association with James Bond, did not purposefully place their product in Ian Fleming’s books in the hope that I would choose their little firearm for a bit of Saturday afternoon fun (whereas BMW certainly did just that when placing their cars in the films).
So regardless of how well trained our personal, virtual assistants are, there will surely always be these moments which catch our attention and shape our consumer behavior.
It’s those moments, of either change (for example an airline pisses you off for the last time) or new consumer experiences, when marketing will continue to play its role, particularly content marketing. Even when the machines are doing most of the transactional work, the story of a brand will still resonate with the placement of the product in our lives and what that says about us.
However, if virtual assistants are going to industrialize our consumer habits, marketers will need to act fast, to be in the moment, as the premise is that once the assistant knows what you like, they’ll take it from there. The time for real time marketing will be…err...real.
So aside from the story we tell and the timeliness of its delivery, sentiment toward a brand will be crucial in this new world. I imagine that, in the same way our email marketing needs to convince a machine (a mail server) that our email is not junk, brands will need to convince virtual assistants that their brand, product or service is trusted and used by other consumers like the one being served right now. Even better, of course, that the consumer trusts the brand so much, they ask the virtual assistant for the brand by name.
And it’s already started. I imagine that there are people shouting at Alexa right now that they want a pair of “Levi jeans”, “a bottle of Coca Cola”, “the trainers that Usain Bolt wears”, “the cocktail that Don Draper drinks” or “the jumper that the fella from RocknRolla is wearing in that Sky Mobile commercial” (OK, maybe that last one is just me).
The difference in the age of machines is that my new virtual assistant (Siri, naturally) will learn and won’t need to be told. She’ll know that my cocktail of choice has now evolved from “what James Bond drinks” to an Old Fashioned. However, what the virtual machines can’t create is the story, the feeling behind that choice. She’ll remember when I first asked for the “drink that Don Draper drinks” but perhaps not why.
So, in conclusion, in the age of machines, marketing will need to be real time, to be in the moment of choice or change, building trust and sentiment for our brand and telling a story that will appeal to our own tribe of consumers.
That sounds a lot like contemporary marketing to me and done right, will be alive and well in the age of the machine.