Savvy systems

Savvy systems

In a world built on data and information, so-called ‘savvy systems’ help us make smarter decisions more quickly. But brands have a lot to learn first, writes Heather Dansie.

In the late 70s the founder of Digital Equipment Corp announced: “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home”.

Computers have since infiltrated almost every aspect of our lives and are increasingly taking over what have always been seen as human roles and characteristics. Indeed, today almost anything can now be ‘connected’ into the computer-based systems that we have come to rely so heavily on.

Algorithms are helping to find a cure for cancer; Uber has driverless cars, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has almost achieved the realism of the human voice, and Facebook’s chat bots can take payments and conduct transactions in a way that only a human could before.

As systems learn more about us and what makes us tick, they refine our preferences and become everyone’s personal concierge; offering personalised suggestions and the ability to choose and order on our behalf.

However, their drive for simplicity can limit our choices and create a filter bubble for people to exist in. For example, the algorithms of Amazon, Spotify and BuzzFeed are determined to make suggestions that are most likely to keep you engaged, based on your prior behaviour and that of those similar to you. This can lead to a depth of knowledge in an interest area, but also a flattened view of the world as you only ever see your current opinions and choices reflected back at you.

The Brexit debate is another example, where many people were only exposed to one side of the argument in all of their social media communications. At its core savvy systems allow us to make sense of the excess of data and information, and helps us process this to make smarter decisions more quickly. But we must be wary of blindly following the output without human inquisition.

What does this mean for brands?

Currently, AI offers huge benefits to certain industries and business functions. It is revolutionising manufacturing. It has led to wearable sensors in the medical industry that detect early signs of deterioration and inform carers. Connected cars are also helping us reduce accidents, whilst simultaneously optimising personal time and reducing congestion.

Innovation is being driven beyond the brand marketing sphere. However, all of these interactions and automated moments will lead to data which can be mined for insight to help propel brands forward. Fast commercial growth can be realised by businesses built on data and automated systems – such as Uber and Airbnb – enabling them to disrupt established markets. The more data they produce, the more insightful, efficient and successful they become. Today’s consumers are embracing this disruption.

Savvy systems are becoming the norm. Brands need to join in if they wish to grow and retain their customer base. However, if brands want to build their own data and savvy systems they need to ensure the right value exchange.

The most successful brands are the ones that use data to offer a true human benefit. If we cut through the complexity and instead define technology as an enabler to make things faster, easier and to be more helpful – in essence to ‘get things done’ – the marketing application becomes much broader.

Brands are already tapping into systems that offer a benefit to customers, with things as simple as product purchase suggestions, controlling your heating from the train, through to social time savers. The convenience that is offered means we allow them to make everyday decisions for us, embedding our favourite brands deeper into our lives.

What it means for communications and media?

Automation in advertising will deliver truly personalised messages at the right time and in the right place, resulting in a smoother experience that makes the audience feel valued, building brand loyalty and affinity.

The opportunities that savvy systems bring are not only about personalisation and loyalty; they give us the opportunity to radically change the way we use media to truly connect with people. Programmatic (and of course programmatic today means more than digital display – consider video, TV and radio as well) is not only a way to deliver targeted media, but also about harnessing insight on the many different signs of intent, to better inform our campaigns and understand potential opportunities.

We must understand how the intent to browse, the intent to discover and to evangelise fit with our marketing goals. It means understanding when the brand should communicate certain messages and when not, hopefully winning back any trust that has been lost, which has been so evident with the rise of the adblockers.

The rise of automated content also means that it becomes more difficult for advertisers to disrupt the consumer journey. How can brands use media to break our filter bubbles and attract new audiences? If the ‘shopping list’ of a household will be generated by an automated system that is synchronised to our fridges, how can a new marketer ensure that its product is on the shopping list? Will we have to market to the fridges? I don’t think so. Our role as media professionals will always be about exciting curiosity and disrupting habits and routine purchases. Thinking differently about the data at hand and finding new types of data will enable this.

As for the algorithms and automation – the AI chatbot and self-driving car – they all need humans to structure the learning and improve. Humans ask the questions and redefine the rules to drive a human benefit. We should invest in resources that understand the algorithms and identify the opportunities they offer; as well as the limitations they set.

We will need data artists to join our armies of data analysts and work alongside strategists and comms leaders to make sense of the data and systems.

The brands and campaigns that will win out will focus on customer relationships and human experience in addition to the sales goals and profit margin. The true power of savvy systems will be unlocked when we ask curious humans to ask questions and expand our understanding.

As Jonathan Harris wrote on Big Data, “[savvy systems] will help us see the world as it is – but will it help us see the world as it could be?”

Heather Dansie is associate research director, Starcom

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