Artificial intelligence and new marketing opportunities

In episode 73 of podcast ‘Review The Future’, the hosts interview Calum Chace, author of the book ‘The Economic Singularity: Artificial Intelligence and the Death of Capitalism’. The three discuss the long-term implications of the improvement of artificial intelligence (AI) so that it can now effectively replace humans in more and more tasks; a discussion that covers consequences for areas as diverse as employment, income distribution, welfare systems, or capitalism.


It is a fascinating discussion, though slightly anxiety-inducing! After all, as Chace notes, it is not even necessary for AI to be good enough to replace humans in a certain area (say, driving) for its effects (on employment, income, etc…) to be felt. All we need is for perceptions about AI’s ability to replace humans to take hold.


Anxiety aside, the discussion is also extremely stimulating if we start considering the resulting opportunities in terms of new products and services. This post outlines my initial ideas about such opportunities.


Here we go.


The premise

The key premise of the podcast discussion is that AI will continue to improve to a point where it can replace humans, at an advantage, in most areas of economic life.


This premise is encapsulated in the book’s blurb, which reads:

Artificial intelligence (AI) is overtaking our human ability to absorb and process information. Robots are becoming increasingly dextrous, flexible, and safe to be around (except the military ones).


(W)ithin a few decades, most humans will not be able to work for money.  Self-driving cars will probably be the canary in the coal mine, providing a wake-up call for everyone who isn’t yet paying attention. All jobs will be affected, from fast food McJobs to lawyers and journalists. This is the single most important development facing humanity in the first half of the 21st century.”


The implication of this premise is that those whose skills can be replaced by AI, will lose. By contrast, those that control access to AI and those whose skills can not be replaced by AI will win.


The exceptions

The podcast discussion considers three areas in which humans have an advantage over AI: Artistic vision, Attention, and Status. And this is what I think they mean.


Artistic vision – the ability to conceive of a work of art (e.g., a painting or a story). Though, it is perfectly possible for AI to execute that work of art (such as producing a digital picture or 3D sculpture; or stringing sentences together to write a book).


Attention – the ability to share experiences, consciously (e.g., attending a concert together and sharing in the emotion; or reading a blog post and engaging with the ideas expressed in that post).


Status – the ability to perceive that someone is better than their peers in some significant dimension, and acting accordingly (e.g., by praising that person, trusting their judgment, or trying to gain their favour).


The opportunities

So, what do this premise and these three exceptions mean in terms of opportunities for new products and services?


Here are my initial ideas. I am very conscious, however, that these suggestions are rather narrow, because I am neither an entrepreneur nor a futurist. So, I am looking forward to hear what opportunities you can spot.


>> Ubiquitous use of AI

Much like those selling maps, buckets and spades benefited from the gold rush, or e-commerce consultants and website developers benefited from the internet bubble, those providing AI related advice and equipment are likely to benefit from the popularisation of AI.


Consulting services are likely to be in demand, particularly those around strategy and change management. There are also some opportunities around the manufacture, deployment and maintenance of AI equipment. And, also, some opportunities around the design and maintenance of software, though there are limitations here around machine learning applications.


>> Artistic vision

While AI may be able to string materials, colours and words together, it can not consciously create a piece of art that is meant to elicit a particular emotion or reaction.


Of course, the programme may learn that certain names or words are associated with a topic or a sentiment, and combine them in different ways in order to elicit a certain response – for instance, as measured by the sentiment analysis of customer feedback. However, I think that AI will always be lagging behind the human artist, here, in terms of sensing, responding to, or even moulding human sensitivity.



>> Attention

Some people crave attention, the others want to express it, and companies that facilitate the transfer of that attention can win. For instance, companies that offer platforms that make it easy for the two parties to get together – like the Airbnb or the Uber of attention.


Or companies that produce technology that bridge the gap between attention givers and attention seekers – like what Skype did for communication.



>> Status

The issue with status is that it needs some sort of certification – e.g., you need a title (like a university degree), or a symbol (like a logo on your website) or a measure (like a Klout ranking). So, entities that confer or certify whatever form of status is valid in that AI-dominated world, could do very well.


