Target market of one
AI and the future of hyper personalisation They say the past can predict the future, and that certainly rings true for the customer experience of the future. With brands of the future set to increasingly embrace artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, they will be able to determine what we want, before we want it. Already now, algorithms quietly observe our activities and use them to inform our future behaviour, taking note of our preferences to make the mundane more efficient and delighting us with discoveries of things we will like – or at least what the data says we should.
The appeal of these innovations is that once it “gets to know us” it will free us up to focus on what matters, taking on the tasks we no longer have time for, or can’t be bothered to do: make a booking for the hairdresser, keep our fridges stocked, send flowers to loved ones. Its power lies in personalisation, meaning we are no longer saturated by endless choices, instead, only given options unique to our individual needs and tastes.
For marketers, AI and machine learning means personalisation is becoming more and more sophisticated, allowing retailers to supercharge their focus on us individually; a target market of one. This is gold for retailers, who are better able to cut through the competition and hone their dialogue with us; but it is actually in our best interest?
Tim Devine, Executive Creative Director at AQKA, says there are risks that come with hyper-personalisation when past habits shape future choices.
“If you’re an unhealthy person, your shopping list would start to reinforce that,” Devine says. “If you eat poorly then you’re going to get recommended more poor food. That’s what the machines will learn: ‘Well Tim loves chips and soda, there’s a special on chips and soda, I’ll recommend it’. At what point does a retailer change tack? ‘Chips and sodas are no good for Tim, I’m going to start to try and introduce better food choices for him – healthier chips, less sugar in his diet’ and so on. Will this ever happen? Or do businesses just want to keep reinforcing what we buy?”
To prevent AI from running amok, Devine urges that human involvement is crucial. “The customer has to have the agency,” he says. “They have to be able to say, ‘This is what I want’. They need to have the tools to be able to say – ‘more, or less’. People need to be able to be given control over how their experiences are personalised.”
In the age of material abundance, the bar has been set high for individual expectations around the kind of products, services and experiences we seek. The choices we make are increasingly linked to our sense of identity and desire to be our best selves. By individuating consumer preferences and desires, AI helps retailers to fast-track a response to them.
Devine says: “There’s a new Nike store that’s really interesting in LA, where they’re listening on social channels and they’re changing the stock in the store every two weeks to reflect what people are buying online in the area and what people talk about in that area, so that the store is constantly changing. These sorts of experiences are interesting.”
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are also deepening and expanding personalisation possibilities, offering us enhanced decision-making through virtual experiences. VR is particularly strong in industries such as travel, real estate and sport. You can now virtually visit a place before deciding to spend your holidays there, or walk through a house you might want to rent or buy, as well as having a courtside experience at the NBA finals whilst sitting on your couch.
You can now virtually visit a place before deciding to spend your holidays there, or walk through a house you might want to rent or buy.
Will VR travel experiences replace visiting physical destinations in the future? Marketers don’t think so; they see it more as a tool to give traveller’s a snapshot or taste of what is on offer, an enhanced experience rather than a substitute. Alternatively, VR opens up a world of opportunity and accessibility that will allow people to experience more destinations than they are capable of travelling to, whether that be hiking the summit of Mount Everest, or giving people with disabilities the chance to experience surfing a wave in Oahu, Hawaii.
“Voice services are also becoming really effective, so you can actually talk to things,” Devine says. AR innovations such as Google’s DUPLEX, an AI assistant, take over tasks we don’t want to do, able to interact with humans, make reservations or bookings over the phone on your behalf, with a perfect human voice and the ability to make decisions.
In hospitals, voice-assistant technology enables inpatients to ask questions on demand. They can order meals, check when the doctor will be in and request assistance when the nurses are not around. This technology is also empowering elderly people to live independently, enabling them to activate assistance using their own voice, play music and give reminders for medication, making them feel less isolated and lonely.
But as these technologies evolve and consolidate, what kind of influence will they have, not just on buyer habits, but also on our behaviours, thought processes and even our worldviews?
“I’m curious about how Google Homes are affecting our parent child relationships,” Devine says. “It was a significant role of the parent to instil facts and ideas and shape worldviews. But if a child goes, ‘What’s happening in Israel?’, I will say something different to what Google Home might say. It’s going to be really fascinating to see how that affects a whole generation of relationships between parents and kids and kids and technology.”
With such power of influence in the hands of technology, it’s important that the minds behind AI are as diverse as the consumers they seek to influence.
Tech entrepreneur Ally Watson, the founder of Code like a Girl, says: “Artificial intelligence is expected to be incorporated into every application, app and service, at least on some level in the coming years.”
“We need to be mindful that machine values are human values. If we don’t improve gender diversity and get more women involved in the creation and development of AI then it will never equally and fairly serve our society. The AI of the future should be for all, and therefore be built by all.”
Humans must take ownership of their technology, rather than let it control them, Devine says. “Own your use of technology,” he says. “Try and be mindful of how you use technology. Don’t just give over it. In the same way you need to own your diet. Be mindful of what’s good for you, and what’s healthy for you and actively research it.”
As the world invariably moves towards AI technology, the human touch still holds significant power and should be integrated alongside these technologies so as to maintain influence over the innovations. Devine concludes: “Humans should make the final decisions on things, that’s way more effective than AI on its own, and obviously humans on their own.”
This article was created by BBC StoryWorks, the BBC’s global commercial content division, on behalf of OFX.
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