Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The Rise of AI – why brands need to learn to talk

By James Lancaster, Global Design Strategist, Reckitt Benckiser

Artificially intelligent tools have the power to open up vital new conversations between brands and customers. Used right, AI can help brands learn to talk to consumers on their level, about what matters most to them, through the channels they are familiar with and at times when that conversation is relevant.

When properly managed, AI gives brands the opportunity to transform their relationships with customers – from product or service to responsive, empathetic partner. It does this through helping branding teams process, create, and manage brand experiences more quickly, more effectively, and in a more customised way.

Start with purpose

In today’s technological landscape, every brand needs to develop a voice and step into important conversations. But they must also be smart, thoughtful, and purposeful in how they use that voice.

While there are many types of AI applications on sourcing strategies, process optimization, factory planning, et cetera, when your emphasis is on front-of-house and direct engagement with individuals in your audience, you have to have something to talk about that is bigger than product. For that reason, brand purpose plays an essential role in how companies use consumer-facing AI.

If you want to use AI to deepen conversations with your audience, you have to have a firm grip on what value you want to deliver to that audience and why, so that you can behave accordingly. Only a brand that stands firm in its purpose can move on to define the context in which it will use AI to engage with its customers.

Until you know who you are as a brand, AI can only be a back-office tool.

Define the user context

Imagine we’re developing a new dishwasher tablet brand. We’ve determined our purpose and we’re ready to move on to building a conversation with our audience. So where does AI come in?

Think of AI in branding as a calculator in maths – it speeds up processing and helps us identify patterns and essential information more quickly and effectively.

AI tools help us determine the context of the conversation we need to have with our audience so that we can make decisions that guide how and why and what we communicate to consumers. It helps identify where both parties (Brand and User) are, so that we can evaluate where we both want to go, and what path we’ll take to get there.

A successful AI brand strategy isn’t about data hoarding – it’s about understanding how best to frame a business problem in a way that empowers the information you have available to you. How to leverage the right data to drive decision making about how the brand communicates and contributing to a worthwhile conversation that can make a real impact.

Join the conversation

Armed with context, we can start to craft a strategy that responds to consumer needs in the moment, and reach audiences through channels they are using already when the need arises.

Think BBC Good Food, which partnered with Google Home Hub, which delivers audio and visual assets to guide users through new recipes, relying on AI to adjust to the home cook’s needs as they go.

Meanwhile, BuzzFeed’s Tasty uses AI within its own app interface to offer users the option to request recipes based on ingredients they already have at home, and returning bespoke results based on users’ dietary requirements.

And recently, to help people during social distancing measures, Lidl introduced a WhatsApp chatbot that helps shoppers determine when stores are least crowded.

Create a value exchange

Someone once told me that no one becomes friends with someone just because they meet the minimum requirement of being a person who happens to be around – just because you haven’t been to prison does not mean you qualify! Friendships develop when people bring added value to each other’s lives.

This prerequisite of enrichment is also true for brands. We can (and should!) only engage with people when invited to do so.

And once engaged, to look to deepen the conversations with customers – there needs to be a clear value exchange.

Take Lysol. As a brand, Lysol’s purpose is to help families stay healthy by protecting them from illness-causing germs, so the conversation becomes how to own a topic around this positioning, and define how AI can help us join in and add value within this context.  

Lysol did this by building on an existing data partnership with WebMD to develop an Alexa Skill designed to provide users with localised Cold and Flu incident levels and give related hints and tips, in engaging ways, to help people protect themselves and their families. What the Skill did was give the brand an opportunity to give advice, help with scheduling your cleaning regime or gamify the process of washing hands for the whole family. It was not about opening a new channel for people to buy our product.

It’s a fantastic example of how AI helped a brand build a relationship with its users, through conversation. To add value, and drive home that Lysol is more than just the brand of your surface cleaner, it’s a partner you can trust to care about your family’s safety.

Build trust with consistency

When purpose, context, and value intersect, it’s at that moment that we’re most able to open up the most impactful conversations with customers.

The brands that are getting this right are consistently act on purpose. They’re owning discussions relevant to what people expect of them. They’re use AI as a tool to have meaningful conversations with their audiences, ultimately bringing additional value to their lives.

AI tech gives us that opportunity – but in the end, it’s down to us, as humans and branding experts, to use that opportunity in the right way, for our brand and for our audience