How AI is shaping a future of emotionally responsive marketing

Thought Leadership
WARC recently published this article by Head of R&I, Paul Greenwood, looking at why the ongoing development of artificial intelligence is providing brands with more opportunities to connect with consumers on an emotional level. They’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it below.

With all the talk in recent years of big data, machine-led marketing and algorithm-driven platforms, you could be forgiven for thinking that emotion is slowly being drained out of marketing.

So it may come as a surprise to find that the ongoing development of artificial intelligence is providing brands with more opportunities to connect with consumers on an emotional level.

But with AI-led possibilities comes pitfalls and ethical grey areas which brands will need to navigate if they want to stay relevant amongst an audience which increasingly expects a personalised experience.

Knowing your audience, better than they know themselves
For years, marketers and brands have been looking to the latest digital technology to better track and understand the emotional responses of their audience through analysis of social sentiment. However, as brands look for smarter ways to combine these analytics with technology to create opportunities for hyper-personalised content, the resulting delivery can often remain relatively blunt. While brands may be able to understand the context behind what a user is posting in the moment, they are unable to understand the emotional state of the person at the time – and so still can’t properly meet each consumer’s specific needs.

AI is now making it possible is for brands to feed off emotional data to create even deeper connections with consumers. Used correctly, it can assist in decision-making, determine a person’s mood and even replicate human emotion. Companies like Affectiva and Realeyes are already using AI to monitor micro-expressions to discover what people really feel when watching adverts, opening up a wealth of untapped opportunities for marketers. Walmart has even incorporated this technology into stores to identify customers who are frustrated, so they can alert staff to assist them. We’re just seeing the beginning of what this disruptive technology can do and how brands can understand their audiences further based on these emotional analytics.

Once more, with feeling
Beyond all the flashy tech and PR-able gimmicks, what AI is really offering brands is the chance to build an empathic relationship with consumers and satisfy real-time emotional needs through a wide range of communications channels. A Chatbot, for instance, with the ability to understand if a customer is annoyed, stressed or upset when dealing with a complaint online, could help make a brand’s customer service truly personalised and fix problems before they arise. And it’s not here where it could be useful.

Imagine a world where your local cinema’s video ads could change the film it displays alongside the 2-for-1 offer based on whether you’re feeling in the mood to laugh or cry; or where Alexa could stop you dialing your ex when you’re feeling lonely, based on your tone of voice. This insight into the feelings of the audience a brand is trying to reach opens up the ability to service a need, not just a want. Rather than catching them at the right point of a search or purchase journey, emotionally responsive marketing gives brands the opportunity to preempt what a consumer may desire, even before they fully realise it themselves.

Don’t cross into creepy
One of the key things to remember when considering the role of emotionally responsive marketing, is context. There is a very thin line between hyperpersonal and highly invasive. And as with all interruption marketing, brands need to consider where the content they are choosing to deliver fits on this spectrum.

We’re living in a world where consumers are fast waking up to how, when and where brands are using their data; and are even beginning to push back on what they are and aren’t prepared to give up for a tailored service. And for many, their soul will be no exception.

As with any form of data-driven marketing, the key here is to obtain permission by getting consumers to opt-in to emotional analytics and tracking, explaining the benefits, and then ensuring not to prove any skepticism right.

Emotionally responsive marketing offers brands and marketers the next frontier in hyper-relevant, real-time content. A chance for brands to truly deliver meaningful interactions which meet the needs of each consumer, in the moment and based on a previously unimagined level of insight. Welcome to the future; let’s try not to screw it up.