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Marketing To Robots Through Humans

Posted: 18 September 2017 | By John Andrews, CEO at Prevailing Path

Should marketers be setting their sights on robots?

Bots Increasingly Make Decisions for Us, Is it Time to Market Directly to Them?

Much of digital marketing today is already created for and consumed by robots. Upwards of 50% of all digital media content is either not viewable or receives its only interaction from robots. I’ve joked for years that the problem with this is that robots don’t use much toothpaste. However, I am now rethinking this position as robots begin to take over more product decision making for me and my family. Robots are actually ordering toothpaste (and razorblades) currently directed by me, but this process will undoubtedly become more autonomous. If robots are going to account for some and maybe eventually most of our consumption, should marketers be developing strategies and tactics to market directly to them?

Robots are already our friends, just take a look at some retailer audiences. Almost a third of Walmart’s Twitter followers are fake and 25% of Target’s and even media companies like ESPN (61% real) have a significant amount of fake followers. Many of these ‘people’ are robots. Robot writers are also helping to keep up on college basketball scores as well, as many game recaps are being written by sports writer bot colleagues at Automated Insights. Alexa, Siri and Google are listening to our conversations and helping guide us with decisions about what to wear, what’s for dinner and giving my daughter some assistance with her math homework. So it occurred to me recently that its probably time to start figuring out how to market to these robot folks.

Robot Marketing 1.0

Actually, digital marketers have been marketing to robots for years. Much of search engine optimization is focused on influencing robot algorithms to gain search advantage. Much time and energy is spent seeking to gain advantage in this way but the reality is most platforms easily thwart and even punish this behavior so any gains are short lived. Social channels also have a similar response as the channels seek to optimize the content that users see based on their relationships with others. Many marketers have sought to scale this process through organic content production despite the fact that the algorithms are designed specifically to limit this kind of mass messaging. After all, its called SOCIAL media. The platforms quickly moved to shut down non-relationship based reach for marketers to drive pay-for-play advertising models. This doesn’t change the fact that the most powerful influence still resides with personal networks with smaller, more intimate groups having the greatest impact.

Unfortunately (for humans), data driven robot marketing has become the default tactic for digital marketing and growing rapidly for most other types of marketing as well. The challenge is this, no matter how smart the data becomes, it doesn’t change the fact that humans don’t operate like machines. We frequently don’t behave like the mounds of digital data predict. In fact, much of our shopping behavior is highly influenced by our friends and family, not by the massive amount of messaging lobbed our way each day. Digital marketing ultimately ‘works’ because if you message enough people, someone will eventually convert. The core question for marketer’s becomes, at what cost to brand equity? Humans aided by machines are getting good at blocking egregious digital messaging prompting a doom-loop cycle of more and more ads seeking to get to the ‘right consumer at the right place at the right time‘. In a time that any consumer can easily get any information when and where they want, this marketing concept is past its time. Shoppers need help along the path to purchase, not interruption.

“Marketing will truly WIN when Humans control the Machines instead of the Machines controlling the Humans… Reversing Programatic.” – Ted Rubin

Robot Marketing 2.0 – The Rise of Idea Flow

MIT professor Alex Pentland noted in his book Social physical that friends and family have an outsize impact on our behavior. In his studies of high performing group behavior, he found that idea flow was the most predictive measure of success. “Individual intelligence, personality, skill and everything else combined mattered less than idea flow,” noted Pentland. Google discovered the same thing when studying its most productive teams. Google is chocked full of brilliant, driven people but its best and brightest teams don’t outperform other teams. The winning stat for Google team performance? everyone speaks and shares the same amount during meetings. Idea Flow! It is reasonable to assume that marketing to robots will be better with integrated human idea flow.

Successful future robots will have characteristics which will invariably include some amount of humanlike randomness. Winning ‘magic marketing algorithms’ will be guided by human style engagement vs. pure data. Far from the faux ‘Artificial Intelligence’ we have today, future robots will really learn and adapt their human interactions, not just be great at recognizing patterns that is the hallmark of deep learning today. The marketing problem with pattern recognition is that it is inherently impersonal. Great marketing has been and always will be emotional and as machines develop and we market to them, more human like marketing will win. Alexa and Google Home will not only evolve to anticipate our needs but also provide better experiences through discovery and inspiration. The question becomes how can marketer’s anticipate the evolution of more emotive machines?

Advanced marketing will stop approaching that problem using a rearward facing perspective. Grouping humans as numbers (aka demographics) is something we did because it was how media was organized and as mentioned earlier, this isn’t how humans behave using digital media today which results in the abysmal engagement that most digital marketing receives. As interactive personal assistants (IPAs) become more commonplace (estimates are 1/5 of humans will use them by 2020), their real human understanding will grow much as our personal relationships do today. A Turing Test of relationships of sorts will begin to evolve as our IPAs become part of our inner circles. As the robots get smarter, their tolerance for spam messaging will be much less than humans. Good robot marketing will integrate the randomness that is the human condition.

At Prevailing Path, we’re building a platform that seeks to capitalize on how to effectively integrate human and machine connectivity in a way that goes beyond just data but also captures the unpredictable nature that is inherently ingrained in our makeup. Our multi-tiered community of shoppers help to explore, validate, create and attach or advertisers content to the key nodes of shopper’s digital journey. We believe that this approach helps create better marketing outcomes for shoppers and brands alike (and maybe even robots).

John Andrews is a co-founder and CEO at Prevailing Path, a shopper platform designed to identify the most efficient path to purchase across digital channels

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