Mar

What Is AI Engine and Do I Need It?

Chatbots and assistant programs designed to support conversations with human users rely on natural language processing (NLP). This is a field of scientific research that aims at making computers understand the meaning of sentences in natural language. The algorithms developed by NLP researchers helped power first generation of virtual assistants such as Siri or Cortana. Now the same algorithms are made available to the developer community to help companies build their own specialized virtual assistants. Industry products that offer NLP capabilities based on these algorithms are often called AI engines.

The most powerful and advanced AI engines currently available on the market are (in no particular order): IBM Watson, Google DialogFlow, Microsoft LUIS, Amazon Lex.

All these engines use intents and entities as primary pnguistic identifies to convey the meaning of incoming sentences. All of them offer conversation flow capability. In other words, intents and entities help to understand what the incoming sentence is about. Once the incoming sentence is correctly identified you can use the engine to provide a reply. You can repeat these two steps a large number of times, thus creating a conversation, or dialog.

In terms of language processing ability and simplicity of user experience IBM Watson and Google DialogFlow are currently above the pack. Microsoft LUIS is okay too; still, keeping in mind that Microsoft are aggressively territorial and like when users stay within their ecosystem, it is most efficient to use LUIS together with other Microsoft products such as MS Bot Framework.

Using AI engine conversation flow to create dialogs makes building conversations a simple, almost intuitive, task, with no coding involved. On the flip side, using AI engine conversation flow limits your natural tendency to make conversations natural. The alternative, delegating the conversation flow to the business layer of your chatbot, adds richness and flexibility to your dialog but makes the process more comppcated as it now requires coding. Cannot sell a cow and drink the milk at the same time, can you?

Amazon Lex lacks the semantic sophistication of their competitors. One can say (somewhat metaphorically)  that IBM Watson was created by linguists and computer scientists while Amazon Lex was created by sales people. As a product it is well packaged and initially looks pleasing on the eye, but once you start digging deeper you notice the limitations. Also, Amazon traditionally excelled in voice recognition component (Amazon Alexa) and not necessarily in actual language processing.

The space of conversational AI is fluid and changes happen rapidly. The existing products are evolving continuously and a new generation of AI engines is in the process of being developed.

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Marketers: You Need to Keep Evolving

It’s clear that marketing has drastically changed in the last decade. The rise of digital, accompanied by its ever-evolving technologies in mobile and advertising will build a perpetual environment of test and learn. As well, continuous emergence of audience platforms will create a nomadic culture that follows the fickle consumer paths. Ultimately, this will dictate the sustainability of platforms.

Marketing has been one organizational function that has succumb to tremendous pressure to evolve in the last decade. It’s turned both ad agencies and companies on their ears, furiously attempting to learn and adapt, while desperately hanging on to what they already know.

Perhaps it’s time to let go. If there ever was a time to accept change it’s now. In my personal experience, and from what you’ll read,

- I’ve witnessed an incredible evolution in the digital space by way of technology and targeting,

- I’ve also witnessed rapid changes in consumer consumption and the increasing fragmentation of media,

- Adapting and learning has been integral in helping me evolve with the market demand.

Consumers have changed the game for marketers.

No longer do we have only a few mediums for content consumption. In as little as 2 decades we’ve moved beyond just TV, radio, print, billboards. We’ve also raced beyond the standard network channels, the key national newspapers.

As consumers our attention has moved to sites that speak to our own areas of interest. They may not necessarily be as popular or as known. Our peers greatly influence what we do and where we go. But, our ever trusted smart phones gives us access to inform us about the things we want, when we want them and where we want them.

This always-on economy is not about to die down. The growing consumer expectations will mandate companies to have greater visibility into where their customers are, what they’re saying, their preferences, their preferred channels and modes of communication. The growing pressure to keep the “owned” and “earned” channels “on” will challenge the business to become much more responsive than ever before.

Marketers are slowly becoming obsolete.

As marketers, our roles have been forced to evolve. It hasn’t been easy. Coupled with this consumer evolution we’re witnessing, the economic times have changed the way we operate. No longer is marketing a cost centre. We are now more accountable than ever. The old performance measures which we were accustomed to need to change. We need to evolve beyond the mindset of traditional mediums, and embrace the inherent benefits of digital and where it’s going.

Becoming obsolete is a reality in today’s fast-moving environment. Yes, today’s marketer needs to leave their comfort zone and venture into an environment that does not seems to want to sit still. Luckily, it doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning the principles they’ve learned along the way. It just means evolving their thinking and applying these same principles to the new mediums.

