Only dead fish go with the flow: How to navigate the daunting new world of AI

The world is fast becoming a scary place. Climate change, North Korean missiles, major changes in global leadership—all terrifying realities impacting people and brands. And equally as daunting (depending on who you ask) is radical disruption and artificial intelligence (AI). Day-by-day human skills are being replaced by robots: machines that learn, adapt, and deliver faster, better products, services, and outcomes than we mere mortals ever could. There’s no denying technology that empowers us.

But what happens to brands as technology, disruption, and smart machinery continue to dominate?

As Uber, Airbnb, and Snappr are proving, jobs are lost (or redefined), categories transformed, and in some cases, entire businesses blown to smithereens within the blink of an artificial eye. Sure, innovation is exciting. But is it always good, or even relevant, for every sector or business? If you believe the hype, organizations that fail to disrupt will soon be out of business.

Puffery? Potentially. But let’s zero in on AI.

While the debate on AI has people like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg arguing its positive impact on business and life in general, certain implications can’t be debated. AI-powered systems will not only change how we sell, but equally, how we buy. Choices will become limited to algorithm-based recommendations from the likes of Alexa, Google Home, Apple HomePod, or any other of the 67 million future voice-assisted devices expected in market next year. The ways in which we as consumers interact with brands will forever be altered—arguably, for the better. The world has shifted. The times have changed. We’re living through an adapt-or-die decade. (Sorry for the truth serum.)

Trend Watch 2018: Amazon Echo

The resounding question we as brand consultants and marketing executives must answer is how on earth brands can navigate the daunting new world of AI. It’s easier for the likes of Google and Amazon who are leading the charge. But what about other brands that don’t have $16.1 billion to spend on R&D each year? What can we learn from our admirable leaders? How does the rest of the brandscape enter the exciting, arterial new world?

Here are three important factors every brand should consider.

1. Know the “what” and “why” of your AI

When creating AI, it’s essential to assess the role it plays within your broader brand strategy. Your future automated bots will become a key customer touchpoint. Their purpose, personality, manner, tone, and even gender need to be carefully considered and clearly defined.


Will their values, drivers, and beliefs be aligned to the parent brand? If not, they should be. Just consider smoke alarm bot Nest Protect. Nest Protect combines smoke and carbon monoxide detection into a single unit using a split-spectrum sensor built from an algorithm of several hundred data sets that cover a vast range of fire types. It’s incredibly complex and intelligent. And yet, its smartest component is also its simplest: its female voice. Research from the University of Dundee found children respond best to human voices, specifically their mother’s, when warned of danger. Nest Protect chose to use a female voice because it would drive product effectiveness.

Bottom line: Consider everything carefully.

2. Unify your data

Here’s a fact: AI will drive more individualized experiences between brands and customers. Here’s another: Without a unified understanding of individuals with differing identities in each channel, it’s impossible for organizations to create seamless interactions with their customers. Spotify is a shining example. As the largest on-demand music service in the world, it continues to push technological boundaries, improve and personalize listener experience, and drive business success through ongoing acquisitions, as well as store and manage useful big data. As Spotify proves, before introducing AI into your brand experience you need to get your (data) house in order.


Bottom line: Ensure you have access to a good volume of insight and information. Clean it up, remove overlaps, and importantly, store it in one safe, accessible place. It’s not easy. But it’s essential. A single view of your customer will become the catalyst for relevant and personal customer experiences.

3. Brace for optimized conversations

Last year, IBM launched Watson Ads, which enables brands to have intelligent, personalized, and more meaningful one-to-one conversations and interactions with consumers. The technology means brands are able to iteratively adapt creative messaging based on customers’ needs and desires. Recently, Toyota and the Weather Company teamed up via Watson Ads to engage and educate consumers about the new Prius Prime car. The AI-powered cognitive ad platform allowed the two brands to answer questions, share new information, and guide decision-making during the purchasing stage.

Weather Channel IBM Watson AI Ads

Is your brand ready to engage in real and genuine conversations?

Bottom line: Consider how your brand can leverage new technologies to redefine archaic customer experiences. After all, every conversation with your customer is an opportunity to learn.

The real bottom line

To summarize something Elon Musk once said, “We’re going to have to choose between being left behind and becoming effectively useless or eventually figuring out some way to be symbiotic and merge with AI.” I’m going to put it more simply still. When it comes to AI, don’t be a dead fish—they stink.


This piece was originally published by BrandZ (2 July 2018). Republished with permission.