IBM Watson and the Weather Channel’s Unexpected Impact on Digital Marketing

The rise of artificial intelligence is ushering in a new age of Cognitive Advertising.

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Posted September 27, 2017
By

Rob Enderle


When IBM bought the Weather Channel, I must admit, I thought they’d kind of lost it. I get that weather is important, but I thought that you could likely just watch the weather in the morning and pretty much get what you needed.

What I didn’t understand is that the advanced modeling the Weather Channel does, when tied to an artificial intelligence (AI) engine like Watson, could automatically generate location- and time-specific collateral which, potentially, could massively increase conversion rates.

Weather changes buying patterns. It really does no good to be advertising bathing suits during a rainstorm or umbrellas on a nice summer day. Yet today, once a campaign is in place, you are stuck with whatever placement you made. That means your ads often aren’t weather-appropriate, which wastes money. Even though you are using a digital medium that that could be changed on the fly, you don’t.

I got this from Adweek coverage earlier this week, and I find it fascinating.

I think the Weather Channel is just the start. IBM could certainly add other data feeds to make a massive advantage out of their ability to craft better ad timing, placement and execution automatically.

Cognitive Advertising

Coined by IBM (with natural affinity for the company's “Think” tagline), the phrase "Cognitive Advertising" implies far more than IBM, or anyone else, can do now. It implies an intelligent process that maps the ads against the unique personality, wants and needs of the buyer in real time to assure a sale. Often, we seem to forget that marketing isn’t about ad spend — it is about getting a customer to buy a product or service. Sometimes there is so little to connect the two events that we focus on cost instead of results.

This is largely why chief marketing officers (CMOs) tend to spend an average of about 18 months in a job. They just don’t yet have the tools to connect a marketing campaign to sales performance, which is exacerbated by the common belief that everyone in the firm believes they are an expert on marketing and know better than the CMO does what to do.

But given the improved tools allowing for vastly more granular targeting of material on the Web, having an engine that could, at scale, intelligently match not only the individual with the message but adjust that message for external known events would be incredibly powerful. You should be able to run side-by-side tests of this tool to showcase the expected higher conversion rates. This would not only demonstrate value for the IBM solution, but value for the CMOs who implemented it, thus protecting their jobs and assuring their longevity.

Future Ad Targeting Possibilities

With TV quickly going the way of the Web regarding content on demand and in-place advances allowing for flexible product placement, the underlying idea of Cognitive Advertising is just the tip of this huge potential iceberg. We already change out some of the placement in programs and sports based on the location of the audience. With IBM’s solution, we could also adjust for weather, showing hot soup on a cold day rather than an ice cream brand.

We could also change out not just the product but the person advocating it. Depending on your age, race or sex, you would see an advocate you’d identify with and want to emulate rather than a generic star who you might not identify with at all. Granted, with the rights to images on Facebook largely owned by that service, I can also imagine seeing your sibling or mother show up as an advocate on a targeted ad at some future point. But I also think that it’ll likely be a long while before we find that acceptable.

Overall, giving an AI ever-more knowledge about your location, environment, likes, dislikes and even personality (which can generally be pulled from social media) should eventually result in a very powerful sales and marketing solution. This solution would speak to consumers uniquely, considering where they are, what they are likely doing, and even the changing weather outside to provide an offer that they are far more willing to take than anything we have seen today.

The benefit wouldn’t just be for sales either. Think of the case of a weather event like we just had with Hurricane Harvey. You could also get, from someone you trust, a focused message about just where you need to go and when in order to stay safe.

Scaling Up Direct Sales

Marketing and sales used to be two very different disciplines, but as we add intelligence like IBM is doing with Cognitive Advertising, the two roles start to become blurred. Focused marketing is what sales people do when they individually sell you. Giving a similar capability to a marketing unit would not only massively increase that unit’s capability but effectively give them the ability to direct sell at scale using ever-smarter computers rather than people.

In the future, ads will talk to you personally and likely regularly give you offers you can’t refuse. That’s the power of Cognitive Advertising, and I think, it will not only change the ad world, it’ll change yours. If you are a CMO, that could be an incredibly good thing.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.




Tags: artificial intelligence, digital advertising, cognitive computing


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