2018 Online-To-Offline Marketing Predictions

As our coverage of how location technology has evolved over the past year has shown, the use of place-based information has spurred myriad ways for brands and consumers to connect online and offline.

It may be hard to imagine the shape of things to come in 2018, but we surveyed several executives in the space to peer into their respective crystal balls on what to expect over the next 12 months:

Collin Holmes, founder and CEO of Chatmeter

Mobile localization and the arms race for A.I:

Consumers are tired of pre-fab marketing messages, and are turning to each other as sources of what to do and buy. In addition, with the introduction of ad blockers which more than half of the U.S has installed on their devices, it’s getting harder and harder for brands to effectively reach their target audiences.

This will continue the rise of mobile and location-based marketing. Consumers have become more comfortable with enabling geo-location services on their phone, due to the value they are getting from many apps being able to access their location. This has tremendous value from a marketer’s perspective, but will rely on new tech, like A.I., to provide detailed and actionable insights on massive amounts of consumer behavior data.

Multi-functions of social:

Social is evolving a lot as well over the last couple years. Seems like people are still maintaining significant spend, many are even increasing, but they don’t feel it may be contributing much to company performance. In the local space, we are seeing big growth of social on driving customers, and big shifts in the review space from Yelp to Google and Facebook in terms of usage and review generation.

Google Maps is getting five times the number of reviews compared to Yelp, and two times that of Facebook. Facebook climbed to number one in total reviews, and most reviews per location. Yelp has seen a 12 percent drop of reviews being created monthly in the last 12 months.

The growth of voice search:

AI and voice search will require more careful strategies for marketers in 2018. These advancements will turn content marketing upside down. People speak and ask questions in natural language, not keyword-based searches, which means your content will either have to include FAQs or be peppered with questions and answers.

Gil Larsen, VP of Americas at Blis:

Cost-Per-Click vs. Cost-Per-Visit

2017 saw the emergence of a powerful new marketing metric: Cost-per-Visit (CPV). With this model, brands pay for an ad only when a consumer that’s been exposed to it visits a specific location. Using the CPV model not only helps brands increase foot traffic and boost sales, but also helps foster a more trusting relationship between brands, agencies and vendors. In 2018, CPV will continue to gain momentum as the metric of choice. Tech partners will need to abandon click-based measurement schemes and work towards building transparent relationships with advertisers to compete.

In 2018, brands will place greater emphasis on location intelligence. Previously, brands focused mostly on proximity advertising but now we’re seeing advertisers turn to more sophisticated uses of location data to inform their campaign. By analyzing historical location data and detailed behavioral patterns, brands gain comprehensive insights into consumer preferences and habits which can be used for hyper-targeted campaigns.

What Blockchain Means For Online-Offline Marketing

There are many technologies that will make impact next year but the most interesting one is the rise of blockchain. By enabling marketers to conduct transactions in a secure and transparent marketplace, blockchain has the potential to solve for many industry issues.

With blockchain, the end-to-end processes of booking, buying, and placing digital ad space will be recorded and stored. And because all these transactions would be available to the public and verified by common consensus, blockchain will help bring about greater transparency and end ad fraud. Integrating blockchain technology into our existing advertising ecosystems will take time.

Larger players will take longer to adapt, and organizations from across the industry will need to come together and agree on a common set of standards. We’ll see more and more startups adopting the technology, and the IAB and other industry bodies will begin setting some key standards. Within five years, the ad industry will transition into using blockchain as a transaction leger. And within a decade, we’ll likely see it become a new industry standard. It’s time for brands and their tech partners to prepare.

On Location And Viewability

To promote transparency, more technology vendors will (and should) develop visualization tools. Throughout 2017, concerns over brand safety, viewability, transparency and ad fraud have led to calls for greater transparency across the industry. These concerns have led some of the loudest voices clamoring for change to make significant budget cuts and many others to tweak their global contracts. In order to heed the calls for greater transparency, companies need to develop tools that foster trust between vendors, agencies and brands.