The other issue with status is that it is dynamic. It can increase or decrease, because of what is happening to your source of status (i.e., whether you are getting more of whatever your status is based on), and to others (i.e., if more people acquire the source of status, the value of your ‘stock’ decreases). So, it seems to me that the providers of services that amplify status can do very well… much like investment bankers or wealth managers can increase your wealth, currently, by getting you return for your investment and/or making sure that you get more return than the market’s average.



Your turn: let your imagination run, and tell me who wins as AI becomes more and more popular. I can’t wait to read your ideas.


Should gyms be fun or hardwork?

I am quite annoyed with myself.


You see, I usually pride myself of seeing through tempting packaging or sales deals, and base my purchase decisions on the product and its value for me, more than anything else.



FullSizeRenderYet, here I am, very foolishly mourning the fact that the gym that I usually go to was bought by another company and is trading under a new brand. All the factors that arguably matter for gym choice (equipment and classes, opening hours and quality of personnel, supplementary benefits, and social factors) are still the same. The main things that changed are that the gym is no longer so red, and that there is a new website to book classes. So, it really should not make any difference to me.


I guess that, after all, I was attached to that gym’s brand. I liked the former brand’s focus on fitness, rather than the current one’s focus on health. And I like the sense of mischief and fun associated with the former brand, better than the ‘sensible’ image projected by the new one.


And maybe the former gym brand is actually onto something because this study by Carolina O. C. Werle, Brian Wansink and Collin R. Payne found that when exercise is perceived as fun, it leads to less snacking and over-eating than when exercise is perceived as hard work.


Will I change gym because of the new owner? Well, unlikely.


Research in the hotel environment, concluded that consumers’ identification with the brand affects their evaluation of the brand but that, at the end of the day, hotel choice depends on the customers’ evaluation of the service experience. Likewise, I am likely to continue to use the gym because it scores well on the gym choice factors mentioned above.


But, boy, do I hope that the new brand will start injecting some fun into its identity and activities.


To what extent is interacting with a fun fitness brand important for you?


July 2016 round-up

Hello from sunny California, where I travelled to in order to attend (and present at) the Academy of Management annual conference. I am presenting my research on the hidden biases of algorithms used in decision making – specifically, those present in algorithms that sort through our financial transactions.

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If you are interested in this topic, you may like this discussion about the importance of algorithms in daily life, the biases in their development and use, and the challenges of studying them. It is a really long video, though (1h34m) – so, save it for when you have some time.


Other than that, here are my highlights from July. Tell me yours, in the comments below.



My bid for a small grant to do some work on the digital footprints of children was rejected😦

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The rejection seemed to be mostly due to the high number of applications and due to preference being given to early career researchers, rather than because of a major flaw with the application. As a result, I did not get much feedback that I can build on to improve it, before I submit it elsewhere.


I need to think about how I can improve this research proposal, as I really want to getsome funding to do this work, because I think that it is highly consequential for marketers, as well as consumers (particularly, children as future consumers).




The paper that I revised and resubmitted last month, came back with a request for some further changes. As it is for a special issue, this is the last round of revisions – in other words, I either manage to address all concerns this time, or it won’t be considered for publication. Can you keep your fingers crossed for me, please?


I also submitted an extended abstract for consideration by another publication. And I continue to make (slow but steady) progress on that ‘co-authored paper which has been neglected for too long (but which I am determined to submit this summer!)’ that I mentioned last month.



Teaching wise, I had the presentations from the student consulting projects and, as usual, I was most impressed by the quality of their research and recommendations. Live projects are a lot of work to organise and support, and always cause a lot of stress to students and teaching team alike… but they are so valuable.


Other than that, I had marking to do, annual reports to write regarding my PhD students, and dissertation supervision.



I have been going through the results of a large survey done with some colleagues, in order to write a report for the participants.


As I trained as a qualitative researcher, it is a bit challenging for me to query the data beyond simple descriptive statistics. So, making sense of the data in order to write the report has been an opportunity to hone my quantitative analysis skills.

