Last week, I attended MobileBeat 2017, an event exploring the major trends around mobile and digital disruption for mobile product innovators, investors, brands, and marketers today. This year’s event focused on, “How AI, messaging, and personalization will rock your world” and it didn’t disappoint.
While I only attended the first day of the two-day event, hosted by VentureBeat’s talented editorial staff, I heard from speakers with the Golden State Warriors, Lowe’s Innovation Lab, Trulia, Nest, OpenTable, IBM, Coca Cola and more - all discussing how their organizations are using AI to build better experiences for their customers. From “Bot butlers” in homes to how 130-year old companies like Coca Cola are innovating with AI-powered vending machines, these are the three main themes that stood out the most to me.
1. Brands Are Using AI to Elevate Customer Experience Through Personalization
While this isn’t necessarily groundbreaking (marketers have been using personalization to create more effective campaigns for years) the specific examples of how brands are utilizing AI are more interesting than you might think. For example, Lowe’s Innovation Labs’ Director of Narrative & Partnerships, Amanda Mamma, spoke about the OSHbot robot at select Lowe’s stores that scans inventory and helps customers find products in the large retail store. Lowe’s then uses the data collected through customer interactions with the robot to better understand their needs and better inform business decisions (marketing included). Nest’s General Manager, Michele Chambers Turner, spoke of Nest’s facial recognition software that is being used in homes to help identify when family members are at home, and more importantly, send an alert when they’re not. Lastly, the Golden State Warriors use an AI chatbot within Facebook Messenger to act as the ultimate playoff assistant, answering questions in real-time and bringing stats, highlights and other relevant content to adoring fans.
2. Data Powers AI
As with anything that learns, it’s only as good as the data coming in. If machines are programed to learn based on new information, that new information must be accessible and useful to the system. A company that stands out for effectively utilizing its rich data is OpenTable. As a leading provider of online restaurant reservations, OpenTable is uniquely positioned to utilize a mass of data that is simply not available to other companies. OpenTable can see the customer journey from discovery to transaction, including all of the restaurants you considered before you made a reservation. With user preference and behavioral data constantly flowing through the system, the company can make relevant recommendations to people based on what actually makes sense for them, given past behavioral patterns. Did you notice that if you’re based in New York, you’ll never get a recommendation farther than 10 blocks away? And that if you’re based in Napa, you’ll get recommendations all over wine country? It’s because historically, people located in dense cities choose restaurants that are closer and easier to get to.
3. We’re Still in the Early Days of AI
While there were countless companies at MobileBeat showcasing how they’re using AI, most companies also acknowledged that the systems in place right now are still complex and clunky. For example, the Nest facial recognition software has the potential to completely change the way families think about home security, but the reality is that right now, it’s not perfect. If someone is wearing a hoodie, moving too fast or in bad lighting, the software might not register that person’s face. Furthermore, the system alerts homeowners with updates that they might not need and sometimes sends duplicates, which can be irritating for customers who simply want to be aware of an anomaly, not that their thermostat was set to 72 degrees, as directed. With Lowe’s Innovation Labs, the question of when to add the human touch in addition to AI is still a work in progress. For specific customers, a real human used to appear on the robot’s home screen, which frankly scared people. Another kink Lowe’s is working through is that the robot moves very slowly to avoid injuries in the store, but this can be irritating for customers in a hurry.
While AI has the potential to radically change the way companies learn about and engage with their customers, it’s only as good as the data it’s given and is still very much in the early stages. We’re still years away from the Disney Original Movie’s vision of Smart House, but we’re starting on a solid foundation. Brands who embrace AI technology just might be the winners when it comes to marketing and we’re excited to see who comes out on top.