AI-based Marketing in the Era of Seclusion & Privacy

AI-based Marketing in the Era of Seclusion & Privacy

By Rajashree Banerjee

AI-based Marketing in the Era of Seclusion & Privacy

As scrolled past the 400th marketing email I was not going to open, I browsed my mailbox, did a quick check for important communication. Was that dress despatched yet? Has the credit card bill arrived? Did someone actually drop me a line? - — 'ah, those good souls!' Out of the twenty emails of the day, about eight were those I was auto-subscribed to and was too lazy to unsubscribe from. Yes, at some point in a decade of my virtual life, I had taken the pains to find out which breakfast cereal I was! Coming back to it, around six were bank emails pestering me to take a loan which I did not need, and a credit card I had been warned against. Out of the remaining, two asked me to sign for a cause. I would feel cruel if I didn’t care for hungry children and sun bears, so I did. Three were from a job portal where I haven't logged since ages. I was hoping it to be an April fool's joke that they insisted I take up one of the three medical practitioner roles, despite being an engineer myself. The final email was what I had been waiting for – 'my order was on its way!'. I re-read the email again and actually visited the website to redeem a promotional code and make best out of the 25% discount coupon that came with it.

The point of my rant is to emphasize — I only ever open an email what feels relevant to me. If there was a million-dollar worth free shopping in one the other nineteen, I wouldn’t know it and I wouldn’t care either. And, on top of it, if I don’t feel your content makes any sense to me right here and right now, it's quite likely that I am not going to open your email based on the goodwill I developed two years ago when your online quiz said I resembled Sirius from Harry Potter movie series.

As a customer, I value my seclusion, my privacy. We are in an era where its next-to-a-perfect natural order to take a sip from a cup of coffee (all alone) while pouring into your tablet, and ordering food in (for oneself). If your AI-generated email was a sales executive, the kind of possible implication would be, a direct bang on your front door to join him for a dinner and state his cause. Also, in ninety out of hundred cases, he would be selling refined sugar to a diabetic. It didn't work in the past, will not work either in today's time. AI-based emails are intrusive, and well, dead from natural causes.

But now if we look at the search engine optimizations (SEO) which have radically improved a brand's reach and penetration into the market (demographically & geographically) from what he had in the days of the dial-in network. With the big bang in the number of information sources all over the internet, we can hit the exact thing we are looking for within nanoseconds. With the exception of primitive banking websites, every other AI in every other search engine know what users like us are doing – and provide perfect, timed, responses! Googling ‘things to gift your nerd brother’ would not confuse Google anymore. You would get 46 unique, 32 awesome and 51 gifts below $25 for a nerd, geeks, and gamers. Similarly in a shopping website ‘Socks with flowers’ is a request immediately catered to by the AI. Image search needs a lot of work, but, I am fairly confident they are getting there with the advancement in the harvesting of semantic metadata from distributed web content. When they do, corporate stalkers would celebrate Thanksgiving early!

Now, here are the differences in between two approaches. I am a customer. I like your AI to be my own butler. Not like a nagging ex. I like things given to me when I am actually looking for them, and when I ask for (not the opposite). This is where websites with chatbots are creating a win-win scenario. I visit a website and the Bot asks ‘May I help you?’. I embrace the illusion that this is a person talking to me and say I am looking for a table lamp. ‘What kind’, ‘she’ asks and actually provides me four options that are pretty much the non-technical, muggle way I would describe a lamp! Post that I get presented with the options. The AI has done the job. As a customer, I feel engaged and encouraged to take a look at other stuff as well. I perhaps even make a purchase. While signing out, I am presented with coupons for when I shop next. A perfect example of how an AI becomes a facilitator and not the fabled monster that video games have long prophesized! Sure, there are pitfalls and at the same time, there is room for improvement. Try getting some meaningful help out of one of the leading rental cab app’s chatbots if you are in some fix. It is as useful as negotiating a raise for Cinderella with a wicked stepmother. Redundant. But they do credit back the deducted cash fast if you do complain.

In the second approach, AI-powered websites (digital properties) are gaining more and more popularity as the digital population steadily rises to include senior citizens and children. Our parents are more internet savvy than their parents were with telephones, and we would be a generation that would be dabbing with Jarvis-like hyper-intelligent AI in times to come. E-Commerce giants and start-ups alike have dived into this seamlessly and witnessing higher levels of perceived vs actual convenience for the customers. 

AI gathered customer insights are fetching and computing an enormous amount of data that can near accurately predict a customer's (or a set of customers') next possible purchase. If you have checked out a flight price twice, you see the price go up in the next one hour, or alternatively be presented with coupons or hotel deals linked to your searched destination. If you have searched for hotels in La-la-Land, when you are shopping for grocery online, you see hotel deals right there at the bottom of the page, powered by Google. AI-powered systems help advertisers test out more programmatically enabled demand-side platforms (DSPs) and optimize their campaign targeting. That’s exactly what Facebook is doing with their ad delivery optimization. However, this approach could also be applied to omnichannel pay-per-click (PPC) campaign data (held by a single company) by using third-party or in-house AI tools. Again, the key is I am not being forced to look at anything on a web page or app page — 'till the browser/in-app notifications forces me to do so'. I can scroll past it or I can actually take a look. If I go to a Pharmacy, I don’t want to be asked if I am looking for a newly released book. But if there is a bookstore nearby, I may deign to walk in on my way back. The attraction is subtle but very real.

Voice recognition and interpretation literally seals the deal. I ask Alexa to play my music and without having to move a muscle or talking more than I need to, I, the introverted millennial, have a good time right at home. An AI that is a friend and the other AI has been programmed to welcome you home or text you when you are at work to remind you to buy food on your way back. The perfect relationship. Of course, it is very much debatable if this is rational or irrational, but as a marketer one sells what the customer is looking for. Right now, with all our lives trapped in blue walls of social media, the world does prefer some alone time.

AI is emerging as a powerful marketing tool as it is leveraging on this very seclusion. In the coming years, with the tremendous quantity of data available to analyze, it is likely that AI will get faster, fluent and even more responsive towards the more complex questions. As customers, we are in for many experimental treats as AI get more used to the four Ps of marketing and take customer wise optimization to a nuclear level.

As for the marketers, the ocean is still turquoise blue, but fast turning into a shade of crimson red. Only time will tell what’s out there in these uncharted waters.

About the Author:

Rajashree Banerjee (ORCID: 0000-0002-3424-5183) is a strategy consultant with a leading textile export company in India. She is a chemical engineer with a graduate degree in management studies from Indian Institute of Management, Udaipur.

Cite this Article:

Banerjee, R. "AI-based Marketing in the Era of Seclusion & Privacy", IndraStra Global Vol. 004, Issue No: 04 (2018), 0007, https://www.indrastra.com/2018/04/AI-based-Marketing-Era-Seclusion-and-Service-004-04-2018-0007.html | ISSN 2381-3652

Banerjee, R. "AI-based Marketing in the Era of Seclusion & Privacy", IndraStra Global Vol. 004, Issue No: 04 (2018), 0007, https://www.indrastra.com/2018/04/AI-based-Marketing-Era-Seclusion-and-Service-004-04-2018-0007.html | ISSN 2381-3652