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When I was on sabbatical, I did part 1 of a statistical analysis course… but, then, I got back to my daily routine and the demands of the programme leader role, and was unable to complete part 2. I must redress this situation!



What were July’s highlights for you?

Consumers are talking about you, but what do they really mean?

Dr. Robin Croft, a fellow academic and much valued commentator here on the blog, drew my attention to an ethnographic study that he carried out with two other colleagues [1], on how different genders talk about products, services and brands.


Croft and his colleagues observed informal conversations between various groups of people. Each group had only male or female participants, and they all knew each other, already. So, this study was as close as you can get to hearing friends or colleagues sharing their experiences or views about the products and brands that are meaningful to them.


As captured in table 1, the research team found significant differences between the all-male and the all-female groups in terms of content of the conversations, as well as the extent of information exchanged and the dynamics of that exchange.

Croft female vs male

Image source


For instance, while the men tended to talk in broad terms (e.g., about the product category), the women were more inclined to talk about specific product names or service providers. Likewise, the conversations in the all-male groups tended to be rather linear, and use a limited verbal style. By contrast, the all-female groups engaged in very iterative conversations, using rich vocabulary and frequently interrupting each other.


Another interesting aspect detected by the researchers was that women would engage in discussions, whereas the men were more likely to state facts. The researchers argue that this is because these conversations serve different purposes for females vs. males. Specifically, the researchers argue that, in these conversations, females shared information to help each other, whereas the males share information to assert status. They say:

the key source of power was knowledge, and respondents appeared to be using it to make power statements and to position themselves vis-à-vis other group members. Many of the male interventions seemed designed to show the speaker in a new light – intelligent, articulate, well informed, widely travelled, well read, and so on (p. 726)


So, according to this research, different people going through the same consumption experience might talk about different things. Moreover, even if they mention the same aspect of the consumption experience (for instance, the price of the product), it might have different meanings. For some, the information could be shared primarily for the benefit of the recipient of the message; for others, the information could be shared mostly for the benefit of the sender of the message. For some, it could be one of many details about the consumption experience; for others, it could be the defining feature of that experience.

FB algorithm
This paper certainly gave me some food for thought about factors to consider when analysing social media conversations. What about you?

[1] Croft, R., Boddy, C. and Pentucci, C. (2007) Say what you mean, mean what you say: An ethnographic approach to male and female conversations. International Journal of Market Research 49(6):715-734 available here

Popularity of social media posts important for sales and loyalty

We know that content that gets a lot of reaction is more likely to make it to our customers Facebook newsfeed than other content, because of the way Facebook’s algorithm prioritises what to show.


Image source

But the question is, is this type of content also likely to get customers through the door?


A study by researchers Ashish Kumar, Ram Bezawada, Rishika Rishika, Ramkumar Janakiraman and P.K. Kannan [1] indicates that the answer to this question is Yes. The study, which I also mentioned here, examined the link between the level of engagement in a wine retailer’s social media page, and the company’s instore sales.


In terms of engagement, the study looked at:

  • Valence – i.e., the sentiment of the posts. This factor is controlled by the firm.
  • Receptivity – i.e. the popularity of the posts. This factor reflects the customer involvement with the content.
  • Customer susceptibility to social media posts – i.e., the customer’s predisposition towards using social media. This factor reveals “the underlying mechanisms that may drive observed (subsequent) effects” (p.8).


As illustrated in table 1, the researchers found that popular posts had the most impact on both customer spending and cross-buying. Cross-buying refers to the

number of product categories that a customer buys from. A high number is taken to signal a strong relationship between the customer and the firm.


The next factor influencing sales was the post’s valence (i.e., the emotion conveyed or elicited by the post). Customer susceptibility had some impact, but not much.

Table 1. Impact of ongoing marketing communications on sales

Social to sale table 9

Source: Kumar et al (2016)

In other words, this study reinforces the view that, when it comes to generating sales and developing the relationship, it is important to create content that is likely to get noticed, and create a reaction (likes, shares, comments…). I.e., volume of reaction is important.


A similar effect had been observed in a study looking at the impact of online product reviews. That study (which I mentioned here), found that, for a mass market product, the number of online reviews that the product received had more influence on its success than the valence of the reviews.



