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How AI can build a more empathetic future for marketing

Jeffrey Vocell is director of product marketing at Iterable.

The desire for companies to connect with the emotions of their customers is by no means a new phenomenon. For marketers, the ability to understand the emotional sentiments behind consumer behaviour has been a priority for decades. Yet it has been notoriously difficult to track these sentiments accurately over time.

Artificial intelligence (AI) offers a solution to this problem. Consumers today expect a tailored experience and AI has unique capabilities to help marketers by understanding sentiment, and reaching them at just the right time. More and more companies, therefore, are likely to embrace AI and its potential in helping them form strong individualised relationships with consumers, at a time when it is more necessary than ever to do so.

Covid-19 and empathy

Securing an emotional connection with your consumers has always been a priority for marketers. It has been well documented that consumer behaviour is being increasingly dictated by emotion over information, and this trend accelerated greatly during 2020. In a year of ever-changing circumstances and disruption, the importance for brands to demonstrate empathy has been clear. Marketers that neglect to appreciate the unique circumstances their consumers find themselves in and fail to communicate in an empathetic and transparent manner, will risk entrenching negative perceptions of their brand in the minds of consumers.

In order to avoid these potential pitfalls, marketers need to be able to master the increasing volumes of consumer data available to them, so it can then be used to inform communication choices and ensure they are as tactful and individualised as possible.

Using data to drive empathy

AI is recognised as an important solution to this problem. A survey recently conducted by Iterable found that 83% of marketers were likely to include the integration of AI technology as a part of their 2021 strategy, and it is easy to see why.

In order to engage in an empathetic manner with their customers, companies first need to gather relevant data from all cross-channel engagements, including email, mobile messaging and all other communication channels. Once this is achieved, the data needs to be normalised so it can be of use in identifying the motivations of individuals.

The challenge today is to not only manage this increasing volume of consumer data but to do so over a sustained period of time. In this uncertain era, customer sentiment can change on a daily basis; data management needs to reflect this reality to be of use to marketers. We have to move beyond manual snapshots of how customers feel about a brand and build a broader, real-time view.

AI as a solution

The process of collecting and managing all the relevant engagement data for such a task would be nearly impossible without the use of AI. By leveraging behavioural data from customers in real time, it enables marketers to take a holistic view of consumer engagement with their brand, allowing them to make every stage of the lifecycle process as personalised as possible.

AI can go beyond addressing those customers with negative sentiments. Whilst it certainly helps mitigate churn, its ability to harness data can help marketers identify those customers with positive sentiments and the most potential to become loyal ambassadors. Nurturing these sentiments can be just as beneficial as reducing churn.

Changes to data

When implementing an AI-based solution, it is important to consider how our relationship with data is set to change in the coming years. Both regulation and attitudes towards third-party data are shifting, with Google set to phase out third-party cookies in the near future. This will lead to an increased focus on both zero-party-data, which a customer shares proactively with a brand, and first-party data, which is collected directly from customers. Whilst this may appear to be challenging for marketers, it is not as drastic a change as once feared. Despite the growth in concern regarding data protection, consumers have demonstrated a willingness to share data in return for a personalised experience, if done so in a transparent fashion.

AI can play a vital role in establishing this trust. By leveraging zero and first-party data accurately, it can help ensure that communication reflects this growing desire for transparency. For this to succeed, AI technology has to operate in a way that consumers can understand. A lack of transparency makes it harder to act in an empathetic manner.

Final thoughts

The increased desire for an empathetic approach from businesses will not go away in 2021. These trends were growing in prominence prior to last year, and the pandemic has only accelerated these changes. For businesses to satisfy this need, they must continue to humanise their interactions with customers. Consumers want to be able to trust the brands they feel connected to, and AI technology offers the best route towards achieving this goal. Marketing is having to operate within delicate circumstances at present. However, by utilising AI we can leverage more from our increasing volumes of data and use it to engage with customers in a manner which is suitably personalised and empathetic.


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Read more: The need for mindful marketing in 2021: Take a step back to enable a giant leap forward

How AI can build a more empathetic future for marketing