Kevin Getch is the founder, CEO and director of digital strategy of Vancouver-based Webfor, which celebrated its 10th anniversary over the summer. Getch recently published a book about the macro trends of consumer behavior toward more personalized, predictive and proactive technology. His book, Future Proof Your Marketing: How to Win at Digital Marketing – Now and During the Artificial Intelligence Revolution, intends to help business owners, executives and marketing managers understand the current marketing landscape as well as the massive changes that are coming, and provide them with a framework to develop an adaptable customer-centric marketing strategy. It’s available in print and digital format at Amazon. We asked Getch to unpack his thoughts on AI, consumer behavior and the strength of customer experience.
VBJ: Kevin, you have published a book about, in part, artificial intelligence. Bring this phrase down to Earth, and tell us what the everyday business owner needs to embrace it.
Kevin Getch: Artificial intelligence is simply a computer program that can perform intelligent tasks that in the past were generally done by humans. There are many areas of AI like machine learning, natural language processing and computer vision.
I think it’s important that business owners understand that artificial intelligence represents one of the biggest fundamental changes we’ll see in our lifetimes. Prior to the industrial revolution, it was either humans or animals that powered things. The invention of the steam engine allowed machines to be able to create force or power.
Up until the last few years, humans had a monopoly on intelligence, but that’s changing too. Computer programs can now learn to play a game better than a human and perform other tasks that previously only humans could do.
For forward-thinking businesses, this is one of the biggest challenges and opportunities they’ll see in their lifetime. For businesses to remain competitive, they’re going to need to start understanding and implementing machine learning and AI into their processes as well as their marketing.
VBJ: You write about macro trends of consumer behavior toward what you call the three P’s: personalized, predictive and proactive technology. Why should businesses should be aware of them if they want to reach customers?
KG: Back in 2015, I came up with the three P’s because I realized that there’s going to be a tremendous amount of changes in the future, and that we needed to look at the macro-level to understand the larger trends that would be guiding the future of technology and marketing.
I often ask people, if you were going to hire a personal assistant, wouldn’t you want them to really get to know you? Would you want to have to ask them for the same things every day, or would you prefer they predict your needs and proactively help you with those? Would you prefer to just pay them while they just sit there doing nothing until you make a request?
We all know the answers. The future of marketing is going to be driven by these three P’s: personalized, predictive and proactive.
Have you ever received a marketing/sales email that doesn’t even address you by name? There’s a reason that emails that are personalized to the individual have a much higher success rate. We all want something that’s personal to us. The more that you as a business understand your customer and can personalize your messaging, experience and marketing to them, the more successful you’ll be. The good news is, technology is making it easier than ever to understand and deliver your personalized messaging to just the right customer.
We are all pattern finding machines. After working with a customer for years, it’s not hard to predict that when A happens, they’re going to want B. Our customers really appreciate that high level of service. Artificial intelligence is uniquely designed to take large inputs of data and predict trends or actions. We can predict the right time to show this ad or this piece of content based on all that data.
This is one of the biggest changes we’ll probably see in our lifetime with respect to the interaction between technology, marketing and consumer behavior. It will also receive the most pushback, and that’s why companies are being very thoughtful in how they roll this out. Currently, if you want to look for a restaurant and a movie for date night, you’re probably going to grab your phone and start searching. In the not-too-distant future, you’ll simply mention to your spouse the possibility of going out to eat and seeing a movie. Assuming you have your personal assistant in active listening mode, it will go to work in the background finding restaurants and movies that it predicts you’ll enjoy based on your personal preferences.
VBJ: Personal assistant-type technology is rapidly improving. Where is this headed, and how fast?
KG: I believe in the next five to 10 years that personal assistant technology will advance to the point where it provides so much value and convenience that we’ll be relying on our assistants throughout the day in both our personal lives and at work.
Although a much longer ways off, ultimately personal assistant technology will be as good as a real human executive assistant. Currently digital assistants can already remind you of upcoming events, birthdays, tell you about the news and weather, and even call to make reservations on your behalf.
Our digital assistants will be present in meetings to take notes and summarize action items (there’s already an AI tool that does this pretty well), they’ll make purchases on our behalf (with our approval of course), schedule meetings for us, and predict our needs (based on the parameters we set) and suggest information and solutions that it believes will be valuable.
During that time we may even see robotics come into play (closer to the 10-year mark), which would allow for physically moving objects, doing dishes, laundry, putting away groceries and a number of other basic tasks. Yes, we’re basically talking about the robot Rosie from the Jetsons.
VBJ: There is a question as to whether privacy is still important in the age of social media and personal assistant technology. How should businesses start thinking about the privacy of their customers?
KG: It’s critically important as a business that we respect and protect the privacy of our customers. It’s a privilege to serve your customers and part of that privilege is honoring that relationship by taking the steps necessary to protect their data and their privacy.
VBJ: For many years, customer experience appears to have taken a back seat to efficiency and bottom line. You say within five to 10 years, it’s going to be one of the largest business ranking factors. What has changed?
KG: Technology is changing. Let me ask you a question: If you were referring your friends to a company and they weren’t having a good experience, how long would you do that for? Not long is my guess. Search engines and advertising platforms are the same way. They want to make sure their customers have a good experience, because if they don’t, they’ll go somewhere else. Why would a search engine send someone who is using a mobile device to a website that isn’t mobile friendly, or to a website that takes five seconds to load? Technology is not only empowering the consumer, it’s also allowing search engines to understand the customer’s experience in a variety of ways. If you’re currently not providing a good experience you’re probably already suffering, but in the future you won’t be able to exist.
The biggest change in the future is the fact that we’ll be going from a reactive to a proactive state. This means that your assistant may ask you what you thought of your experience with the businesses you interacted with without you even prompting it. You may already see notifications after you leave a business asking you to review it if you have location turned on. This means the amount of information collected on customer experience will be much greater. This information can be utilized for ranking businesses based on a number of factors from star ratings to amenities.
VBJ: What do you really mean when you say businesses can future proof their marketing? Things change so fast, how can the average business stay ahead of the digital curve?
KG: Forward-thinking businesses can develop a strategy now that creates a solid foundation that will allow them to adapt to all the future changes.
To future proof your marketing you’ll need to develop a constant feedback loop where you’re measuring customer satisfaction, keeping your finger on the pulse of your customer and monitoring the changes in their customer journey. Ultimately, you’ll not only be able to adapt and serve your customers better than the competition, but you’ll start to be able to anticipate their needs and deliver on them even before they’re aware they have the need.
If you obsess over your customer and you know them better than anyone else, how hard is it to create the right message that resonates with them? If you know the path that they take and the places they frequent, how hard is it to get that message in front of them at the right time?
Those two things are key.
First, you need to fall in love with your customer and obsess over their fears, uncertainties, desires and how they make decisions. What psychological needs are you fulfilling for your customer?
Second, you need to know your customers’ consumer journey in your industry. How do they research you? What places do they frequent? What are their buying patterns?
If you develop a solid strategy based on these two main areas, you’ll be ahead of ninety percent of businesses. – Edited for length and clarity by Jessica Swanson