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Marketing in the age of artificial emotional intelligence

Marketing in the age of artificial emotional intelligence
(Image credit: Pixabay)

For brands, personalization is now critical to effective planning, activation and measurement of marketing campaigns. Powered by data and Artificial Intelligence (AI), creating bespoke communications helps to ensure the right person receives the right content, via the right channel at the right time.

About the author

Xue Bai, Senior Research Principal, Gartner.

Today, an emerging technology promises to take personalization to another level. Artificial Emotional Intelligence (AEI) uses a range of behavioral, contextual and emotional data to determine a person’s emotional state and is already being used by brands to refine their online marketing initiatives. However, effective implementation means overcoming some major challenges, including mounting privacy concerns and the need for more staff with analytical skill sets.

The emergence of AEI

It is no secret that emotions inform our behavior and purchasing decisions. It was only a matter of time before marketers found a way to respond to customer moods to drive sales. As technologies like smart devices, biosensors, AI and computer vision have matured, they are playing a big role in making this a reality.

Gartner predicts that in 2020, a majority of enterprises will routinely employ AI-based solutions in marketing. And as soon as 2023, it is projected that emotion will be a major element in marketing initiatives and all major walled gardens (e.g. Amazon and Google) will have incorporated emotions identified by AEI in their overall mix for advertisers to target consumers.

There are major business incentives responsible for these trends. Using AEI, brands can deploy real-time empathetic marketing tactics. Delivering messages that resonate with customers as they shop, AEI allows marketers to measure and engage consumers based on something once thought to be intangible and arguably more effective in driving behaviors. Real-time empathetic marketing has the potential to significantly boost their conversion rate.

Emotional marketing is already here

Twenty-five percent of the Fortune Global 500 already use AEI technologies in market research to test consumers’ emotional response to digital content. Companies like Amazon, IBM and Walmart are investing in a future where they can use AEI, in both online and offline setting, to detect emotions and influence buying decisions. Similarly, publishers such as BuzzFeed, ESPN, The New York Times, Spotify and USA Today are using AEI to serve up content and advertisements based on inferred customer emotions.

Those organisations adopting AEI are doing so by leveraging one or a combination of the following technology groups; audio, biometric sensors, phonetic/text analysis and computer vision. The latter is especially significant, helping AI to identify and interpret physical environments, as well as facial expressions. While there are viable AEI solutions available, development is ongoing.

Technology companies like iMotions and Affectiva are helping brands do market research using a combination of different AEI technologies in product development and creative testing. It won’t be long before brands start to move beyond labs and apply AEI technologies in real-world online and offline retail environments.

Addressing the AEI challenge

While AEI is showing a great deal of potential for brands, there are a number of challenges that need to be addressed for it to fulfill its potential.

First and foremost, integrating AEI with existing content marketing, as well as interpreting the data it produces, requires a unique set of skills. Developing effective ways to pair customer insight of emotional needs and impacts with existing data analytics depends on the expertise of behavioral scientists and ethnographers who either have a quantitative background themselves or whose qualitative skills are complementary to data- and analytical-related roles.

As marketing continues to strive to be more data driven and customer-centric, it requires individuals who know how to conduct customer-centric research, and interpret marketing and customer analytic insights, and who can effectively apply those insights to marketing initiatives. In the case of AEI, this means building personas and customer journey maps based on an in-depth understanding of the way emotional states can impact human behavior.

Building consumer trust

Another challenge involves growing consumer skepticism when it comes to marketing. Many are using ad blockers or taking advantage of tools that introduce uncertainty into marketers’ data, such as Apple’s “reset advertising identifier.” And cluttered email clients and smart phone notification centers may lead them to ignore even the most carefully personalized and contextualized message.

Furthermore, consumers are increasingly sensitive to brand missteps concerning the use of personal information. By integrating emotion into marketing, brands are increasing the amount of sensitive data they need to safeguard from breach. In addition, using this data in the wrong way can also have consequences. An AEI misdelivering marketing content due to failure to discern a customer’s emotional status could result in inappropriate messages and drive negative sentiment.

Mounting privacy concerns and customer skepticism could be a big hurdle and seriously slow down the progress of AEI application in marketing. The key is to give consumers a sense of control through anonymous data collection, transparency and, more importantly, value exchange (offering consumers tangible benefits in exchange for data).

Looking to the AEI future

AEI will make it possible to bring together behavioral and sensory data to hyperpersonalize both physical and digital experiences. This means new opportunities to engage buyers through their purchase journey. But change will be gradual. Considering the current state of emotion-detection technologies, emotional data works best when combined with other more conventional environmental or behavioral data to reach most accurate and effective targeting.

During this transition, brands wanting to develop their emotional marketing capabilities would be well-advised to invest in the specialist talent they will need to work with AEI. Moreover, now is the time to start thinking about how to educate customers about emotional data collection and usage processes, and the tangible benefits it offers to them as consumers.

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