How Brands Can Remain Human in an Artificial World


We know that the power of brand is the ability to create an emotional connection with customers; to tap into their emotional needs and form lasting connections. With more artificially intelligent solutions coming into our everyday lives, there has been a lot of talk about ‘the death of brand’. With Alexa, consumers are removed from purchasing decisions that brand would normally influence. This is particularly apparent in key categories such as batteries. Very few consumers would request a battery brand by name. As such, the request “Alexa, order me some more AA batteries”, leaves the final purchase decision with Amazon rather than the consumer. This is great for Amazon, less so for Energizer or Duracell!

We see this handover of decision making from human to AI happening across sectors and experiences. In fact, according to latest Customer Experience Index report from Forrester Research, it’s harder than ever to create truly memorable customer interactions; those that turn customers into vocal advocates.

So how, in this artificial landscape, can we ensure brands don’t lose those important emotional connections?


Make it meaningful

It’s not all doom and gloom. There are plenty of opportunities for brands to use AI to their advantage; to actually improve the relationship with their customers. Brands with the most success in this area have done so by adding value to customers’ lives and seamlessly improving their experience. They have analysed their customers’ behaviours and gathered insights on what customers are looking for from their products or services, building the tech around those needs.

The most common use of AI right now is to improve and automate a personalised experience for customers. We know customers crave personalisation and that’s not new, but the way the AI can analyse vast data sets is changing the game and opening even more opportunities. The level of personalisation can now carry through the customer lifecycle in a far more meaningful way for customers. Research from McKinsey found that brands that excel at personalisation deliver five to eight times the marketing ROI and boost their sales by more than 10% over companies that don’t personalise. This requires a real commitment to analytics and data but the return on that commitment is worth it.

AI provides brands with a chance to get closer to their audiences; understand them better, and provide them with more tailored and relevant recommendations so the relationship feels intuitive rather than transactional.


Use tech to enhance human interaction, rather than replace it

It’s impossible at the present time to take humans out of the AI altogether. Most nascent systems need to learn from real customer-brand interactions in order to build a full data picture; we need to feed the AI and provide it with context in order for it to serve back the right responses.

The limitations of AI technologies have been highlighted over the past few years with articles exposing the ‘humans behind the AI’. Many of the big players – from Facebook and Google to Amazon and Microsoft – employ gig workers to ‘train’ their AI by responding to complaints about online content or deciding whether or not that content should be removed. The same can be said for imagery, as most AI technologies still don’t possess the capabilities to be able to analyse and categorise an image as a human would (cue ‘artwork vs pornography’ examples we’ve seen a million times on platforms such as Tumblr).


Done well, a clever combination of technology and people can be an incredible asset. The customer service industry is leading the way in this regard, showing how AI blended with real people can create the best possible customer experiences. Instead of replacing human interactions altogether, the AI is used to respond to simple queries freeing up the customer service agents to respond to more complex, human issues. Limitless, a recent client of ours and a disruptor in this space, is doing just this. They deliver crowd-sourced customer experiences using an advanced AI-powered platform. Their approach is not to hide the humans behind the AI but actually celebrate them, and ensure they feel valued as part of the experience as product experts. Their SmartAI and SmartCrowd features work together to provide the best possible customer experience; learning from and providing feedback for each other.

This example shows how brands can create seamless customer experiences and improve customer satisfaction, by combining the skills of humans with advanced machine learning and AI.


It’s a fine line

Getting to know your customers and providing more seamless experiences is always a positive, but where should brands draw the line before it gets creepy? We often imagine AI as an emotionless robot scanning numbers and reading patterns. However, emotional inputs will create a shift from data-driven IQ-heavy interactions to deep EQ-guided experiences, giving brands the opportunity to connect to customers on a much deeper, more personal level. In January 2018, Annette Zimmermann, Vice President of research at Gartner, stated “By 2022, your personal device will know more about your emotional state than your own family.” Just two months later, a landmark study from the University of Ohio claimed that their algorithm was now better at detecting emotions than human beings were.

AI systems and devices will soon be able to recognise, interpret, process, and simulate human emotions. A combination of facial analysis, voice pattern analysis and deep learning can already decipher human emotions for market research and political polling purposes. This market is estimated to grow to $41 billion by 2022, as firms like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple race to interpret their users’ emotions.

This takes us down a new path which could easily take brands from intuitive to intrusive so should be considered carefully before embracing wholeheartedly. Emotions are highly personal and customers, already wary of data theft, will be concerned with privacy invasion and manipulation. Brands will need to ask themselves a series of important questions to ensure they can justify the use of emotional cues; from user permissions and data security to the accuracy of the data and how to analyse it to improve experiences. Certainly not something to jump into without consideration.


Don’t lose yourself in the tech

The key thing to remember is that disruption and change should start with customers, not technology. When companies focus on changing customer needs and wants, rather than technology, they end up responding more effectively to digital disruption. Businesses that engage in new technology just to tick a ‘digital’ box fail in its use because the whole experience hasn’t been considered. It doesn’t feel seamless; it feels intrusive, out of sync and actually works against your brand.

There will need to be a balance made; for brands and for customers. Each will need to give in order to take, and transparency will be key to ensure positive relationships. Keep humans at the heart of your experience and you’ll keep those emotional connections. Listen to customers, keep on top of behaviour trends and be aware of the balance between creating a frictionless brand experience that customers will value and an intrusive experience which will leave them turning to your competitor.