Hard evidence that social media activity helps the bottom line

Social media activity can improve brand perceptions and customer service, but does it translate into more sales and profitability? That is the question tha06847e420ee287917c097ed3e602c23dt I am often asked. So, I was very pleased to come across two studies, recently, which measured exactly that. Here is a very brief overview of these two studies, and what the findings mean for marketers.


Study 1. Impact of short-term advertising campaign on sales

The first study was done by two researchers at Monash University, Peter J. Danaher and Tracey S. Dagger [1]. They studied the impact of a four-week advertising campaign on the sales of an Australian department store. The advertising campaign included television, radio, newspaper, magazine, online display, sponsored search, social media, catalogue, direct mail, and e-mail channels, and the adverts focused on the promotions taking place at that retail store during the month-long sales campaign.


They found that traditional media were more effective than digital media at generating short term sales, as illustrated in Table 1 [2]. Specifically, catalogues, television, and direct mail have the most influence on sales during that period, while social media has a negligible effect, only.


Table 1. Impact of blitz campaign on sales

Social sales 01

Source: Danaher and Dagger (2013)


Study 2. Impact of ongoing marketing communications on sales

The second study was done by a team of researchers based in Finland and in the US, namely Ashish Kumar, Ram Bezawada, Rishika Rishika, Ramkumar Janakiraman and P.K. Kennan [3]. As with study 1, this study examined the impact of marketing communications on sales, this time at a large, US based, wine retailer on sales. However, this study looked at a mixture of promotional and non-promotional messages. Furthermore, this study looked at both customer spending (as study 1 did), and cross-purchase behaviour (which is seen as an indicator of “the breadth of a customer’s relationship with a firm” (p. 8).


As had happened in study 1, this study found that traditional media were better than digital or social at generating short term sales (See table 2). However, the study also found that that advantage decreased over time… Moreover, social media were better than traditional or digital media at generating cross-purchases (which, as mentioned above, is deemed to be an indicator of the strength or quality of the relationship between the firm and the customer).

Table 2. Impact of ongoing marketing communications on sales

social to sale table 7

Source: Kumar, Bezawada, Rishika, Janakiraman and Kannan (2016)


Implications for marketers

Taken together, these studies show that while traditional media still plays a very important role in blitz campaigns aiming to generate short term sales, social media is clearly important in terms of developing the commercial relationship in the long term.


Let me know what you think about these studies. 


[1] Danaher, P. J. and Dagger, T. S. (2013) Comparing the Relative Effectiveness of Advertising Channels: A Case Study of a Multimedia Blitz Campaign. Journal of Marketing Research: August 2013, Vol. 50, No. 4, pp. 517-534. (here, but paid access, only)

[2] The authors think that the poor performance of online display ads is due to the fact that it is not possible for customers of this retailer to make online purchases.

[3] Kumar, A., Bezawada, R., Rishika, R. Janakiraman, R., and Kannan, P.K.  (2016) From Social to Sale: The Effects of Firm-Generated Content in Social Media on Customer Behavior. Journal of Marketing: January 2016, Vol. 80, No. 1, pp. 7-25. (final version here, but paid access, only; or print version here, open access).

Using Snapchat as an academic

This thing of being a researcher interested in how technology impacts on interactions between an organisation and its customers has its advantages: I get to experiment with the latest technology crazes, without feeling a weirdo. No, I am not playing with Pokemon Go. I am just doing research😉 After all, I need to understand the technologies that customers are using, right?!


Because of this, I have been playing around with Snapchat – you know, that social media platform that is very popular with teens. I confess that, initially, I felt very much like this:


Image source

But, now, I am actually enjoying the immediate, minimum editing nature of Snapchat communication, specially the stories. Here are some thoughts about what I am liking, what puts me off, and how this platform might be good for researchers.


What I am liking

I find Snapchat stories great for experimentation and for making sense of one’s thoughts – much better than than, say, YouTube. And I get a sense of connection with the story teller much stronger than on a blog, for instance. Also, the time-limited nature of the postings does create (in me, at least) a certain compulsion to keep checking if there is something new (unlike, say, Instagram).

