How AI Is Changing Consumer Engagement

Walker SmithFebruary 29, 20244 min

Generative artificial intelligence (AI) is all the talk in marketing these days. Yet, we are framing our conversation about it in the wrong way.

The critical shift underway is not with our internal marketing processes of creation, execution and delivery. Certainly, the ways we work will change. But what will change more are the ways in which consumers will work with us.

This means that the biggest impact of technologies like ChatGPT is surely going to be a growing and pressing necessity to develop better marketing solutions, not simply better ways of delivering existing solutions.

This idea of consumers making use of technologies to upend marketing is not entirely new. Many observers have seen it coming.

A decade ago, I began talking and writing about the idea of a “pivot to passive” as consumers moved from active engagement with marketing to algorithmic engagement  — thereby handing over much, if not all of the shopping and transactional journey to smart technologies.

But smart technologies were not ready to scale in consumer-friendly ways until the introduction of ChatGPT in late 2022. The moment is now firmly at hand.

AI for consumers is going to usher in at least three changes in the ways in which consumers engage with brands.

1. Automation

Consumers will most assuredly offload much of the shopper journey to smart technologies. Marketers love ads, but consumers, not so much.

Using LLMs to evaluate options, screen ads and cull consideration sets is right around the corner. Pretty soon, ads — indeed, all marketing — will have only the attention of algorithms.

  • What do browsing, trial, repeat and impulse buying look like when it’s all about prompts or automated processes?
  • How will brand trackers measure algorithmic awareness and engagement?
  • If equity and trust are in the eyes of consumers, what are equity and trust to algorithms?

2. Curation

AI will unlock and create lifestyle experiences we cannot begin to imagine today.

As is always the case, consumers will find and invent new forms of entertainment and activities, only these will be an order of magnitude beyond anything digital technologies have enabled so far. (George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen argues that the ramifications of generative AI will be at least as far-reaching as Gutenberg’s printing press, which not only unlocked knowledge, but set in motion wars and revolutions.)

Digital tools will also free time and resources for more face-to-face recreations and pursuits. Some brands will find a place in these new experiences; others will not. Either way, technologies will be the guide that consumers use to navigate them.

  • How can brands still own consumer relationships when smart technologies own experiences?
  • How can brands use smart technologies to mash up personalized experiences for consumers?
  • Should brands start now to copyright proprietary, branded prompts?

3. Migration

Smart technologies are going to accelerate the pace of change, as evidenced by the nearly instantaneous rollout of applications and plug-ins for generative AI. This will compound the context of volatility and uncertainty that challenges consumers already.

Consumers will look more to both brands and technologies for help in making all of this more accessible, less stressful, and most importantly, more convenient.

Many feel that the current excitement over LLM-powered chatbots is just another craze like crypto.

There is a critical difference, however, as pointed out by New York Times technology columnist Kevin Roose in the first of a five-part series introducing AI to readers. As he noted, millions of people — from teachers to filmmakers to engineers — are using ChatGPT and similar tools already…a mere four months after it first appeared! What is happening is seismic.

Add consumers to Roose’s list of immediate adopters.

This is where marketers should be looking — less on the inside and more on the outside. Less on the technologies per se and more on the smart things consumers are and will be doing with them.

It’s less about efficiency and more about originality. That’s how to get ahead of this curve.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider By: Walker Smith, Chief Knowledge Officer, Brand & Marketing at Kantar

At The Blake Project, we help clients from around the world, in all stages of development, define and articulate what makes them competitive and valuable. We help accelerate growth through strategy workshops and extended engagements. Please email us to learn how we can help you compete differently.

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