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Rise of the Machines: AI & The Future of Paid Search

Look back at the relationship between technology and marketing over the years and you’ll notice recurring patterns. As technology develops, so does consumer behaviour; as consumer behaviour changes, marketers adapt. We saw it with the development of the World Wide Web, we saw it with the growth of mobile browsing, and we’ll continue to see it in the future.

It all comes down to communication opportunities. Not long ago, marketing messages were universal, rigid and interruptive. Today, technology has allowed modern marketers to direct dynamic, highly-targeted solutions at customers who are either actively looking or statistically more likely to be interested in specific products and services. This data-driven approach takes the guesswork out of marketing, benefiting both business and consumer by providing the right messages to the right people at the right time.

Perhaps predictably, paid search is one aspect of digital marketing leading this consumer-first trend of personalisation. The comprehensive data that technology has made available to marketers allows us to place brands in consumers’ line of sight in ways that have never been possible before.

At this year’s CES Global Technology Marketplace in Nevada, the overwhelming theme of all products on showcase was artificial intelligence. The machines are well and truly taking over, so it would seem. So what does this mean for marketers? Simple answer: everything.

Voice-commanded search

Apple’s Siri has dominated voice-command headlines in recent years, but there’s a new player in the market that could be equally, if not more influential, particularly for B2C marketing. Amazon’s Alexa AI featured on everything from washing machines to autonomous cars at CES 2017, and brands will undoubtedly adopt the AI more as consumer awareness and demand grows.

In terms of digital marketing, voice-commanded search opens up massive opportunities. Imagine a conversation with your home AI system in which you ask: “Alexa, what time is Star Wars on at the cinema tonight?” and she responds with screening times from the cinema that has bid highest for that particular voice command, in the same way PPC ads appear on SERPs.

In 2016, 20 percent of Google searches on mobile were made via voice command. As the technology progresses and uptake increases, expect this figure to grow considerably.

Automation and micro-moments

Ironically, it’s possible that the future of paid search will be centred around the user not having to search at all. Instead, automation technologies will present relevant and targeted adverts (veiled as helpful suggestions) to consumers based on their offline behaviour.

One example of how this could play out is through in-car technology. Omron, a manufacturer of industrial automation controls, has developed a facial recognition technology that is able to detect when a driver is feeling tired. Aside from the obvious impact this could have on driver safety, it opens up yet more marketing opportunities for brands.

Picture this – you’ve been driving on the motorway for a few hours when your in-car AI detects that your eyelids are drooping, and tells you: “Hi Michael, you’re looking a little tired, why don’t you stop for a coffee? There’s a Starbucks at the next exit”.

Google would call this a ‘micro-moment’. It’s a targeting strategy that revolves around the split-second moments in consumers’ day-to-day lives that present opportunities for brands. It might be a moment that they’re actively aware of – for example, seeing a pair of green shoes in the street and then being presented with a shopping advert showing those same green shoes after a Google search. Or it might be something an AI reads in them that they aren’t even aware of themselves, like the coffee example above.

Brands of the future will need to consider these micro-moments far more in order to stand out from the competition. Again, new technologies, new marketing.

Predictions or inevitabilities?

Predictions are dangerous, but these aren’t predictions, they’re inevitabilities. There’s two recurring themes in the advancements I’ve mentioned above.

Firstly, hyper-personalisation. Mass-message marketing is dying a death, and the marketer of the future will have an armoury of tools at his disposal unlike anything we see today. Job titles will completely change, as will the way we think about how to market our products and services. There will be less guessing about how people are behaving on and offline, and more data that proves it. From this information we’ll be able to zero in on the micro-moments of individual consumer’s lives in which an opportunity to sell arises, and being at the forefront of this innovation will be key to marketing success for brands.

Secondly, there is the continued shift to consumer-first marketing – that being, working to provide the consumer messages and solutions in a way that is most convenient to them. Expect to see use of Google’s search bar drop in the near future, while voice-commanded search percentages see gains. Looking deeper into our crystal ball, there’s a world in which we won’t even have to ask, the machines will already know.

Scary? Exciting.


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Jan 20, 2017