Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Chatbots and the Future of Marketing. Closing the gap between man and machine

Can we have creative that scales and customizes itself? Illustration: Jessoca Pavone/Baltimore Academy of Illustration

Chatbots are treated like the simpletons of the artificial intelligence world, overshadowed by movie-trailer-creating Watson and its ilk, or the suggestion engines of huge etailers.

But a good implementation of a simple chatbot requires a deft understanding of the interplay between man and machine. And as technology slingshots us forward, the comprehension of this "in-between" space will be a prerequisite for any brand or advertiser hoping to make it in a world profuse with new and amazing digital experiences.

When, and how, do we "hand off" the experience from the machine to the human, and vice versa?

Programmatic targeting is facing a similar issue, in an industry unsure how the coupling mechanism between man and machine should work. Sure, The New York Times has accurate data on its audience, but it also has a deep journalistic history and pedigree—this context, of course, is lost on a programmatic robot. It takes a human touch to correctly leverage this pedigree. The Times, drawing on that brand experience, focuses thoughtful curation and co-creation through its T Brand Studios to close that gap and further increase the trust its consumer has in its brand (while bringing other brands along as well).

Programmatic, specifically, calls out for creative disruption. We can reach the right person at the right time in the right place, millions of times a day. There's no arguing that we've created an incredible system in our digital galaxy, punching holes in the architecture that we could use to guide and inspire consumers. But it all falls apart without creativity. We're still struggling with that handoff: Programmatic tech gives us such incredible and detailed access but requires truly innovative and creative stories only humans can put together.

The challenge will be thinking about creative from a whole different view: Can we have creative that scales? That customizes itself? We find ourselves hurtling toward another handoff from man to machine—what larger system of creative or complex storytellingstructure can I design such that a machine can use it appropriately and effectively?

Therein lies the real challenge—finding the correct interplay and balance between man and machine. This is not a battle. The regularly touted man vs. machine conflict simply does not and should not exist, especially when it comes to brands and marketing.

Data feeds the weak AI we have now, and it produces spectacular results. But eventually, humanity must intervene, as evidenced by Microsoft's Twitter experiment or Facebook's censorship debacles. Clearly, man still has a huge edge in understanding cultural context, proprietary and much more. But just as clear is the machine's ability to perform quickly and accurately at scales beyond human comprehension.

I finished up this piece on a bus rolling through a typhoon in Tokyo. A quick trip to Google will show you how obsessed Japanese are with packaging. In a world where everything comes in a brown Amazon box, perhaps packaging is not something we think about as much anymore—but of course, I do. Packaging is perhaps the earliest physical form of marketing and differentiation. If done correctly, packaging does one of two things: It disappears smoothly into the background of our consciousness because it is so seamless, beautiful and convenient; or it adds a dimension of delight and wonder to the unboxing process (à la Apple). I consider chatbots to be brands' attempt to package themselves for social media.

And the man-machine handoff is a central problem in our continued development of social media. We've created all these social networks to facilitate and augment our interactions. Now all we do is complain about how they've made interacting more difficult, more awkward, less real. It's a quixotic paradox: How do we design for interactions that are not meant to be noticed? How do we package something in such a way that it melts into the background or becomes, itself, a meaningful part of the experience?

Clearly, chatbots and other similar attempts to bridge the man-machine gap have not made it there yet. They are annoyingly noticeable and more disruptive than delighting. But the question of perfect synergy between man and machine is of tantamount importance because we sit on the verge of widespread AR, VR and 360 video adoption.

These technologies demand something better, seamless, creative and novel. In completely immersive experiences, any cracks in the interplay between man and machine are immediately obvious and immediately drops the viewer out of the experience.

We have a great opportunity ahead of us with these emerging technologies. But we must be sure we continue to best serve the consumer, protect our pedigree and truly understand that the conflict between humanity and technology is not a conflict at all. It is more like a big, fat media wedding.

More than 11,000 chatbots are now conversing with real people on Facebook’s Messenger platform.

What is a chatbot? As we’ve previously explained, a chatbot is a computer program that uses artificial intelligence to simulate conversation and perform tasks. Chatbots are increasingly being used by brands for a number of reasons.

