Opinion

Are the robots coming for us in 2018? (Spoiler: they’re probably not)

Tyler Greer director of global sales strategy at Exponential considers what the onslaught of AI and voice predictions actually mean for the marketing industry in 2018.

When asked for technology predictions for the year ahead in digital marketing, it used to be easy. The answer was always ‘mobile’ (at the time of writing this if you Google ‘When was the year of mobile?’ you get articles suggesting it was 2010, 2011, 2015, 2016 and 2017 – and that’s before moving to the elephant’s grave yard of page two).

Answer: Every year

No doubt this will continue to be true in 2018 as our addiction to the ever-more sophisticated small screens in our pockets shows no sign of waning. This year, however, progress on mobile will be supported by the growth and hype around a couple of other technologies.

Namely, and obviously, artificial intelligence and voice.

AI is destined to replace ‘mobile’ as being the go-to prediction for the next few years. The trick will be for marketers to separate the hope from the hyperbole.

At best, it promises a unified and intelligent view on the customer journey and the ways in which we speak with them. At worst, we’ll be tossed onto the employment slag-heap by (possibly malevolent) robots.

It’s unlikely either of these will be the case. Yet what is certain is that AI will underwrite most digital pitches in the market, and buyers and marketers will need to bring good old-fashioned human intelligence to their assessment of which claims can truly fulfil the promises made.

AI will be closely married to voice, the excitement around which is certainly fuelling a lot of talk about the subject. To date, the buzz around voice and voice technology is not yet matched by its penetration into the market or a clear understand of the applications and opportunities which brands may bring to the space.

Brands have established visual identities, but going forward it is likely they may soon need verbal ones too. Voice will be a dominant conversation starter in market, though to get traction quickly will hinge on its ability to play functional, smoothly-operating roles within our lives, and being attached to an end supplier or service provider will greatly hasten adoption.

Amazon gets this. Should Amazon’s Alexa become the entry point for shopping via voice technology, and voice its most functional portal to Amazon shopping, brands and retailers will have a fresh wave of challenges to grapple with.

After a few years of chatter, voice may well turn out not be the agnostic tech opportunity we envisaged – but rather another source of influence and supply dominated by two or three giants (something we will be discussing at length during 2018 as the ACCC gets stuck into its inquiry into digital platform providers).

Amazon Australia looms so large in the retail, brand and advertising landscape that it can barely rate as a thoughtful prediction. But its real impact (upon the retail space, purchase habits and journeys, brand building and equity disciplines, search advertising, and pretty much everything else) whilst yet to be determined is likely to be transformative.

Between AI, voice and, of course, data, Amazon may yet act as the great conversion point in the market. That’s of course assuming Amazon is as trusted and embraced in Australia as in other parts of the world (at the time of writing there is no data, although nothing to challenge this assumption).

The real winners at every link of the advertising and marketing chain in 2018 will be those who can foster levels of trust between themselves and the brand they represent. From fake news to flaky campaign reporting and the black boxes of programmatic, trust will be the most valuable commodity in 2018.

The tech fetish which has dominated the past few years has been a financial boon for many, but has often ushered in a system of opacity and untrustworthiness.

This needs to be addressed swiftly as without trust, it matters not how great the new technological kid on the block is.

Tyler Greer is director, global sales strategy at Exponential. You can find out what a day in his life looks like here.

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