You Call That Artificial Intelligence?

October 25, 2018

While attending a recent Salesforce.com Basecamp for Customer Service Pros conference here, I was particularly taken by a keynoter’s observations on our collective progress toward incorporating AI into business software like CRM.

Later in the conference, while viewing some of the product demonstrations, wherever the word “AI” appeared onscreen, I or someone would poke their hand up to inquire and we were almost uniformly answered with some variant of “it’s coming”.

For all the hype around AI, the nearest we have come is in programming our systems to model best practice, then prompt users in performing patterned workflows that hew to that programmed best practice.  Call it computer-assisted pattern recognition, or Intelligent Automation.

This is not AI, but it’s a start. Using DARPA’s definitions of the Three Waves of AI, it appears many of us are still broadly in the early “First Wave of AI”, in which human-composed (hand-cobbled) workflow rules guide software users and customers through choice architectures with prescribed, rule-based workflow steps. We can perceive patterns, then use reasoned judgment to either follow the pattern or justify exceptions. If exceptions to policy or rules are frequent, then the policy is adjusted to reflect the pattern of practice.  Policy and practice are close partners in the perpetual dance of future alignment toward more pervasive Intelligent Automation.

AI Wave Number One: Handcrafted Knowledge

Calling it AI is, in my unvarnished humble opinion, a bit flamboyant. In truth, our “Artificial Intelligence” is stuck in the previous century, at DARPA’s “Wave Number One”, where a PC could recognize our basic input patterns (if x occurs, y is likely to follow), and reflect those patterns in tools like spellcheckers, templates and workflow systems, tuned over time by user experience. Recent advances in cheap processing, distributed data and voracious coding have improved matters to where a user can create workflows in a codeless, drag and drop fashion. Twining together all those 5,000-plus pieces of commercial marketing software is everyone’s grail quest – and there’s even an app store for it. Hello, Zapier.

Today, our systems can support our ability to perceive and derive value by improving our reasoning and judgment, spotting trends and drawing inferences based on historical or near-real-time data flows.  This is where the largest untapped opportunity looms for organizations to achieve savings through efficiency by tuning their tech stack in sales, marketing and service.  People and time do not scale, whereas a system can instantly scale to distribute workflows and data interpretation to any number of customer facing people, and even extend that capability into the hands of customers themselves.

Is your business technology supporting you in this way? If not, consider yourself a laggart in danger of losing big. Put simply, in life there are 3 types of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened.

Today, thanks to cheap computing, massive data “blooms”, and distributed networks, we can now amass, consume, configure and present interactive display reports on top of large datasets to help us understand it in self-driven configurable dashboards. Get some! We can help.

AI Wave Number Two: Statistical Learning

What’s coming? Looking again at the DARPA definitions of the 3 Stages of AI, we can next expect to see engineers creating statistical models for specific problems and training systems to solve those problems, once again using big data as the source material for the training exercise. Even this stage, however, has its limits. For example: Showing a computer thousands of cat photos can eventually train it to recognize a cat with high accuracy – not flawlessly, but reasonably well. Consider, however, that a 3-year-old child can recognize a cat flawlessly after only meeting the family cat and the neighbor’s cat, and looking at a sketch drawing of a cat, and will point to the cat cartoon and say it’s a cat. Thanks, brain!

Computers, meanwhile, face challenges in recognizing a handwritten number 8. The myriad of writing styles, speeds and implements confounds the problem.  This diversity of inputs and human approaches is the biggest challenge to UI developers.  Confusion over the validity of our databases is often caused by uncertainty about what the user intended to do or say when they input their data.

A slight 1% inaccuracy of input today can result in an outsized unreliable output. This is also the stuff of internet memes and fake news. Anybody can publish a single tweet to a vast global audience. The pace at which all that published-rubbish (“pubbish”?) speeds past us confounds our efforts to filter and validate truth. Our resulting, collective judgment errors can result in an outsize misinterpretation of fringe views as central guidance. Absent a moral compass, a distorted maniacal map could lead many, unaware, off an ethical cliff. Upshot: to trust your data, you need to regularly audit.  Shameless plug: Fan Foundry excels at this.

Wave Number Two will take some time to get right. I’d give it a decade or two to reach prime time.