Gilad Amitai, Ubimo Co-Founder & COO:

Using location data in real time for foot traffic attribution has been widely adopted as a core KPI for measuring retail campaign effectiveness.

By implementing cross device matching techniques, this metric can now be used also to measure other channels besides mobile. Arguably the best indicator of this new standard is Snap’s reportedly $125M purchase of Placed. This acquisition exemplifies the recognition of the growing need to demonstrate ROI for advertisers by connecting the digital world to store purchases and visits.

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Microsoft Releases’ Healthbot’ Virtual Assistant For Hospitals

Microsoft has re released a “private preview” of its artificial intelligence-powered chatbots for healthcare program, which is designed to enable hospitals and medical centers to easily create interactive virtual assistants and chatbots to serve patients.

The program is part of Microsoft’s Healthcare NExT initiative promises to give patients self-service access to health information while reducing costs for medical administrations.

Initial partners include Aurora Health Care, which serves 15 hospitals, over 150 clinics and 70 pharmacies throughout eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, and Premera Blue Cross, which is billed as the largest health plan in the Pacific Northwest, and UPMC, an integrated health care delivery network.

The companies are working with Microsoft to build out bots that address a wide range of healthcare-specific questions and use cases.

For instance, insurers can build bots that give their customers an easy way to look up the status of a claim and ask questions about benefits and services. Providers, meanwhile, can build bots that triage patient issues with a symptom checker, help patients find appropriate care, and look up nearby doctors.

At Aurora Health Care, patients can use the “Aurora Digital Concierge” to determine what type of care they might need and when they might need it. Patients interact with the bot in natural language – answering a set of questions about their symptoms – and then the bot suggests what could be possible causes and what type of doctor they might want to see and when. They can also schedule an appointment with just a few clicks. This is an example of how AI can have direct impact on people’s everyday lives, helping patients find the most relevant care and helping doctors focus on the highest-priority cases.

“Aurora Health Care is focused on delivering a seamless experience for our consumers and the health bot allows us to introduce technology to make that happen. The use of AI allows us to leverage technology to meet consumers where they are; online, mobile, chat, text, and to help them navigate the complexity of healthcare,” says Jamey Shiels, VP Digital Experience, Aurora Health Care.

The AI-powered healthcare initiative comes amid a wider set of moves by Microsoft to take advantage of Connected Intelligence. Last month, for example, Microsoft’s Internet of Things software program, Azure, got a location intelligence boost from Dutch navigation software company TomTom. That effort allows Microsoft Azure clients to apply a wide array of TomTom API services under the Microsoft IoT brand including search and geocoding, routing, traffic, and maps.

Meanwhile, there are even more changes occurring in the healthcare space. This month, pharmacy and clinic chain CVS Health’s $69 billion acquisition of insurance giant Aetna appears poised to upend the way consumers access and pay for wellness, medication, treatment, and benefits.

The blurring of lines among healthcare providers across wellness and care, prescription management, and insurance clears the way for tools like chatbots, which are becoming more commonplace in consumers’ wider lives, to become an integral part of healthcare.

By incubating the health bot project as part of Healthcare NExT, a new initiative at Microsoft that is aimed at “transforming  healthcare by deeply integrating greenfield research and health technology product development, in partnership with the healthcare industry’s leading players.”

As Google, Apple, and Amazon look to ways to expand their own respectiv approaches to managing healthcare tech, expect Microsoft to ramp up more  collaborations with its rivals as well as healthcare companies.

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How Mall of America Is Using Chatbots And Robots To Connect With Holiday Shoppers

Mall of America has expanded its use of location-based chatbots by adding Softbank’s robot, Pepper, to engage with consumers and provide faster customer service to busy shoppers this holiday season.

The chatbot will live on MoA’s website, its mobile app, and Facebook page, and as an Amazon Alexa skill.  While MoA made use of chatbots last holiday season, that program only connected to its Facebook Messenger presence.