First, they’re useful to automate processes—from simple tasks like taking pizza ordersto more complex assignments like handling a parking ticket dispute.

Second, chatbots bring the customer service experience to life. Once you type a simple “Hi” in the chat window, most bots will respond immediately, answering questions conversationally and in real-time. It feels more like talking to a friend than a customer service agent.

Finally, now that Messenger has over 1 billion active monthly users, it makes sense for brands to enhance their customer’s user experience with a platform that everyone is already using.

Wondering where a chatbot might fit in your business’ marketing or customer service strategy? Here’s a roundup of brands who are using chatbots effectively.
9 Facebook chatbots that are worth messaging
1. AndChill

Do you spend as much time scrolling through Netflix, plagued with indecision, as you do actually watching Netflix? Then AndChill is for you. Tell the bot the type of movie you’d like to watch and it will send you a suggestion along with a link to a trailer.
2. Trim

They say the most frugal people are the ones who will get ahead in life. But as ubiquitous as apps are, so are payment options, which makes it easy for useless bills and monthly payments to add up without even realizing it. Solution? Trim, a chatbot that questions your financial moves and has saved users over $6.3 million since it launched.

The chatbot will remind you about the premium version of LinkedIn you forgot you subscribed to, and tell you how much you spent on Uber last month. The bot will also help you manage subscriptions, set up spending alerts, and check your bank balance.
3. TechCrunch

This tech-savvy chatbot talks with you about the latest in, you guessed it, the tech sector. To tailor your conversations, subscribe to specific topics or authors and the bot will send you news from TechCrunch about what interests you the most.

You can also ask questions like “What is a chatbot?” for a quick answer without searching the web. You’ll receive daily updates, but if there’s nothing to report you won’t hear from it.
4. HealthTap

Forget long waits at the clinic. With HealthTap, medical advice is right at your fingertips. The bot offers a wide range of health and wellness advice, drawing on knowledge from a network of over 100,000 doctors.

Make sure you type specific questions to receive the best advice. Sometimes answers can be a bit general, but even so, it’s a quick launch pad toward an answer.
5. Whole Foods

Cue up a conversation with the organic grocery store giant to get quick tips on recipes without even saying a word. Seriously.

When the Whole Foods chatbot asks what kind of food mood you’re in, you can respond with a food emoji—the pineapple, hot dog, taco—and the bot will reply back with a relevant recipe.

Link it to your Whole Foods account, and the bot will even make you a shopping list.
6. Sephora

The makeup company’s chatbot uses a quick quiz to deliver content and products tailored to individual tastes. These include how-to guides, lipstick colors, and contouring methods.
7. DuoLingo

Learning a new language is equal parts practice and anxiety. How can your French improve when you don’t have anyone to speak French to in your daily life? And when the opportunity arises to speak French, how do you say your best “bonjour monsieur” without stuttering? That’s where Duolingo’s chatbot comes.

Currently available in French, German, and Spanish, the language-learning platform’s tutors will coach you through conversations.
8. Kayak

Wave goodbye to archaic days of filling in fields with flight dates and getting held up every time you forget to select “return” instead of “one way.” The travel site’s chatbot searches and books travel directly from the conversation you have.

Flights, hotels, and activities are retrieved by the chatbot from a few simple questions and even though thousands of result come up, Messenger determines the best choices to share with you.
9. Uber

Also helping to make your transportation planning easier is Uber’s chatboat. The ride-sharing AI sends trip status updates and will save your receipts and payment history.

Got a date? Send that person’s location via Messenger and they can book their ride by tapping the address. Late for work? Share your trip with coworkers in Messenger and they’ll have your ETA.

Whether it’s getting from A to B, asking for advice, or upping your productivity, Messenger chatbots (probably) have the answer. Strike up a conversation and see for yourself.

To chat with any of the above bots, simply open Messenger and type the name into the search bar and start conversing. Keep in mind that like any form of artificial intelligence, the chatbots learn—the more questions you ask (and the more specific), the more useful their responses will be.

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