Navigating the Risky Paradox of Brand AI

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As AI becomes a larger part of brand experience, will businesses sacrifice human emotions for efficiency?

If you’ve noticed the seamless feel across Tesla’s brand experiences, from the vehicles themselves to their customer service, or enjoyed similarly seamless approaches for Amazon or Ikea, you know that meaningful, connected brand experiences have become the lifeblood of today’s most successful companies. The more we study the nature of these experiences, the more their benefits are becoming increasingly measurable and a key growth tool.

In fact, backed by 4.6 billion data points, our Group XP Experience Index ranked the world’s biggest brands according to the quality of their experience, finally proving what we all knew to be true: brands that invest in experience outperform the market by over 50%. As more of the world’s top brands invest in experience strategy and design, the writings on the wall for product-driven CEOs; it’s time to take these brand experiences seriously or die.

In fact, backed by 4.6 billion data points, our Group XP Experience Index ranked the world’s biggest brands according to the quality of their experience, finally proving what we all knew to be true: brands that invest in experience outperform the market by over 50%.

This focus on experience has been accelerated by innovations in technology and automation, especially Artificial Intelligence (AI). It has enabled seismic shifts in the way customers are attracted, served and managed. For brands, AI presents an opportunity to automate countless micro-experiences along the customer journey. But there’s a lurking danger, both for brands and consumers in sacrificing emotional connection for efficiency; that goes beyond concerns about the robot assault on employment.

For all its cost reduction benefits, AI has yet to replicate what makes us human or our experiences emotionally rewarding. As the experiences in our lives become more and more AI-driven, there is a corresponding risk of reducing everything to the lowest common denominator. A brand that is functionally seamless yet boring, lacking competitive distinctiveness and unappealing to consumers.

The AI Paradox

The famous Turing Test essentially asks: “Can you tell whether you’re interacting with a computer or a human?” Today, the better question might be: “Do customers care whether it’s a real human helping them?”

Few can argue that automation has its financial benefits for brands and consumers, whether that is celebrating  autopilot and citing AI driving safety statistics or marveling at the utility of CityMapper or Uber to conveniently get you to a new restaurant across town. But the point is that these AI driven tools deliver functional excellence that is now expected by consumers.

“Do customers care whether it’s a real human helping them?”

What machines can’t give and never will do is make us feel special or enrich our soul. And for good reason.

Humans are a quizzical, unpredictable bunch and true connections, brand-related or otherwise, require empathy and an understanding of the nuances of tone and language. Of course, we want brand experiences to be more efficient. But critically, customers still seek a human connection and the emotional engagement that goes with it. This is where AI falls short. A line of code can’t form relationships or define its own purpose as the core of an experience. That takes a real person.

This universal need for authentic human experiences isn’t going away. In fact, the rise of AI has paradoxically made it more important.

Brands that deliver the best experience are not only driven by technology-fueled functional efficiency, but also genuinely delivered on people’s most important needs and strove to make people’s future lives better. This includes notably human-centered and altruistic brands like Colgate and Pampers, which improve people’s lives with resources and education programs, as well as tech brands like Facebook, Google and Tesla.

Keeping the Soul in the Machine

The world’s best experience brands have figured out how to embrace tech without risking their “brand soul”. Tesla may have great experience, beating the likes of Ferrari, Mercedes Benz and BMW, but its mission statement has no mention of automobiles. Instead, it wants “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” This human-centered approach is underscored by Elon Musk’s personal aim to eliminate congestion with The Boring Co. and develop affordable domestic solar products with Solar City.

Another success story, Adidas demonstrates the important role that AI can play in creating truly lasting experiences. The sports giant recently launched its US and German Speed Factories, manufacturing hubs that rely on robotics to meet local needs and respond with fast customization. Additional investments in AI-driven product innovation and process optimization have led to a constant stream of cutting-edge releases such as Futurecraft 4D and Boost technology.

But technology isn’t the driving force of why consumers are connecting so avidly to Adidas. The company made a conscious effort to seamlessly fit into its consumers’ social narratives, cultures and engage them through a human voice. Adidas extends the hand of friendship to a youthful audience whom often feel unheard in today’s political and social climate by offering a culture of co-creation, through digital platforms like miadidas and also through physical spaces like their culture and talent incubator, Brooklyn Creator Farm.

The lesson here is that the symbiosis of high-efficiency AI, beautifully coupled with a human-centered purpose and inspiring engagement accelerate business growth. Both Tesla and Adidas create excellent experiences by applying AI and technology, not for their own sake, but towards creating a better future. If brands are to reach higher levels of relevancy and success, they must find ways to serve and engage customers in a more natural and human way despite, or preferably, in concert with automation.

The Human Experience

Resolving the paradox between frictionless, automated interactions and authentic emotional engagement has become the Turing Test for the modern age, especially as the human elements of experience take center stage. So, as businesses rush headlong into automating their brand experience while seeking to provide more consistent, accurate and engaging service at a significantly lower cost, the need for human emotive experiences to prevail has become more important than ever. Not just for the good of a brand’s bottom line, but for the good of everyone.

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