Marketing Wake Up Call – Time to Revisit Marketing Playbook Given Generative AI

updated on 20 May 2024

So much of the conversation has centered around marketing productivity and organic search improvements. The launch of Generative AI plug-ins, co-pilots, and agents suggest a much bigger shift is coming.

Generative AI will change how we shop and purchase goods and services

A brand’s promise has always been steeped in trust. I trust the vial of Crest purchased at my local pharmacy to look and taste a certain way. I trust that an evening with a Disney film will be a pleasant and safe experience for my family. Increasingly, leading brands have expanded their purview to include not only the interaction with a tangible product but the experience of buying it, owning it, and renewing it. In exchange for this better experience, consumers have been willing to share more of their identity with brands they trust. We share our grocery shopping lists with Kroger in exchange for preferential pricing; we share our stories with Meta in exchange for timely updates from friends and family; we share our world with Android for the convenience of having it at our fingertips.

Advertising is the primary medium and through the years, advertisers have funded this information exchange first through ad supported broadcast mediums and most recently via ad supported search results. Marketers have funded tremendous innovation to build brand trust with their end consumers, creating more personalized and relevant touch points in exchange for more data about their end users.

Generative AI promises to challenge this status quo. The introduction of ChatGPT plugins and will enable Co-pilots to not only gather answers to user queries but also transact on their behalf. This will have tremendous implications for marketers moving forward:

  1. The Moment of Truth moves from Search Results and Branded Apps to Plug-Ins and Co-Pilots. Investments in integrated, personalized marketing funnels may become less relevant as queries move from Search as the point of discovery to personalized Chat GPT platforms with a store of Plug-ins to choose from. The path to the customer will change!
  2. Advertiser’s Control of Discovery May Lessen. Today’s paradigm allows for advertisers to bid for placement in Search Engine Results Pages similar to how marketers fought over shelf space. Google predominately owns the algorithm that determines placement and relevance. With Generative AI, there will not only be a battle for the dominant platform but also a battle for who controls what’s seen. Will my consumer Co-pilot be empowered to limit what I see to only brands and products I’m interested in or will Google, Microsoft, and others still play a significant role in what I’m shown.
  3. Establishing Brand Trust Will Become Harder. As we become increasingly comfortable with Co-Pilots and Agents acting on our behalf, what will brand trust mean then? Trust is sequential into today’s world; I trust Google to provide me with credible results from brands whose brand promise I trust based on what I’ve seen and heard. As we empower Co-Pilots with agency, how is trust determined when final decision making has been granted to an AI system that I’ve entrusted my data and insights to.

The Current Paradigm: Consumer Insights, Customer and Digital Platforms have allowed for better experiences. 

As Marketers, we are storytellers at our core. Over the years, we have breathed life into products as mundane as bottled water and as exotic as self-driving automobiles. Leveraging insights and intuition, we crafted brand personalities that inspire our consumers’ desire for our products for their own enrichment. Early on, we mastered the classic 4 P’s of Product, Price, Place and Positioning that enabled consumers to not only purchase a good but also to make a statement about who they are. Coke vs. Pepsi, Lee’s vs Levi’s, Nike vs. Adidas, Mac vs. PC, we created visual identities across packaging and advertising that spoke to the essence of a product and our relationship with it.

Big Data, Marketing Technology, Digital integration allowed us to architect holistic experiences in both the digital and physical world. Apple turned hardware into magic, Google became a verb, then a suite of products, and Amazon taught us how to swipe. As consumers, we became informed and expected not only that the product or service worked, but we also expected its maker to know us and treat us with respect.

Forty years ago, success was determined by who presented the best message to the largest audience most efficiently. Now the mantra is right message, right person, right time. The gray areas that existed from when a consumer saw an ad, went to a store, purchased an item, and returned home – a series of disconnected and often anonymous interactions – has now been replaced with an integrated conversion funnel that often starts at the Search Query. Advertising budgets have flown to Performance Marketing channels with their illusion of precision and attribution to a final desired action.

I trust that the Search results Google returns to me are relevant to my query. I trust that sharing my email and phone number with Ford will only be used in the furtherance of my interest in a new car purchase. I trust that produce on Whole Foods website are of a certain standard. Through innovations in marketing technology, advertising technology and digital design, my consumer journey has been choreographed to get me to the “buy now” button with as much information possible to make an informed and expedient decision.

Generative AI will disrupt this current paradigm!

Watch a demo of the Chat GPT Expedia plug-in and you see how seamlessly one can plan and purchase a dream vacation from an intuitive consumer interface. Instacart’s plug-in gets you the ingredients delivered for the recipe you just discovered effortlessly. The more we use these plugins, the more intuitive they become about our needs and wants. The more intuitive they become, the more we begin to depend on them, dare I say, trust them to make relevant decisions for us.

Billions have been spent by marketers over the last 15 years to build marketing technology platforms that deliver personalized experiences for customers and ultimately get marketing messages closer to the point of purchase. Can all that investment be minimalized by a LLM that allows a customer to complete a task through one highly intuitive conversational co-pilot?

Expedia alone cannot deliver my dream Hawaiian vacation. Delta Airlines needs to fly me there, Marriott needs to hotel me, and Hertz needs to provide me with transportation while I’m there. Expedia grew as a platform because it effectively aggregated travel brands in a manner that allowed me to choose the brands I wanted. Its value stemmed from its ability to present multiple experiences and prices in a manner that one could easily configure into a trip with little friction.

In this new world, does Expedia move from the market maker to the experience creator with ingredient brands like Four Seasons, United, etc. vying for consideration/placement in the recommendation? You may argue that this is not that different from our current shopping experience. I submit that there is a significant chasm that Generative AI is preparing to cross…from presenting information for consumers to make a choice, to presenting a set of recommendations presumably based on learning our wants and interests and ACTING on our behalf.

Get Ready

We are in the early stages, but now is the time to prepare for what may come:

  • What does brand trust mean in this new world? During the Microsoft 365 Co-pilot demo, MS claimed that workers will never start from a blank page again. Can the same be said of consumers? Will our co-pilots give us a shortened and highly informed subset of product options for any product we desire. As a marketer, how do I ensure my products are represented to my desired customer? Who are we advertising to, the consumer or her Co-Pilot?
  • Where will power reside in the training of these co-pilots? Marketers will vie for placement and consumers will want to think they are getting the best product for them. How that balancing act plays out will be incredibly fascinating and will make today’s privacy discussions seem naïve. Will consumer access trusted brands via apps on their phone or will our Gen AI copilots be our front door to satisfy our wants and needs?

It is still very early in this game and much must be figured out. The forces of consumer adoption, innovation on behalf of advertisers, innovation on behalf of the customer, content rights, privacy rights and regulations will all factor into our new paradigm.

But the early indications suggest that Generative AI promises to change how we shop, transact, and interact with brands we trust. Marketers should take heed and begin thinking about how to harness the power of Generative AI to continue building meaningful relationships with consumers.

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