‘Artificial intelligence will change consumer decision-making process’, says Chris Stephenson

Within a decade marketers will have to worry more about the algorithm than emotion Chris Stephenson, chief strategist for media agency PHD, has predicted.

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The bold pronouncement was made during the international keynote last week at the Mumbrella360 conference with Stephenson warning that humans are not far away from a future where consumers will have virtual personal assistants (VPAs) who will make purchasing decisions for them.

“The AI (artificial intelligence) train is coming,” Stephenson said.

“As marketers, as media people this isn’t something that will just vaguely enter our world. Artificial intelligence is going to come hurtling through our yard, it is going to change our industry, it is going to change our what we do and how we do it.

“It is going to have massive significant impacts on our industry.”

Stephenson cited the rapid developments in the AI space in recent years and argued that these developments would soon flow to consumers.

“Where we are is one minute to midnight on AI eve,” he said.

“The last few decades have see various technologies and developments that have got us to this moment where we are on the edge of an AI future.

“Where we are right now is in the space of ‘narrow AI’ artificial intelligence that is really good at learning to do one thing really really well… the next thing that will happen is that those computers will start to not just do one thing well, but transferring that to other forms of artificial intelligence something called ‘strong AI’.”

The strategist said strong AI would allow computers to learn more and more new tasks and open up a number of possibilities where computers can actively help consumers in their purchasing decisions and other practical tasks.

“Why would you ever buy a toothpaste again? When your VPA can buy your toothpaste for you?” Stephenson told the room.

He urged marketers and agencies alike to build experience and knowledge in things like search engine optimisation, arguing that many decisions in the future would be built on algorithm marketing as consumers outsourced many of their day-to-day purchasing decisions to computers.

“Start thinking about how you get as much information as possible in SEO,” he said. “We all think we know this stuff, we all think we get programmatic and how to optimise for SEO. We all get it in theory, but how many of you have actually used the interface? How many of us have been on the computer and inputted the numbers?

“Get across it. Get across it now. All the technology we are about to see are SEO-based technologies.”

He also said that while the importance “big data” may have become a cliche, marketers needed to recognise its value and be very hesitant to give it away to others.

“We need to ignore those people who say ‘oh, big data is so 2014’. Ignore them, it is important, it is valuable and make good decisions with it,” he said.

“Marketers need to run into it. They need to own as much of it as they possibly can and realise that they give it away at their peril.”

A panel discussion later in the day took up the topic of Stephenson’s presentation, but some members questioned the timeframe in which AI would become central to marketing.


L:R Aaron Bell, Chaminda Ranasinghe, Annelise Douglass, Stewart Gurney.

“I think there are some misconceptions about the different forms of AI”, Aaron Bell, CEO of Adroll said.

“A lot of the AI we see today is about solving problems for people, be it recommending a Netflix movie or recognising a face.

“I am in the camp where there is still a scientific breakthrough needed to think like a human being would… On the question of virtual personal assistants I do think they are going to be much more involved with us and all the major tech companies are building them out – Facebook, Google etc – and they are doing the utility thing of making your life easier.”

ANZ Bank head of digital sales and marketing, Chaminda Ranasinghe, said he believed the marketing industry would be massively impacted by the growth of AI and that the jobs marketers would be doing would change significantly in the coming years.

“We will be doing different jobs,” Ranasinghe said. “In 20 years time I can guarantee you the jobs we will all be doing haven’t been written today. We haven’t worked that out yet.

“Marketers are going to have to become far more precise and focused on quality and customer satisfaction. The 4Ps (of marketing) aren’t going to go away but they are going to evolve in terms of who we reach customers.

“The experience is going to be about how the virtual personal assistant responds to your satisfaction.”


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