Forum offers intriguing look at marketing of the future

Asked what he is most interested in for the future of marketing, Microsoft’s Jeff Marcoux said he is excited about maturing digital assistants and advances in virtual reality. – Photo: Taneos Ramsay.

Marketing of the future could actually look a lot like the advertisements in the 2002 movie “Minority Report,” where holographic advertisements speak directly to the people walking by, with targeted product placement and personalized messages. At least that’s the picture of the future from the two-day Internet Marketing Association conference last month.

Representatives from some of the biggest players in the digital sphere –  and others – came to Cayman in early April for Impact16, the IMA’s first conference in the Cayman Islands.

The conference, an offshoot of the annual IMA conference in Las Vegas, will also become an annual event in Cayman, according to the IMA and Cayman Enterprise City, which teamed up to bring the event to the island.

Enterprise City CEO Charlie Kirkconnell said bringing the annual IMA conference to Cayman “is a step in the directions of the Cayman Islands becoming a technological hub.”

“This is not a B-team event,” Kirkconnell said, with the likes of Google coming to the island. “These are the same people as the annual event in Las Vegas.”

IMA chair Sinan Kanatsiz, opening the conference at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, said the association is planning for a “multiyear event” in Cayman.

“Rather than New York or Chicago or Boston,” Cayman gives the IMA a different option for a conference for its members on the East Coast of the United States, he said.

Marketing has gone beyond advertisements and product placement, as noted at the conference, and that the future of marketing is here and it is big data, artificial intelligence and new technologies to get products in front of consumers at the right time in the right place.

Making sense of a sea of consumer data

Every time someone goes online shopping on Amazon, watches Netflix, checks email or looks up a health question, for instance, companies are collecting data.

Google and many others know when you are comparing prices for a trip to Las Vegas or surfing sites about pregnancy. And they can use that information to put advertisements in front of you for Vegas hotels or good deals on diapers.

“Everything that you do is being tracked somewhere,” said Joe DeMike, head of global operations for Google Accelerator. He took the stage on the first day of the conference to show how the Internet giant takes all that data from searches, email and its other free tools to target advertising.

He said the traditional metrics to segment customers by age, gender and spending are just the tip of the iceberg to divide people for targeted advertising.

He explained the segmentation in terms of dimensions. For example, looking at customers by age is one dimension, add in gender and that is a second dimension. Throw income into the mix and then companies are looking at three-dimensional customer segmentation.

Google looks at more than 100 dimensions at a time to target advertising, in essence what he calls “mapping personas.”

The idea, he said, is to “figure out the things those personas do when they become a customer.” The question is how to go from someone reading product reviews and browsing online stores to actually making a purchase.

DeMike explained it this way: Decisions are made in “micromoments,” those moments when people are driving down the road or between tasks at work when they’re not really thinking about anything. It’s when, he said, you “stop thinking about what you’re thinking about and make decisions.”

This, he said, is the “battleground for brands” where people decide to buy the iPhone or the Samsung, what movie to see this weekend, or any of their other myriad purchasing decisions.

To target people and be able to influence the choices in those micromoments, DeMike said, Google uses those dimensions, more than 100 data points about potential customers, to cluster groups of like-minded people and target advertising toward each person. It’s a quantitative technique run by big computer algorithms that change and evolve as the software learns more about customers. It’s called machine learning, part of what’s commonly known as artificial intelligence.

AI in the real world

Artificial intelligence sounds more like something out of a big budget sci-fi movie, but it is working its way into software people interact with every day. Google uses it so that software itself can learn more about the people interacting with it, delivering a smoother experience and targeted advertising.

Microsoft recently experimented with an artificial intelligence “bot” on Twitter, a piece of software designed to learn from people on Twitter and interact with them on its own. The experiment with became a very public failure.

Microsoft Senior Marketing Manager Jeff Marcoux explained what happened to the Impact16 crowd.

“Tay very quickly started to learn,” he said, from the human users on Twitter, figuring out how to communicate with others over the social networking site.

But then things started to go awry. “Tay was broken,” he said. “Tay thought Hitler was cool.” The bot started tweeting obscene and racist messages. Eventually, he said, the software spun completely out of control.

Tay was an experiment, released into the real world to see what would happen, he said. The trial shows the emerging frontier in marketing where software not only learns from people, but also interacts with them.

“The idea of the bot is starting to come out,” Marcoux told the conference. Imagine talking online to a friend about a trip to Cayman and a bot could chime in to the conversation with restaurant suggestions or ideas for what to do while on vacation. And based on how people respond as what they end up buying, the bot would learn about their individual preferences, mapped against their other preferences, and be able to give better suggestions to the next person.

Asked the next day what he is most interested in for the future of marketing, Marcoux said he is excited about maturing digital assistants, like Apple’s Siri, and the advances in virtual reality and holograms.

From software to right in front of you

Software running in the background or chatting through a messaging program is one thing, but putting a product or a company representative in front of the consumer is something entirely different.

The last presentation of the conference came from Mark Cleere, general manager at MDH Holograms. Holograms sound more like something from “Star Trek,” but they have started making their way into the real world and opening up a new playground for marketers.

In India’s 2014 election campaign, Narendra Modi, leader of the BJP party, solved the problem over how to campaign to the country’s enormous electorate by hiring MDH to project his image live to multiple campaign rallies at once. He was able to directly address rallies in remote towns across the country at the same time, appearing as a three-dimensional hologram.

Cleere said at one rally people even got mad and attacked the hologram stage because Modi did not come out to shake hands with the crowd. He won the election and now serves as India’s prime minister.

MDH’s technology has been used to give posthumous performances by Tupac Shakur and Michael Jackson. Jimmy Kimmel was able to be in Los Angeles and Nashville, Tennessee, at the same time to present the Country Music Association Awards in December. His body was on stage in Los Angeles while his 3-D hologram presented live in Nashville.

Holograms, live or pre-programmed, give options to marketers to read wider audiences in new, intriguing ways.

Cleere said MDH recently did an installation for Ralph Lauren on Fifth Avenue in New York, with boxers duking it out in a window display. The installation last summer was an advertisement for a wearable tech shirt that tracks workout data from a person’s body and syncs with their iPhone.

With technology advancing every day, combining artificial intelligence with big data customer segmentation and having all of it display through a hologram, brings the fictional world of marketing in “Minority Report” closer than some may think.