The natural evolution of digital for brands: becoming more human

kitt

It used to be that digital interactions portrayed in the Jetsons, on Star Trek and through KITT on Knight Rider were make-believe preserved for the television and big screen.

However, with the rise of digital personal assistants in recent years like Cortana and Siri, and intelligent bots, what was once science fiction is quickly becoming fact.

We are on the cusp of the next big shift in computing—a shift that is fueled by the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and built around the one act that comes most natural to us—conversation.

We are optimistic about what technology can do, and this is rooted in a belief that every person and organization should be empowered to achieve more. It’s important though to set some context on how we’ve arrived at this new reality to help answer why you should care and what you should do as a marketer.

Every decade is marked with a shift driven by technological innovation. From the proliferation of PCs during the 80s to the emergence of the Web in the 90s to the rise of mobile and the cloud in the last decade – we have expanded our commerce, improved our communication and strengthened our connections.

But while these advances have helped the world become smaller, in many ways they’ve added layers of complexity, and more significantly, they’ve put the onus on us, the user, to adapt our behavior and expression so that we can be understood by the machines.

But what if we could just talk and interact with technology in exactly the same way we do with other people? Call upon it when we genuinely need support and not have to change the way we behave in order to reap the benefits?

We envision a world where digital experiences mirror the way people interact with one another today. A world where natural language will become the new user interface. A world where human conversation is the platform—the place to discover, access and interact with information and services, and get things done.

Computing is becoming more human

The mobile first, cloud-centric world of computing is driving this new platform of engagement. With the ability to understand tone of voice, interpret emotions and remember conversations, the nature of AI is no longer about man vs. machine, it’s about machines complementing and empowering people to do more of what really matters to them.

One of the major trends that has set the stage for an era of people communicating with their devices is the growth in people communicating through their devices.

With more than 3 billion people using messaging apps every day, consumers are spending five times longer on average using messaging apps than they do on all other mobile apps.

And, what’s more, we’ve reached a point where natural language is the new universal user interface with technology. Search intelligence is now embedded across platforms and services, harnessing intent understanding and using a vast base of semantic knowledge.

When coupled with machine learning that’s infused throughout all of our digital interactions, technology is becoming more human. People and machines are able to sustain conversations with personal digital assistants and intelligent bots in such a way that the meaning, intent and even emotion behind the words are as comprehensible as the words themselves. And we’re nearing a time when this will be scaleable to every individual and every business.

Conversations are the new platform

Imagine if brands had the opportunity to engage with consumers in ways that were not only relevant and personal but also in an environment where their added value is proactively sought out by the individual themselves. In the realm of conversations as a platform, this is the new reality.

Picture having a sudden craving for pizza. Just by telling the personal assistant on your phone “I would love a thick crusty four seasons pizza right now,” you’ve initiated a conversation to seek options or gone directly to your preferred pizzeria.

The bot you choose to talk to will place the order for you and arrange delivery and payment within seconds. In essense, you expressed a need, an emotion and took the initiative to engage with a particular company through their bot and you got what you wanted with more speed and ease than was previously possible.

This example illustrates how brands need to be ready for the engagement opportunities within this conversational exchange.

Marketers must think strategically about the best framework for building bots that cater to natural language and play into conversations across all platforms.

From there they must figure out how to connect these into their existing cloud, CRM and other elements of their digital marketing ecosystem. This is a business strategy that will require input across functions – starting with the CMO and throughout marketing, sales and IT – in order to offer a customer experience that is consistent with other more traditional digital engagements as well as being timely, relevant and serendipitous.

It’s a time of fundemental change in the digital technology experience. Conversations as a platform, A.I. and emerging search technologies are advancing this next frontier in ways that will simplify and enhance our lives and will be critical to every future marketer’s success.

To put a twist on these three timeless words from the Cluetrain Manifesto, it’s not just “markets are conversations,” but the future of “marketing is conversations.”

Ryan Gavin is General Manager, Search and Cortana Marketing at Microsoft.

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