The Echo Chamber of AI and Online Marketing
It seems like there’s a lot of new terminology being thrown around these days by people who may not really know what some of these new words actually mean. When they use these words in an ironic manner without realizing it, the rest of us have a good laugh. It’s kind of along the same lines as Godwin’s Law which states the following:
Godwin’s law (or Godwin’s rule of Hitler analogies) is an Internet adage that asserts that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1 – that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or his deeds.
As the saying implies, when somebody who isn’t familiar with Godwin’s law compares something to Hitler in an online discussion, everyone else in the discussion who is in on the joke has a good laugh about it and the other side is declared the winner of the debate by default. It’s kind of the same thing when one political side accuses the other of being in an “echo chamber”. The very same people leveling those accusations often refuse to engage in civil discourse about matters they disagree upon, creating their very own echo chamber or “personalized bubble”.
Perhaps nowhere is an echo chamber more useful than in online marketing. We’ve talked before about how big databases exist today containing your political affiliation, your likes, dislikes, and pretty much everything about you. Ideally, every single ad you are shown is a reflection of your own echo chamber. Over time, the more that marketers learn about you, the more they will try and reinforce your own beliefs to build rapport with you so they can sell you isht.
In the future, we would expect to see every single online interaction customized, from the welcome message at your online bank to the search results you see on Google. Every single form of automated communication will be customized to your profile. You will always hear “the truth”, and you will only buy from those people who believe in the same “truths” you do. This is the “online marketing echo chamber” that we’re moving towards because it’s the only way we can sell to a country that is so divided – like Cyprus. Let’s take a look at a few startups that are paving the way for a future where every company you engage with online shares the same belief system that you do.
The first thing you need to do before you begin building an echo chamber is to figure out which side the person is on who just landed on your homepage using any number of possible devices, from a smartphone to a smart TV. That’s where a company called Adbrain comes in. Founded in 2012, this San Francisco startup has taken in $16.5 million in funding so far from investors that include Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) in order to become “a global leader in resolving customer identity for marketers and their partners across people, places and devices.” In order to understand how their technology works, we’re going to teach you a bit about two forms of online marketing; deterministic targeting and probabilistic targeting.
- Deterministic targeting – If you are logged into the same Gmail account across multiple devices, it’s probably you. If the same 4 people login to Facebook using the same device consistently over time, it’s probably a device shared by a household. This degree of confidence in this method is high but people get pissed off because it feels like an invasion of privacy.
- Probabilistic targeting – This is where you use lots of different attributes to identify someone using “anonymized data” like browser type, IP address, operating system, or perhaps even the way they type or use a pointing device.
Adbrain believes that probabilistic targeting using AI is the way forward because it focuses on privacy, something at the forefront of customers’ minds. They’ve developed something called “Identity AI” which goes beyond just figuring out who you are on the devices you use but also starts to paint a picture of the life you live:
While it uses probabilistic methods, the AI algorithms are trained using deterministic data so they become better at getting the right answer more often. Adbrain can not only determine the devices you use but also the devices you share within your household because it is able to identify all of the individuals within any given household. It even knows obscure facts like any acquaintances you have that visited a particular auto dealership. Now that marketers know every single thing about you, our next startup comes into play.
Now that you know what bucket to throw your website visitors in, you need to start crafting personalized messages to them which reinforce their own unique echo chambers. Founded in 2012, New York startup Persado has taken in $66 million in funds so far from investors that include American Express (NYSE:AXP), Citigroup (NYSE:C), and Bain Capital. Their latest funding round, a Series C in February of last year, was led by Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS). Persado is all about using natural language generation to “generate the language that emotionally connects with each consumer at scale.” Sure sounds a whole lot like only saying things to people that they want to hear, right? Haven’t we already been doing this for years? Yes, except this time it’s different. This time, AI is writing the content:
Those email subject lines you see above that dramatically outperformed the originals were actually crafted by AI algorithms. Persado claims that their “cognitive content” outperforms human-crafted messages 100% of the time. They go on to say “in rare instances, variations resulting from brand or legal guidelines, serving methodology, or other outlier variables might affect message performance.” (Even the AI algorithms can’t figure out how to deal with legal’s constantly changing requirements of what’s okay and not okay to say.) In order to better demonstrate how this might work, let’s use Nanalyze as use case.
The content in this article is always going to be same regardless of whether you like it or not. Our readers expect nothing less than the truth without sugar coating. While our articles don’t change, maybe our emails to you would. Let’s say you’re one of our readers who is mainly interested in our articles on robotics. When we send you our weekly newsletter (you should subscribe), we may want to change the title of the email to say something about robotics so that you open it and then read the article. More reads show more ads which help pay our bills and feed our MBAs. That’s an example of how we would use customized language to get you to take a particular action. This is not unlike the technology that Boomtrain is working on, a startup that was recently acquired.
Here’s a real world example of how effective Persado can be when applied to a target audience of 717,394 people subscribed to an email distribution list for an international hotel and restaurant chain:
Notice how the focus there is placed on emotions. Are there certain emotions that are elicited differently based on attributes like gender, culture, race, political affiliation, etc.? There sure are. If that somehow makes you uncomfortable to think about, too bad. There’s money at stake here and the almighty dollar has spoken. Every known variable will be used to determine what’s most likely to get your attention and elicit the appropriate emotions in order to start you off at the top of someone’s sales funnel. The future of AI and online marketing is here – and it’s a big echo chamber for you and your household.
The truth is that companies who prefer to get on with their business and remain apolitical are being dragged into the political debate arena which they want to have no part of. While just ignoring the constant barrage of offended people is one good option, the other option is to start building your online marketing with AI such that it appeals to every unique person. If you then allocate the majority of your marketing spend to online one-to-one interactions, you should be able to leave all your competitors in the dust while they are forced to pick sides and cut their target customer base in half. Now that’s a strategy that even Hitler would agree with.