6 ways that IBM Watson is changing digital marketing
The remote availability of "genius-as-a-service" profoundly changes how demand is generated, sales are made and customers are kept.
While IBM’s Watson supercomputing service is named after former IBM chairman and CEO Thomas Watson, the name also recalls another famous Watson.
“Mr. Watson, come here,” Alexander Graham Bell reportedly yelled into the mouthpiece of the first working telephone in 1876, summoning his assistant and marking the first call ever.
So, it’s completely appropriate that IBM’s Watson — representing the transmitted availability of supercomputing to anywhere on the planet — bears a name that has played a central role in the emergence of both computing and telecommunications.
But this is not an ordinary remote computing service. Instead, it’s what mobile retail platform NewStore CMO Phil Granof described to me as “genius-as-a-service.” Watson and similar services mean that the highest levels of computing intelligence are now available to any tool, anywhere.
This “changes almost everything,” analyst David Raab told me, adding that “algorithms are now a commodity.”
Watson, of course, is not the only member of this super-smart AI crowd. Amazon has been running remote high-performance computing services, for instance. Google has expanded its AI-powered service in such areas as natural language and machine vision.
And intelligent agents like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana and Samsung’s Bixby are providing conversational interfaces to high-end computing and data services. There are also AI layers arriving every day into cloud-based platforms, likes ones in Demandbase and Signpost, remotely available but inside the product.
Yet this is only the first wave. We can expect others will make these kinds of services even more widely available, plus the high-end will keep moving up. In five or ten years, perhaps we’ll be talking about how marketing is affected by remotely available quantum computing.
It’s common to say that digital marketing and ads are data-driven, but that’s like saying a car is driven by fuel. A car is driven by fuel, assuming it has an engine and wheels. Digital marketing/ads are driven by data, assuming some level of computing engine.
Now, because the highest levels of computing intelligence are available to any platform or tool, the computing engine has gone through the roof. It’s as if every car now can remotely access the speed of a NASA rocket.
The question is: where is this taking digital marketing? At least six advances — science fiction only a few years ago — are now well on their way to becoming commonplace:
- Ads that think. To date, the “interactivity” of online ads has largely been a set of canned responses, like animation or video. “Personalized” ads have been ones assembled on the fly from a fixed set of elements for the segment of many users where you find yourself. But Watson and similar services can now power ads that generate original content tailored just for you. For instance, Watson now can immediately return custom recipes based on food ingredients you enter into an ad, because he understands how human taste works.
- The universal availability of cognitive marketing. IDC analyst Gerry Murray and others have been predicting the arrival of cognitive marketing for a while, and now it’s here, initially in major platforms like Adobe or Salesforce, but also in smaller platforms like YesPath and Mariana. The everywhere availability of high-end intelligence means applications and platforms that understand content, and that understand the consequence and value of its own actions without being told via rules, are becoming the norm.
- Related to cognitive marketing: marketers and advertisers will increasingly rely on their software tools to tell them what’s important, what’s out of place, what they should focus on. You see this in how Salesforce’s Einstein layer or Adobe’s Sensei are surfacing those insights, as well as smaller platforms like Absolutdata or Pegasystems, or how Watson is driving insights in platforms like Rocket Fuel or Equals 3’s Lucy. As more and more tools employ remote super-intelligence, we’ll increasingly expect our tools to tell us what’s up.
- High-end understanding of communications — especially machine vision, natural language processing and translation — will become table stakes. Very sophisticated conversational interfaces, real-time interpretation of language, understanding of what’s in still and moving imagery and automated processing of phone calls mean that Star Trek-like interaction between humans and machines are becoming the standard.
- Expert systems on demand. Back in the last century, expert systems were specialized resources that needed extensive training and support for use in special circumstances. Remote supercomputing now means that expert systems are becoming available in every industry and for every need, starting with ones for medicine, mining and shopping. In some cases, those expert systems are applied not to a specialized industry, but to the world at large, providing higher resolution in determining the impacts of weather or local events on buying patterns. For instance, Salesforce says it is utilizing Watson when it has its own Einstein AI layer because Watson brings insights from outside-world data.
- It’s all about the data. Data has certainly been a competitive advantage for some time, as Oracle, Adobe, Salesforce and many others acquired data-managing companies and established data clouds. But when insights, understanding or highly intelligent agents are available on demand, the quality and amount of data becomes the key differentiator.
Super-intelligence dramatically raises capabilities of tools and platforms, but the remote availability levels the playing field. AI built within platforms may retain advantages of integration and purposefulness, but universal access to genius permanently changes expectations of how every marketing tool should operate.