Cars that drive themselves. Computers that write articles. A universal translator.
None of those things are science fiction. Google has been testing its self-driving cars on California roads for years. Software created by companies such as Narrative Science generates business briefs and sports stories for magazines and newspapers. And Microsoft’s Skype Translator can already translate 50 languages in near real time.
Meanwhile, Samsung and LG are making refrigerators that can place orders at the supermarket for you, a company called The Grid has invented a way to algorithmically design websites, and companies including Curalate and Clarifai are giving computers the ability to recognise logos and other brand images on image-heavy sites such as Instagram and Pinterest.
The vast majority of today’s information and entertainment services are supported by advertising, just as they have been in the past. This is likely to continue, even as artificial intelligence turbocharges our information-gathering and processing capabilities. That means marketing will be at the forefront of the AI revolution.
Soon, virtual personal assistants will automate even more of our lives
We can already see glimpses of what the future may hold for marketing in "virtual personal assistants" including Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Cortana from Microsoft. They help consumers find information about brands and products and, soon, they will automate even more of our lives. This will, in turn, create new challenges and opportunities for brands.
Today, you can use Siri to add an appointment to your calendar or ask for directions to a location. But it can’t answer a question such as "Can you give me directions to my 1pm appointment?". The original Siri team are now hard at work at a new company called Viv, where they have designed a new VPA that can handle more complex tasks.
Soon, as the Siri and Viv co-founder Dag Kittlaus explains, VPAs will be able to book an entire vacation for you. Users can tell the VPA to "book a holiday with fun things to do for the kids" and it will pick a location and a hotel, book restaurant reservations, create an itinerary and buy all the tickets for the attractions you will visit. The software will already know how old your children are, what types of things they like to do and what sort of restaurants you and your spouse enjoy.
Brands will have to adapt in this climate. Instead of marketing directly to consumers, brands will have to market to algorithms. So products in a supermarket will have "tagged" information beyond name and price, such as ingredients, where they were produced and under what environmental and ethical conditions, and the food miles. This information then allows our VPAs to make decisions on our behalf.
This "tagged-up world" will be a vital part of how brands optimise their offerings for the age of the sentient VPA. Marketers will need to think hard about what kinds of product data to tag and what types of offers make sense in different contexts.
Maintaining positive brand sentiment will be crucial. Customer feedback will be one of the most important signals that VPAs will look at when deciding whether to recommend a product to you. Some of that will be traditional, qualitative reviews but much of it will be factual, machine-generated information about the actual performance and failure rate of the products. Selling high-quality goods will be more important than ever.