The chatbots are coming
Five guidelines for branding with AI
Executive Director, Strategy
It's no overstatement to say that the advent of Artificial Intelligence could change the entire marketing landscape. Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri show the marketing potential, Google Deep Mind's AlphaGo has highlighted the intellectual potential, but you only have to recall Microsoft's Tay for an example of how things can go very wrong, very quickly (Twitter users “educated” Tay to become a sexist Neo-Nazi literally overnight).
So, how to avoid the pitfalls of AI while taking advantage of the opportunities? We've boiled it down to five guiding principles:
1.Get ready … AI is here to stay, and it is a brand issue
Forget dipping your toe in the water. Once you adopt an AI assistant or chatbot, it will swiftly embody your brand to users. It's important to recognise that this can’t just be a bolt-on to the brand, and plan for the fact that the very human-style characteristics that AIs possess will lead to them potentially becoming the dominant interface. So it's crucial that you get them right from the start.
2.Be responsible and take a conscious stand
The nature of AI means it learns from the world around it. This became Microsoft's downfall with Tay in that the company didn't anticipate that some users would actively programme it to spout anti-social views. The lesson is that although AI is designed to reflect its environment, you need to be one step ahead by anticipating which human attitudes and characteristics would not chime with your brand values. Brands must consciously take a stand on political, ethical and social matters that they may previously have been able to stay neutral on.
One of the issues that has already arisen is the way that the AI assistants to date have been created in female form. Given that they are also programmed to learn and cater for the user's needs, this has created some rather regressive situations that have been potentially damaging to brands.
So, think consciously about the characteristics you want your AI to have, including gender, ethnicity, and physical characteristics. And carefully consider the implications of these choices.
3.Embrace non-binary thinking and gender
How we are currently choosing to brand AI seems to be following clichéd stereotypes – disappointing at best, retrogressive at worst. And, most fundamentally, we are not representing the changing face of our society. So, let's use AI as a chance to think beyond traditional gender roles. Does the AI even have to be male or female? One of the most exciting recent developments has been the increasing embrace of non–binary values. We know elements of Generation Z are now refusing to be limited by their born gender identities; fashion and cosmetics are responding to this societal change. Why not everyone else?
So when you consider giving your AI a human face … Could a gender-neutral or gender-fluid AI figure work for your brand? What opportunities or challenges might it set up?
4.Use your imagination
Let's take the gender question one step further – does the AI have to be human? The ubiquity of funny cat memes all over the internet shows quite how much we all sometimes just want to see a friendly image of a pet on our devices. Could an animal image attract as much brand loyalty as a human AI, but with fewer reputational dangers? Japanese robotic engineers have been pioneers in this space – just look to Paro the Seal and Sony's AIBO to prove the huge bond we can have with even robotic animals.
5.Stay ahead of the curve
The most important lesson for marketers is to keep testing how your AI strategy is received by consumers, and be ready to embrace almost-constant change. The next wave of innovation could mean that the AI figures become brands in their own right and even interact with each other. Is your corporate culture ready to operate in flux? Only the most agile of brands will be able to take advantage of the many opportunities this new AI-driven world will offer.