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Cognitive Computing and Targeted Marketing

July 6, 2015


AMC’s television series “Mad Men” ended on a delightful up note. The fictional lead character of the series, advertising executive Don Draper, was a master of ad copy and the sales pitch. Sir Martin Sorrell, Founder and CEO of WPP, doesn’t believe that Draper would be master of today’s advertising domain. “As anyone who’s watched the wonderful AMC series knows (so, pretty much everyone),” he explains, “Mad Men is a world of ‘art and copy’ — the images and words that bring Don and Peggy’s ideas to life.”[1] But that world has changed dramatically. Sorrel continues:

“The web has changed our industry just as fundamentally as it’s changed society at large (should code be a new language skill taught at schools?). It’s true that technology increasingly sits at the heart of the creative process alongside the traditional crafts. But the make-up of WPP’s business reveals a broader shift. Digital and interactive marketing, programmatic buying and big data now account for about $14 billion of our $18 billion of revenues. Don Draper and Roger Sterling simply wouldn’t recognise three quarters of what we do today. Creativity may still be the core of our business and our offering to clients, but it’s no longer the sole preserve of the ad agency creative department.”

Sorrell isn’t the only advertising executive to note these changes. George John, co-founder and chairman of the board at Rocket Fuel, explains that many of the jobs now available in marketing are relatively new. “When we look at the marketing universe today,” he writes, “many of the jobs people do didn’t even exist a decade or two ago: web designers, SEO consultants, social media experts and mobile and web app developers are all relatively young professions.”[2] John doesn’t lament the passing of an era; rather, he looks forward to the opportunities that new technologies provide to marketers. He explains:

“The scale of the opportunity and volume of data these new marketing platforms are creating is changing the role of the marketer and the skills marketing departments require. With the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in marketing we’re actively talking about creating programmes to solve problems that are beyond human scale challenges and assisting chief marketing officers in achieving their goals more effectively. AI has the potential to take the decision over which channels will be most appropriate to reach the customer out of the hands of the chief marketing officer and their department, calculating those decisions for them in real-time and enabling the marketers to focus on different questions. In the not too distant future, I believe marketeers will be spending a lot more time working out exactly what goal it is they want to achieve and how they will measure success.”

According to a Forbes Insight survey, executives are increasingly aware of how emerging technologies can help them focus their efforts and achieve desired results. Reporting on the survey, Jack Loechner (@mp_research) writes, “The technologies that enable brands to target exact audiences with the right messaging and to validate reach and effectiveness are relatively new.”[3] He continues:

“Brand marketers are seeing the value in audience targeting for their campaigns and recognizing the importance of reaching the right audience to add relevancy and truly make a difference. The study finds that these tools have clearly addressed a market demand and are providing marketing and advertising executives with much-needed insight.”

Clearly, significant changes are taking place in the marketing sector. Technology lies at the heart of those changes. I predict the technology that will prove most useful in the decades ahead is cognitive computing. Cognitive computing can assist marketers in all of the ways explained above (e.g., interactive marketing, programmatic buying, search engine optimization, decision making, targeted advertising, and actionable insights) and much more. A cognitive system, like Enterra’s Cognitive Reasoning Platform™ (CRP), can explain (in natural language) how insights were calculated and the specifics behind recommended insights. This kind of natural interaction is what Alan Turing had in mind when he dreamed of artificial intelligence. A cognitive system that can explain itself becomes a trusted enterprise partner.


Another area in which cognitive computing can provide value is predictive analytics. Rebekah Richards (@RebekahRichards) explains, “Predictive analytics [allow you to] make an educated guess about something based on historical data. In marketing, predictive analytics makes assumptions about how easy a lead should be to convert based on available data. It has evolved into hundreds of data points that can be analyzed by software products. Now much more educated guesses or ‘predictions’ can be made by these intricate software solutions.”[4] She continues:

“It sounds very hi-tech but it is actually a simple concept that we all use. You know that you’re not going to target certain groups of people under certain types of circumstances because they’re simply not a good fit for your product. Does that mean it is impossible that a person or company outside your scope could benefit from or even buy your product? Of course not. It just means you know it is unlikely and you use that knowledge in your marketing efforts. So predictive analytics only means that you get more scientific with your leads; all leads are not created equal. Predictive analytic software takes this science to a new level. It gets really nitty-gritty with this and scores your leads based on certain variables so you can focus on the leads that are more likely to convert to customers.”

The ability to target consumers more precisely is a win-win situation because consumers receive more relevant ads and sellers reach the best potential buyers. In the future, Brian Wong (@brian_wong), founder and CEO of Kiip, explains, “Lives will be made easier by devices that can predict schedules, desires and needs. And as technology becomes less invasive, advertising will follow suit by becoming more human.”[5] He elaborates:

“Advertising will have the potential to be incorporated into every device — from fitness trackers to connected cars. But more important, instead of being designed to be loud or intrusive, its goal will be to capitalize on those opportunities when consumers actually invite brands to participate in the everyday moments in their lives that matter most. Imagine: Exxon will be able to discern when your car’s gas tank is down to a quarter-full and will direct you to the nearest station. A smart refrigerator in your home will recognize when produce is about to spoil and offer a coupon for your next trip to the grocery store. Pacif-i, a Bluetooth-enabled pacifier that monitors baby temperatures, could predict when a fever is on the rise and offer parents a free sample of medicine that will make a tough night easier. The era of mass-marketed products is drawing to a close. TV and radio commercials are great at reaching millions of viewers, but they don’t offer the best engagement. Instead, advertisers in the future will pinpoint the exact moments and needs that users have — entertainment, retail searches, even sports scores — and supply consumers with the solutions they are looking for in real time.”

Only cognitive computing systems can empower Wong’s vision of the future. Wong believes that marketers who fail to make their advertising less intrusive and more human will find themselves, like Don Draper, a relic in the future.



[1] Martin Sorrell, “Don Draper Wouldn’t Recognise 75% of What We Do,” LinkedIn, 12 June 2015.
[2] George John, “Machine learning: How AI will revolutionise the marketing industry,” The Drum, 2 June 2015.
[3] Jack Loechner, “Exact Audience Targeting And Validation Are Keys To Digital Brand Advertising,” MediaPost, 20 May 2015.
[4] Rebekah Richards, “How To Evaluate Lead Quality With Predictive Analytics,” Business 2 Community (B2C), 13 May 2015.
[5] Brian Wong, “The Future of Advertising: Farewell, Mass Marketing,” The Wall Street Journal, 26 April 2015.

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