Bridging the Gap to Empathy: Realising Technology’s Cognitive Capabilities for Brands

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People are now literally voicing their concerns to technology – they are showing their emotion, expecting the technology to listen, watch and understand. People want technology to make their lives easier in more natural, human ways and its cognitive capabilities are now making that a reality; increasing the level of information shared and importantly the trust and personal engagement developed. Interpreting the signals and responding in the right ways through these new personal forms of engagement represents an opportunity for brands that is here and now.

The proliferation of technology and platforms has fragmented the digital landscape and consumer behaviours are changing as a result. Yet over 70 million people used ad blockers last year, a year-on-year increase of 34 per cent, and that figure looks set to grow. People are overwhelmed and looking for new ways to engage with brands – ways that provide the human value in context of what they are doing.

Whilst technology has made it harder in many ways to establish deep relationships at scale, we can also look to digital computing to solve this fragmentation. Technology has established a mainstream role in society and our ability to understand and embrace this phenomenon represents an opportunity to shape society on a global scale.

Alan Turing predicted that voice would become our primary mode of interaction with computers 70 years ago, and we’re in fact 17 years behind his schedule. However, the rapid rise of Cortana, Alexa, Siri and others, demonstrates that we’re catching up – fast. Gartner figures recently revealed over $2bn worth of online shopping was completed exclusively through mobile digital assistants by the end of 2016.

We are becoming increasingly reliant on digital assistants, driving a shift in how technology is interacting with people through search. Nearly a quarter of searches made on the Windows 10 taskbar are now voice activated via Cortana, our personal assistant, powered by Bing’s search technology. The technology is listening to people on their own terms, and due it its ease and efficiency, consumers are increasingly opting to search via voice, not text.

Voice searches are much more natural – meaning they are longer and far more complex in their semantics. As a result, they are packed with intent signals and reveal much more about the person due to its discursive nature. In stitching together these signals, search technology is able to build a comprehensive picture of who we are and what we want. Beyond this, digital assistants are now able accumulate knowledge to become truly anticipatory tools.

Search is changing. It’s growing pervasiveness, predictive possibilities and its ability to help brands personalize experiences. As marketers, our mindset needs to change from search as an operational channel to search as a strategic customer engagement asset.

With more than 70 per cent of consumers expecting a personalised interaction with brands today, interactivity with digital assistants, bots and other personal computing will become increasingly significant in the future of brand-led customer engagement.

We are now seeing more and more exciting developments in how A.I. is both connecting with and learning from humans. Beyond voice recognition, emerging capabilities are enabling technology to become even more human in how it reacts and engages back. Microsoft’s Cognitive Services is a platform that has enabled the development of image recognition through APIs, and actively encourages continued development from others to maintain the growth and learning of the system. From face detection, to object identification, to emotion recognition, this disruptive technology brings a whole new wealth of opportunity for brands to better understand and engage with their audiences.

Dr. Albert Mehrabian famously asserted that only 7 per cent of meaning is communicated through words, the remaining 93 per cent is revealed through a combination of tone of voice, gestures and body language. The fundamental distinction between technology and human is empathy, but technology is making headway in the right direction with more emotional intelligence than ever before. Today, the possibilities for brands to engage using other human signals beyond voice are endless.

If you’d like to hear more on this topic, Ravleen will be in conversation exploring the future of emotionally in-tune technology on The Guardian Stage at Advertising Week Europe on March 23rd.

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