In April, Facebook gave the world a glimpse into the work of its ‘moonshot’ unit, Building 8, as it explores the possibility of understanding the human mind through sensor-based technology. The department is working on a ‘brain-to-computer’ interface that would allow humans to send thoughts straight to a PC or laptop, and technology that can ‘hear’ or absorb language through vibrations on a person’s skin.

The insights from these studies will be particularly significant for marketing professionals, because their success depends on an in-depth understanding of the desires, motivations and behaviour of consumers in order to create personalised, relevant and persuasive messages. But what many of them may not realise is that technology built to detect the emotional state of consumers online with impressive accuracy is actually already working.

Bridging the gap

Although an era in which advertisers can respond automatically to raw human emotions is some time away, artificial intelligence is bridging the gap between customer experiences and the way people feel at a particular moment. AI is being used to learn the behaviour of existing users and analyse trillions of data points before predicting the exact time and place a consumer is likely to respond to an ad. 

Although it might not be able to detect for certain whether a user is angry, happy or in the mood to spend, it can process oceans of data in real time and identify the moments that tell us when they are likely to be receptive to a brand’s message, product or promotion. Do they work nine to five? Are they a sports fan who relaxes with an iPad and a beer on a Saturday afternoon? Or a London-based 20-something who shops for accessories late at night? Every moment consumers interact online paints a unique picture of who they are and when they want to receive communications from brands.

Artificial intelligence helps us identify these patterns and provides the ability to predict the next step in a customer journey. Not only does this make advertising scalable, efficient and cost-effective, it solves a problem that traditional marketing has failed to adequately address in the past – how to really deliver the right information, to the right person, at the right time.

Data that is shared by others or inaccurate data along with too much focus on tight segmentation have limited the capabilities of brands to reach the right audience. This has made consumers increasingly immune to poorly-targeted advertising campaigns, causing them to block – either mentally or technologically – the many unwanted messages they get each day. By taking a more ‘predictive’ approach and using AI, marketers get to solve both of these problems; they no longer need to put limits and constraints on the customers they reach and at the same time can deliver adverts that resonate, rather than irritate.

“New normal”

We recently discovered consumers actually value advertising when it helps them to find the products and services they want. In Rocket Fuel’s global Perceptions of AI study, two-thirds of consumers – and as much as 80% of millennial audiences – said they see the benefit of artificial intelligence in providing personalised advertising and offers. This is evidence that the use of technology to present people with relevant messaging or advertising is becoming the new normal.

What many performance marketers don’t realise is that this ‘holy grail’ is within their reach. Successful advertising that delivers relevant messaging is dependent on smart data and the right technology to help organise and utilise the information. With artificial intelligence, we can use owned data, not bought, to learn the behaviour of customers, then search near-infinite profiles of people who display the same characteristics online. More robust data directly translates to more accurate audience targeting and timing, and subsequently increases the likelihood of customer conversion.

In addition, we can identify the precise moments – based on their lifestyle, character traits and likely mood – to deliver advertising that people are happy to receive. This level of personalisation is rewarded with higher levels of engagement, brand awareness and ROI along with a lower cost per acquisition.

Changing marketing

Much like the innovative work Facebook is doing, artificial intelligence-based marketing is about the deep understanding of people – their needs, preferences and even emotions. With machine learning we can gain more granular insight into what drives consumers to act, click or make a purchase and then use the same technology to reach the right individual, not just their device. After all, smartphones don’t buy things – people do. We can also focus on the moment they are likely to take action, rather than targeting outdated or restrictive segments. And we can do it all automatically, at scale and at speed.

This transformation changes the way marketers and their agencies will think about their business and develop their marketing strategies going forward. For the end user it means brand experiences that anticipate their frame of mind and the moments in which they’re happy to respond. Meanwhile, organisations and marketing teams gain more control, enjoy more engagement, reduce wasted ad opportunities and make that all-important connection with their customers, whether it’s skin deep or not.