As viewer / consumer, I like when the stories are entertaining and/or make me think. I also like to see some sort of pattern or consistency in the type of content shared.

Two users that I find particularly entertaining are:

  • Chocolate Johnny – He is a chocolatier based in Australia who shares a mix of behind the scenes images, testimonials, and amusing stories.
  • Tristantales – He produces fiction stories on Snapchat, sometimes inviting followers to decide the next step on the story (e.g., leave through the door or the window).



On the ‘making me think’ front, I find these users really interesting and worth my time (in alphabetical order):

  • Chris Marr – Founder of The Content Marketing Academy, based in Scotland. He snaps a lot (! maybe bit too much?!), offering a mixture of behind the scenes content (e.g., choosing a venue for one of his workshops), reflections (e.g., deciding on pricing strategy for an event), and helpful content (e.g., top tips on coming up with good content for your company).
  • Ian Anderson Gray – Ian is quite irregular both in terms of frequency and type of content shared. I think it is because he is still finding his voice on Snapchat, and experimenting… which I enjoy. I also like how he verbalises what is going through his mind, social media wise, and offers a very human side to the business man. Ian is based in England.
  • Jill Walker Rettberg – Jill is the only academic on this list. She is a professor of digital culture at the University of Bergen (Norway), and I like her reflections about the nature of Snapchat, about how we communicate on this platform, and so on… as well as about research in general (for instance, grant applications). As with Ian (above), I feel that she is experiment and finding her way on the platform, and I like that vulnerability.
  • String Story – Suzanne (not sure if this is the right spelling), is a digital marketing consultant, based in Australia. She clearly puts a lot of thought into how she uses Snapchat, and what stories she tells. For instance, she has a schedule: Mondays are about Snapchat; Tuesdays about Technology; and Thursdays are for swaps with other Snapchat users. She also plans the topic and content of each session carefully (love her handwritten plans. Nice touch.) I am learning a lot (!) with her.
  • Thomas Moen – Thomas is marketer based in Norway. I became aware of him via Jill (above). He shares short stories with varied marketing advice – mostly relative to digital communications, but not exclusively. I like that this stories are short and straight to the point. They are  told in a matter of fact way, with minimum use of filters and other distractions. His stories are all about the message, not gimmicks.


What puts me off

I really do not have much patience for endless pictures of coffee mugs, or sunsets, or ‘look where I am today’.

I also don’t like too much use of filters – it’s difficult to take someone seriously, when they are wearing a virtual flower garland, or have a dog’s nose and ears super-imposed on their face.

And, finally, please no posts from your bed, in your PJs or, even worse, in bare chest (yes, really!).

Again, this is in a professional capacity. Any of the above might be fine if you were sending a snap to your friend… maybe. But definitely not when you are sharing content in a professional capacity.


Using Snapchat as an academic

I have experimented with exploring / talking through something marketing related that caught my attention (for instance, this one), or about an interesting research article or fact that I came across (like this one). I really enjoy this type of interaction, and plan to produce a lot more of these stories, particularly to share cool papers or reports that I come across. I figure that, by doing so, I can help my followers find new stuff, and it will motivate me to read even when I am super busy with teaching or marking. Win-win. Also, it is not very time consuming – certainly less than writing a blog post.


I also experimented with just talking through some daily occurrence (e.g., last day of the term), but I don’t like doing this type of content that much – maybe because I do not have much patience to watch this type of stories, myself.


Finally, I also shared my students’ presentations. This type of content got a lot of positive reaction, but I don’t feel very comfortable doing it, because of concerns with ‘informed consent’. I need to find a better way of doing this!


I would love to see some stories from my fellow academics about research in progress – I could learn about things as they are developing, rather than wait many months for the results to be published. And maybe stories about books and papers being thought of, written, and so on. It would be very informative and inspirational. Though, I do appreciate that such stories might present problems in terms of making anonymous peer reviewing more difficult, or even present a threat to ‘intellectual property’.


Your turn: What stories would you like to see from an academic? And what one snapchat account should I start following?