The Third Wave of AI: Contextual Adaptation

In this future (certainly not the present), systems can reliably explain real life phenomena. They can perceive, learn, reason and even abstract. They can predict success or failure. They can understand why or why not. They can know why you made a mistake, when to trust your judgment, and can guide you on that optimal path of interpretation and judgment.

The big challenge here is for us to surrender our trust to a cyborg partner. For now, though, it’s a bit out of reach. To quote the articulate supercomputer HAL from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey: “Sorry, Dave, I can’t let you do that.”  Codicil: “Not yet, anyway”.

What’s your Sales, Marketing and Service challenge?  Does it involve people, processes and technology?  Perhaps we can help.

Recommended reading

DARPA Perspective on Artificial Intelligence

Article: The Sales and Marketing Alignment Conversation

 

 


The ROI of Social Media

October 12, 2016

reposted from Oct 2015

There are two ways to measure social media ROI: (1) direct profit that results when people act on an offer you publicize on a social channel (a promo code, a coupon, or the like); and (2) the contribution to profit and value that results from people engaging on social channels to chat, research, converse, and generally form a positive impression that inclines them to buy, recommend, follow, and stay loyal and satisfied.

Social BI cover

Click to view on SlideShare

We help clients focus on that second, far more lucrative metric, also known as Customer Lifetime Value, or CLV. Ever heard of that? It’s a measure of the profit you can expect to generate from a customer as long as they remain a customer. It includes initial sales, renewals, upgrades, referrals, and other sometimes non-monetary indicators of buyer satisfaction.

How do you measure contribution to CLV? The slide deck linked here offers a glimpse into some of our client work that answers the question.  If focuses less on the technology that underpins the effort, although we do provide a resource list, but more on the types of things you can measure and the ways you can capture the upstream inputs to do that measurement so you can determine what works and pivot to do more of that.  We hope you find it helpful.

How do you measure social media ROI? Love to hear your stories.  Comment below, or really open up the chat by sharing on your favorite social channel!

Cheers,

~Ed


The Sales and Marketing Alignment Conversation

October 27, 2011

The path to sustained sales and marketing alignment can be a simple one – simple to do, simple to repeat, simple to remember.  All you need is a map.  In that spirit, I attempt here to boil down some alignment opportunities for Sales and Marketing leaders.

The chart below shows the three main focus areas each for Sales and Marketing which, if approached collaboratively, can improve business results and transform the relationship.  Below the chart is a set of definitions, followed by a few examples of how to apply it to your own situation.

Sales and Marketing Alignment topics chart

Sales and Marketing Alignment topics

3 Sales goals – Value, Volume, Velocity

Value.  Since it is almost as costly to close a small sale as it is to close a large sale, Sales professionals would be wise to focus on increasing the potential Value of each sale.  In larger organizations, differently skilled teams manage different sized deals.

Volume.  The more deal flow you can create, the better your chances of growing the customer base, learning from their needs to improve your offering, and improving the company’s financial ability to innovate and fulfill those evolving customer needs.

Velocity.  Increasing the speed of deal flow can also increase your capacity to sell, grow the customer community, and learn from them to help you innovate and improve.  It becomes a flywheel.

3 Marketing goals – Content, Community, Conversion

Content.  The more compelling and relevant your content, the more you will attract the audience most likely to benefit from your offerings.

Community.  The more your content resonates within and among audiences, the greater your capacity to build a community and engage in dialogue to improve sales, products, services, and support.

Conversion.  The more effectively you convert sales, the more you can learn from customer experience about how to improve your engagement and conversion process.

Conversations Worth Starting

Using the 3×3 chart above, look at the 9 intersecting boxes and ask the questions implied by the two nouns whose paths cross in each box.

Example 1:  Value + Content.  In the upper left intersecting box, where Value and Content intersect, Marketing might ask: How can we improve our Content to increase the Value of each sale?  Sales might ask:  How can the improved Value of each sale guide us in improving Content?  It’s the same question, asked from different perspectives, that aligns your response.

Example 2:  Conversion + Velocity.  In the bottom right box, where Conversion and Velocity intersect, Marketing might be asking: How can we improve the Conversion process to accelerate the Velocity of Sales?  Sales might ask: What sales accelerators can we use as input for improving the Conversion process?

See how it works?  You may come up with better questions to suit your organization’s culture and challenges.  Now, formulate your own questions using the relevant nouns for each intersecting box, turn those questions loose in your organization, and watch what happens.