By making this expansion, which includes using chatbots, which were developed by tech partner Satisfi Labs, to power the “humanoid” robot Pepper, MoA is recognizing the mainstreaming of Connected Intelligence and artificial intelligence as a foundation for one-to-one marketing and omnichannel strategies.

A Retail First For Chatbots

MoA claims that the chatbot is the first of its kind for shopping malls. It is Satisfi Lab’s first fully-integrated retail location bot that uses multiple data feeds, over different customer touch-points, to answer customer’s questions in natural language, within seconds in real time.

For example, the bot can answer complex questions around gifting, food recommendations, and attractions and holiday events happening in America’s largest mall, based on a user’s specific location, says Sarah Townes, MoA’s VP of Marketing.

“This expands how we used chatbots last year. We developed more of a seasonal chatbot that provided holiday gift recommendations, holiday itineraries, depending on the type of visit that you were planning to make here, or whether you were a local Mall of America patron, or even someone coming from an international market,” Townes tells GeoMarketing.

“This chatbot is loaded with much more evergreen content that is timely. It actually is connected to a number of APIs that we’ve recently created around events, tenants, and deals,” Townes adds. “It can answer more real time questions, or specific questions relevant to a day or week events or things that are happening at the mall. Last year’s chatbot was very specific to Facebook Messenger. This one is going to be rolling out across our digital ecosystem very soon. It will be available on our website, our app, and then through Pepper as well.”

Black Friday at the Mall of America.

Adding More Pepper

Softbank’s Pepper has been a popular marketing tool for brands seeking to showcase their own AI expansion over the past two years. As we reported in May 2016, Pizza Hut Asia became be the first commerce partner to test Pepper, which is aimed at bringing greater intelligence to machines in order to create a more seamless and intuitive user experience in stores.

“For the most part, Pepper will be answering general questions about the mall, holiday hours, how to get to a specific location, maybe what events are happening at Mall of America during the holiday season,” Townes says. “In addition, she’s able to answer some specific questions about her, how tall she is, where is she manufactured, does she have human feelings, so she has some fun intelligence that is built into her as well.”

The MoA has also added some content on Pepper. There’s a “tell me a story” feature, which identifies specific holiday gifts from across MoA’s 520 retail tenants by category and is aligned with the mall’s online gift guide.

There will be three “Peppers” strategically places around the 5.6 million square foot mall, Townes says.

“The Peppers are placed depending on what events we have happening on a daily basis,” Townes says. “In general, she has spent most of her time around Santa, around some of our mall entrances, around a central parkway or thoroughfare in the mall where she can interact with as many guests as possible.

“For the most part, we do try to deploy the Peppers around the same area all 3 at once, versus having them all over the mall, simply because when she’s out and about, people cannot get enough of her,” Townes continues. “We want to make sure that people aren’t having to wait in line and they can have a nice interaction with her. By having three not lined up one after another, but in the same general vicinity, helps sort of mitigate any of the crowding, or challenges in the experience.”

Softbank’s Pepper

Finding MoA’s Voice Strategy

Pepper and the chatbot program will be at the MoA through its Super Bowl LII promotions. As Townes notes, even after the holiday season promotion, the effort will influence its broader focus on developing its voice-activation strategy via Amazon’s Alexa and other virtual assistants.

As a representative from Softbank notes, it’s all about meeting consumers’ demand for greater personalization.

“Shoppers will now have MoA on any platform they interact with the most, no matter where they are,” Softbank’s rep says. “At home, they can ask Alexa about their upcoming visit, or talk to the bot on the website and Facebook Messenger. If they are already at the mall, shoppers can easily download the enhanced MoA app that can direct customers to the thousands of destinations at the mall based on their current location.

“Every platform delivers the same quality bot experience and knowledge,” the rep adds. “The primary purpose of the bot is to simplify the process of looking through the myriad of options at the mall for the user. To avoid overwhelming the user, the bot provides a personalized shopping experience, but it can still connect shoppers with human concierges thereby augmenting the entire customer service department. This bot program together with the presence of Pepper at the mall definitely positions MoA as an innovation hub of new ideas in retail.”