1. Data is the new norm: The promise of big data brings with it enormous benefits that can now inform customer preferences, propensities; identify relevant prospects in real-time; distill meaning from reams of information where it impacts competitive or brand reputation. The opportunities to target more granularly beyond just “company”-collected transactions provides profound instances to find the right customer, at the right time, in the right channels, with the right message. The need for strong data analysts to compile this information across multiple platforms and mediums will be an essential component to effectively target for acquisition; improve retention rates and optimize for real-time performance.

2. Agility is imperative: Gone are the days of relying on historical data. These days, any data point longer than 30 days is too old and therefore, irrelevant. Gone are the days when media plans or strategies are “baked”. No longer are we required (or should we be required) to sit and wait for results. With data becoming more embedded in our daily work, marketers must work towards a more agile environment: This means becoming more data responsive to an increasingly  fragmented and splintered market,  having the structures and processes to change tactics on the fly.

3. Value is the new currency: One of the hardest lessons for marketers to have learned was to refrain from leading with overt company or product messages. “Leading with value” has become a difficult principle to adopt, after years of “me-me-me” communications. Declining performance of digital ad units means marketers must rethink content from the position of the customer. The rise of editorial as an essential function within marketing will be necessary to instil this new discipline.

4. Customer convergence has arrived: All mediums are converging. Appointment TV is dead. The customer dictates the content they want to consume, across multiple mediums, the times they want it.  On-demand mediums will challenge the marketer as consumers move swiftly between tablets to smartphone to television. The new ways of targeting customers across multiple-platforms now allows the marketer more long-tail opportunities that will augment and support traditional mass targeting.

5. Customer experience mandates an always-on presence: A more informed customer expects consumers today an optimal experience that “allows them to shop and receive their purchases where they want, when they want and how they want.” This means providing the ‘continuous experience’ across brands, devices and format: mobile internet devices, computers, brick-and-mortar, television, radio, direct mail, catalog etc. Today’s marketer is channel-agnostic and is aware of sites, platforms and channels the customer is researching, eliciting recommendations, price-comparing and ultimately, buying.

6. Sustainability, not campaigns: The value of social media as an open channel two-way conversations now provides brands with the ability to not only build relationships, but benefit from the effort and commitment to nurture customer relationships through these channels. Word of Mouth and Advocacy are strong indicators of brands doing it right. The value of organic traffic that results from content value, social consistency and customer-commitment, will surpass the more costly campaign-driven ad-buys and promotions.

7. Social cannot be outsourced: Agencies will never be able to truly be able to build effective community management services. This function needs to live within the organization. Customer relationships with brands cannot be fostered via surrogate means, and then adopted into the organization. Only employees within the organization, with the proper knowledge and solutions, can effectively troubleshoot customer complaints and provide the right responses in the expected timeframe. An emerging discipline in community /customer relationship management will be critical to gauge the pulse of the community and to bridge the gap with the organization.

8. Context is key: Google has gone beyond just keyword and now tries to extract real meaning from what people search or speak about. Semantic algorithms go this one step further and now give marketers the tools to truly understand what people need and want. It’s here that will help predict and define areas the brand can connect and provide value to customers.

9. Customer-centric needs to be the standard: As digital grows up, the areas mentioned above will move companies to start to shift in ways that puts the needs of the customers at the centre of the organization. One-to-one marketing will a reality as data allows us to truly customize experiences for each customer. Retention will get increasingly harder as mediums and platforms rise and fall with the nomadic consumer and Facebook and Twitter become less standard platforms. Where pundits have prophesied the death of marketing, a more responsive, dynamic and collaborative organization will take its place.

10. A dynamic organization is a social organization: The result of these changes will inevitably move away from marketing and become embedded in all parts of the organization. A responsive, dynamic organization means that PR, HR, Product development, Inventory Management, Operations will need seamless communication channels to properly receive and disseminate information intra and outside the company to stakeholders and customers. The future CMO, in my opinion, will become more operations-minded but will rely on the collective organization to function effectively.

Marketing is no longer a discipline with best practices and tried and true techniques. As long as technology exists, and media evolves, consumers will continue to find new ways to connect and consume information. What’s clear is that these days our traditional definition of longevity is short-lived. Not only does the marketer need to morph with the times, the organization does as well.

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