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The line between the real world and the digital world is becoming increasingly blurred. Perhaps Joaquin Phoenix’s relationship with the operating system Samantha in the acclaimed sci-fi movie, Her, is beginning to fall more on the science rather than fiction side! The truth is, consumer behavior is changing, with a rapid move from trusted brands to trusted platforms. AI is now more of a partner/advisor, and not just a ‘servant’ to the consumer. Making intelligent recommendations based on consumer need and behaviour provides opportunities for brands to elevate themselves through AI relevance, and hence the importance of access to behavioral data. Building and utilizing these platforms into your marketing strategy is therefore critical in acquiring customers. The opportunity VAD/AI provides to marketers, however, extends beyond customer acquisition to customer retention.
Today, happy customers are loyal and act as advocates for a brand. VAD/AI platforms have the potential to dis-intermediate this brand loyalty, through anticipation of the customer need and making recommendations based on this need. Here’s an example. Through Health Tracking Devices connected to the Internet, an AI platform can see that a consumer likes to run. They can then recommend the best running shoes on the market today, for the best price and where to buy. The brand of this running shoe may be different from the consumers usual brand purchase, but the recommendation itself provides a compelling alternative option. Hence brands must utilize the data created by these VAD/AI platforms to mitigate the threat provided by the platform itself! This is already being used to some effect in promotions to ensure the customer doesn’t stray. For example, asking if you would like to re-order washing detergent since you usually buy that every 4 weeks and as a repeat customer of, say, Tide, we’ll ship it to you today with 20% discount – oh and would you like to try a sample of this new fabric softener for free? In this example, both consumer and the brand win. Business is retained and the consumer benefits financially. AI is in the enabler, providing value for the vendor, the consumer and for itself. Whether this is true brand loyalty or AI affinity is an interesting consideration.
All these capabilities are underpinned by the most value commodity created by VADs- Data. Data is the foundation of digital marketing. VAD/AI is a direct source of on-the-ground, contextual data that can be used in myriad ways to direct marketing strategy for customer acquisition and retention. As more VAD ‘Skills’ come online, more data will be generated, creating a self-reinforcing loop and a gradual transition to a fully digitized, continual selling experience. VADs will inevitably become ubiquitous (Alexa with you everywhere; your home, your car, your office, other people’s VADs automatically recognizing your voice to ‘your Alexa’ regardless of device). As voice recognition and AI technology evolves and security and data privacy issues are tackled, VADs could very well become both the dominant vehicle and source of digital marketing strategy in the 21st century.
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