Bringing artificial intelligence to all

In order to further the adoption of artificial intelligence, companies need to keep things simple when trying to appeal to consumers.

Amazon has long been at the forefront of innovation, with Amazon Prime Air, Amazon Echo and now Amazon Go all recent inventions. But where Amazon really leads the way is in its marketing and specifically how it manages to describe and sell complex technology like artificial intelligence (AI) to the public. 

General knowledge about AI is still low, with only 18% of consumers surveyed by Weber Shandwick feeling like they had a lot of knowledge about AI. This figure rose to 48% for those who felt that they had a little, but it’s still a paltry figure given how much of our lives AI has now infiltrated. 

We’ve now got Siri and Cortana in our pockets and on our computers, Google Home and Amazon Echo is in our living rooms, and soon our roads will be filled with AI operating self-driving cars and Amazon Go-esque stores in our high streets. But ask a member of the public what AI means to them and they’re more likely to name robots than the virtual assistants and chatbots that have become part of our daily lives.   

In part, this could be because the likes of Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft keep references to AI at a minimum when describing products and services powered by it. Instead, the tech giant employ a plethora of other tactics to sell AI to us, and these techniques hold some important lessons that all tech companies should follow. 

The first of these is in actually naming AI – it is wrapped up in easy-to-understand product packaging. Amazon talks about the “Just Walk Out” technology behind Amazon Go, and Google uses AI in the guise of Google Assistant. These terms do what they say on the tin. It doesn’t take a data scientist to understand what the purpose of the technology is. 

It is this simplicity and lack of jargon that is essential to winning customers over. Many tech companies have been guilty of speaking in buzzwords, acronym and jargon. What Google and others have discovered, is that when selling AI, consumers are not attracted by the AI itself. 

Amazon does later mention terms like deep learning and sensor fusion, which would be largely lost on the average consumer. It could be a good indicator of the different audiences Amazon has to cater to – both layman and tech expert. When describing a piece of technology, many tech companies could experience the same issue. You need to connect with consumers as well as investors and tech press. Amazon’s solution to this is fairly simple, open with an example of the tech at work, in the case of Amazon Go they’ve drawn an analogy to self-driving cars, and then get into the techy stuff later on. 

Another technique used by the likes of Apple and Microsoft is to give AI a catchy name. Perhaps playing to humanity’s tendency to anthropomorphise inanimate objects, the tech giants use names like Siri and Cortana. When interacting with virtual assistants, we’re also encouraged to speak to them in an almost human manner, saying “Hey Siri!” or “Hey Cortana!” whenever we want them to do something. 

There’s been a significant push to make conversations with AI as human as possible, both with virtual assistants and chatbots. A lot of this lies in improving the AI’s natural language processing (quite a tall order when you take into account all the different dialects, slang and cultural quirks the AI has to understand!). But very little is said about how AI understands what we’re saying, consumers take for granted the fact that Alexa, Siri and Cortana understand our spoken word.   

This holds another lesson for many tech companies. When you’ve sweated blood and tears to build your AI, it’s tempting to want to shout about your efforts from the rooftops. But consumers will never buy into your nitty gritty technical information, at least, not until you’ve hooked them with more real-life sales patter first. 

What really sells the tech to consumers is what it can do for them. Amazon Go promises you’ll never have to wait in line, Google Home is “always ready to help” and Siri “helps you get things done”.   

When selling any kind of tech therefore, it is far more powerful to talk about how it will impact an individual’s life than how it works. Both Apple and Microsoft give practical examples of how their AI assistants can improve a person’s life - scheduling meetings, reminding someone to do a task or telling them the weather. Giving practical benefits like this can also help a customer imagine using your product. 

Speaking of practical experience, another method tech companies can use is to help consumers get an idea of what using the tech will feel like. Consumers have previously reported that they felt hands-on experience or expert reviews were the most credible sources of information on AI. Google, Apple and Amazon have realised this, unveiling their AI in high profile launches attended by influencers and experts.

While these events do go into some detail on how the tech works, the focus is primarily on how a customer actually uses and benefits from AI. While many smaller tech companies probably can’t hold events on the same scale as the tech giants, the underlying strategy can be tapped into. How-to and unboxing videos are a good way to help consumers understand your technology, likewise using influencers and vloggers to shout about your product is another useful tactic. 

There are clear points every tech company can take from the methods tech giants like Amazon and Google use to describe their complex offerings and technology.   

Tech companies should describe their products in easy-to-understand terms and give relatable examples that resonate with customers. You’re not just limited to words - videos and hands-on experiences also help consumers relate with complicated technology. Save the really technical information you want to shout about for the rest of the industry and focus on the practical stuff that matters to consumers. To really be intelligent, you need to keep things simple. 

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