Measuring results with analytics, sales CRM and marketing automation solutions can help you measure and manage your improvement.  If you need assistance here, contact us.

How’s it working for you?  What questions would you ask your colleagues to help you get better aligned?  Drop us a comment here; we’d love to hear your feedback!  Visit our Resources page for more free strategy tool downloads.


Mobile App vs. Mobile Website: Which, When, Why?

August 2, 2011

2012 update

Having worked with Nexaweb Technologies , who modernize legacy b2b enterprise apps for secure Web access and live transaction enablement, and more recently with QVew on b2c mobile/social campaigns for tourism, travel, entertainment and event marketing, we’ve learned some lessons that will keep you out of the weeds.  As usual, we’ve added some bonus links at the end of this article.  ~Ed

More smart phones with full web browsing capability are sold than TVs, PCs and laptops in the US.  Ninety percent of us keep the cell phone within reach 24/7.  If you are contemplating ways to reach your mobile audience via mobile and web apps, what criteria would you use to decide?  The following chart shows general considerations for investing in mobile apps and mobile websites.

Factors affecting mobile and web app investment decisions

Here is an expanded discussion on technical considerations for investing in mobile apps vs. mobile website solutions.   For a discussion on audience, fanbase, user experience and other marketing considerations, contact us.

Technical Factors

1. Audience

Ask yourself: Who is my audience?  Do they use mobile devices?  Do they prefer native apps or mobile websites? Native App audiences are generally more affluent, and the most affluent are the most active app users.   If that info alone sufficiently defines your target audience, then, Bingo! A native app strategy would suit you.  Be mindful that most native apps are device-specific i.e. what works on an iPhone usually won’t work on an Android or a Blackberry.  If your audience cannot be defined  by a single platform (iPhone, Blackberry etc.), then expect to build and maintain several versions of your app – one for each device type.

If you find that an immersive brand experience is essential, to serve existing customers and tailor the experience to their needs, interests and account-based behavior,  then the tighter integration offered by native apps for each device’s native features seems the best solution.

Web apps, on the other hand, are far easier to distribute.  Unlike native apps, which require you to market and distribute therm, Web apps work on any device with a browser and require no download, thus their distribution is more easily supported by the Web’s linking technology.  So, if your audience is broad and cannot be defined by socio-economic factors or a specific platform, a web app may be your best bet.  Another perk:   HTML 5 has arrived just in time.  HTML5 enables app-like performance such as embedded video, so it won’t matter whether your device uses Flash Player,  QuickTime, or some other installed video player;  HTML 5 doesn’t need those plugins to run video.  As for cost: Web development talent is not as rare and costly as native app development talent, further cementing the budget-friendly appeal of Web apps.

Distribution of Web based apps is much easier, because anyone can do a web search on any device, or click on a link, to immediately use your app.  Native apps, by contrast, have to be downloaded, and you will need to spend some effort and resources to promote each native app and spur people to download your app.  This is not a huge obstacle, especially with existing customers, but it’s a necessary one that doesn’t apply to mobile websites.  This difference is becoming less of a technical issue and more of a pure marketing /distribution issue, as technical advances have made the app download/install/update process more smooth.

2. Function and Purpose

Ask: What will my App actually do? If you expect your app to make use of device features like GPS, account info, etc., then a native app is the way to go.  Also, if you intend to engage your audience via games that work offline and only occasionally connect online, again a native app is the better choice.

If, on the other hand, you plan to simply host an information-gathering user experience online, and require users to access data sources controlled by you via a Web server, then a web based app seems a better choice.  A nice advantage of a Web based app is that you can completely and whimsically make daily changes to the user interface and content, and even dynamically serve tarteted content, and immediately those changes become available to your Web app visitor.

3. Time

If you want to get instant updates and enhancements in the hands of all users, and you contemplate frequent time-sensitive updates, then unquestionably a mobile website or web based app is for you.  If, on the other hand, you contemplate a relatively stable app experience that deeply engages customers, and you have secure account information or a few data sets you need to deploy, and you also require tight integration with device features, then a native app solution seems more fitting.  It’s also feasible to place some Web-like (HTML) components in a native app when Web performance is needed, resulting in a sort of hybrid app – part native app, part Website.

