The Invisible Brand is at Work using AI

The Invisible Brand provides everything you need to understand how brands are harnessing the extraordinary amounts of data at their disposal―and capitalizing on it with AI.

The four most popular voice assistants: Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa, and Cortana correspond exactly to the four most valuable global brands: Apple, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft.  That isn’t a coincidence.  Voice is the consumer-facing edge of artificial intelligence at the world’s most valuable brands, and that trend is poised to continue.  Consider that a recent article in TechCrunch reports that voice assistants will triple in use to 8 billion worldwide by 2023.

Emergence of the Voice User Interface

For decades the graphical user interface (GUI) has been the dominant interaction layer between us and our machines, but increasingly we are finding the voice user interface (VUI) to be a convenient alternative.   After all, babies begin to develop speech as early as 12 months, whereas they won’t begin learning to read until 3 or 4 years later.  And most people can talk at a rate of up to 150 words per minute, while the average person types at less than 50 words per minute. Thanks to advances in a branch of artificial intelligence known as natural language processing (NLP) we are now talking to our cars, to our televisions, and to our mobile devices. Today, we are asking simple questions, like requesting directions to a restaurant or a movie recommendation, but soon we will be asking more complex questions like:

  • What should I study in college?
  • Which job is right for me?
  • When should I buy a house?
  • Who should I marry?

The AI voices that answer those questions will have tremendous power to influence how we think and what we do.  Studies show that humans who interact with AI devices can develop empathetic feelings for those devices.  In one recent study participants talked to a little robot named NAO and at the end of the conversation the participants were instructed to turn the robot off.  For the test subjects, Nao pleaded, “Please don’t turn me off, I’m afraid of the dark.”  A significant number of the study participants refused to turn off the little robot, clearly demonstrating empathy due to their voice interaction. Psychologists Byron Reeves and Clifford Nas identified this phenomenon as early as 1996 and dubbed it the Media Equation.  Subsequent research suggests that the more humanlike the interaction, the more powerful the effect.

The Media Equation

The Media Equation identified by Reeves and Nas is more relevant today than ever due to the convergence of four major trends in the way consumers receive information.  First, digital information is increasingly personalized to match the interests and behaviors of the individual consumer.  Your Facebook feed is different from my Facebook feed, we are exposed to different ads online, and increasingly the news we consume is tailored to our likes.  Second, persuasion has become a science, and marketers harness A/B testing in real time to optimize marketing messages to maximize their persuasive impact.  Third, machine learning allows marketers to use AI in order to persuade consumers using personalized information.  The fourth trend, natural language processing, allows marketers to engage us in conversations with machines that are designed to learn how to persuade us.

The Invisible Brand

The average consumer has a sense that they are being watched, that their data is being collected, and that their privacy is increasingly invaded by technology.  What they may not realize is the degree to which all of their digital interactions are being directed by marketers, politicians, and even governments towards hidden goals.  These interests are operating invisibly in our lives, changing the way we think, what we buy, and how we vote.  As the use of artificial intelligence spreads, we must learn to see this Invisible Brand at work in our own lives, and recognize that marketing in the age of AI brings with it tremendous opportunities and profound risks.  It is incumbent upon us to educate ourselves about how this technology works so that we can ensure it is used wisely and ethically in the years to come.

This article was originally published on McGraw-Hill BusinessBlog on June 18, 2019

Learn more about William Ammerman here.

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