Another consideration is turnaround time for launches and changes.   With native apps, that timeline is longer and rather more unpredictable than with web apps, since native apps are usually hosted by an online app store whose approval process can be lengthy and opaque – and the rejection process is often equally mysterious.  You can get around the app store mystery, though, if your typical user audience is well-defined and securely controlled, such as employees, customers or organization members rather than the general public, and you contemplate launching multiple apps that each perform different sets of functions.  If such is the case, consider launching your own app store and hosting your apps yourself.

4.   Budget and Talent

Chalk up another win for Web apps here.  With a Web app, you only need one or two versions.  A  .mobi version may be necessary unless your main website is architected using, say, CSS, to re-format on-the-fly to fit any size screen.  Web development talent is less scarce and expensive than native app development talent.  By contrast, if you go the Native App route and need to create multiple device versions to reach various user audiences, expect a compounded cost of development, maintenance and upgrade, not to mention the coordination and management of uniform performance across all versions in your app portfolio.  Only the most disciplined development teams can pull this off.

Conclusion

Along the continuum of user experience, native apps are killer – for now.   They can make use of a device’s native resources (hence their name) like geolocation, phone, camera, address book, secure wallet, etc.  And they don’t require an online connection unless you want to offer some sort of group play or data interchange.   The trade-off is that building a mobile app will cost you in terms of talent, lack of control over approval process and launch/update timelines in the app stores, costs and time involved in marketing and distribution, and the effort and tooling needed to maintain multiple versions for various devices.

Web apps, by contrast, are relatively less costly to build and maintain because the talent is less scarce, giving you flexibility to respond to customer requirements with changes and enhancements – an attractive consideration. The emergence of HTML5 is further impetus to consider Web app versions, since HTML 5 solves performance issues, enabling web developers to create many app-like performance experiences in an ordinary Web browser.

Epilogue:  Customers Have the Last Word

According to a 2011 study by Modapt and Morrisey & Company, the three top dissatisfactions among mobile users are:

  1. Navigation difficulties
  2. Slow download speed
  3. Difficulty reading and finding information

With this information in mind, think about what it would take to plan and execute a mobile experience that “wows” your audience.  If you plan to create an experience that is on par with everything that exists out there today,  think again.  Mobile users are frustrated.  This is your opportunity to outshine.

What has your experience been?  Still have questions?  Ask away!

I’ll add to these based on new information and your recommendations  (use the “Leave a comment” link in the “Share this” section below).  To get updates, use the “Keep in Touch”  feature (top right).  Thanks!


Why We Buy: the Science and Gamification of Loyalty

July 11, 2011
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Resized, renamed,...

Image via Wikipedia

Gamification is not just playing games online.  It involves an understanding how the science of game mechanics can motivate us to achieve our goals.

Being a Fan Foundry involves applying principles of human motivation.   Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Need” suggests that once our basic food, clothing and shelter needs are met, we are free to satisfy higher level needs like belonging, learning and self-actualization.  We humans are a constantly striving bunch.

Sales and Marketing professionals have long studied Maslow, B. F. Skinner and others to learn how to recognize and interpret “buy” signals, improve the buyer experience, increase qualified leads and convert more sales.   Whether you are in retail, e-commerce, enterprise sales, education, politics, contract negotiation or consulting, a review of some basic principles might help you discover ways to  improve your results.

In this upcoming series of “Why We Buy” articles, we examine the science and review real world examples of their application, so you can consider how they may fit your own business challenges.

Use the “Keep in Touch” button (right sidebar, top) to receive monthly notices of upcoming installments in this series.

“Why We Buy” Topics (click live titles to visit articles; more to come)

  • Default (path of least resistance or effort)
  • Sunken Cost (good money after bad)
  • Aspiration (status seeking)
  • Achievement
  • Challenge
  • Reward
  • Progress tracking
  • Competition
  • Pride (emotional investment)
  • Reciprocity (tit for tat)
  • Status – (gain/loss)
  • Gratification (delayed or immediate)
  • Reinforcement (thanks, BF Skinner)
  • Resource Slack (tomorrow never comes)

More to come!

Related Articles:

Gamification: How Competition is Reinventing Business, Marketing and Everyday Life (Mashable)

Engaging Patients with “Gamified” Mobile Care (Healthcare IT Solutions / Perficient)

Gamification is Bullshit (Persuasive Games)

Persuasive Games:  Exploitationware (Ian Bogost on Gamasutra)


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