Rounding out MoA’s voice and chatbot focus its new wayfinding tools within its app, which were launched in October.

“We have a new wayfinding feature in our app that offers guests a turn-by-turn experience,” Townes says. “We have provided even more parking and transportation solutions. We’ve recently started testing a parking by reservation service called My Park, which is an app enabled parking by reservation organization. Once you’re here, you’re able to download the app or use your app to help guide your experience. The goal of all of these new tools is designed simply to make it easier and more pleasurable to come to the Mall of America.”

Meanwhile, Softbank believes that MoA’s use of chatbots and Connected Intelligence will spur other retailers and malls to tap into those technologies as well.

“MoA’s push for a more customer-facing AI definitely paves the way for other malls to use these tools in their guest service and marketing strategies. By creating a useful, fun and easy to use bot program, MoA and Satisfi Labs have allowed other malls to see that quality service can scale no matter how large your property or customer base is,” Softbank’s rep tells GeoMarketing. “Additionally, having more users interact with new technology such as the bot and Pepper allow for more improvements of the tech and greater adoption across industry.”

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IAB Working Group Aims To Develop Marketing Standards For Artificial Intelligence

The Interactive Advertising Bureau has established a working group of industry executives to tackle three areas that will shape the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning in the digital marketing space: recruiting talent, developing new approaches to creativity, and establishing insights.

The IAB AI/Machine Learning for Marketing Purposes Working Group is headed by Co-Chairs Patrick Albano, Chief Revenue Officer of AdTheorent, and Jordan Bitterman, CMO of IBM’s the Weather Company.

The Weather Company has been particularly aggressive in using IBM’s AI and machine learning system, Watson, to power campaigns for the likes of Campbell Soup Company, Unilever, and GSK Consumer Healthcare.

“Transforming ourselves and industries is part of The Weather Company DNA,” Jeremy Steinberg, TWC’s Head of Global Sales, told us earlier this year. “We’ve embraced big data and leveraged it to improve every aspect of our business, from forecast accuracy to ad targeting. Now we’ve set our sights on cognition. We believe human interaction is the new ‘search,’ and that cognitive advertising is the next frontier in marketing – and we’re leading the charge to make it a reality.”

The Weather Company is in the process of establishing the Watson Ads Council, which will include a marketers who will act as a sounding board for the latest ways of leveraging Watson Ads and the use of artificial intelligence for brands.

The IAB is expected to amplify and organize existing efforts at using AI and machine learning for advertising.

Citing a Forrester prediction that by 2020, Albano wrote a blog post introducing the working group by nothing “the companies that effectively master AI will steal $1.2 trillion per year from those that don’t… If you’re not thinking about it yet, hold your wallet because the race is on.”

In addition to the three initial subjects the working group plans to tackle, Albano also highlighted these areas of interest that will be on the agenda as well:

  • Understanding how AI and ML will impact our business
  • Simplifying, defining and setting standards for the space as it relates to the advertising and marketing industry
  • Organizing tools for the industry to plan ahead
  • Thinking about responsible usage of AI so that humans and machines work well together into the future

The assembling of the working group on AI follows the publication of the IAB’s  “playbook” on understanding location-based advertising in April.

On the talent development front, Albano offered a military analogy to what digital marketing companies face in terms of finding the right people to move AI and machine learning programs ahead.

“Recruiting people is hard as so much of the decision is based on timing and circumstance,” Albano wrote. “A cliché approach to recruiting for the armed services is ‘setting up a table in a shopping mall,’ which is similar to the way that a lot of advertising targeting works – make a broad assumption (potential recruits will visit the mall) and hope for the best (maybe our sign will attract them).

“The US Air Force took a different approach earlier this year by using Machine Learning to analyze the different attributes of young men and women across the US and predictively target the people most likely to volunteer for service,” he continued. “This not only takes the guess work out of advertising, but it also identifies hard-to-reach audiences with the right message.”

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What’s Driving The Growth Of Connected Health Devices?

More than 40 percent of U.S. broadband households now own a Connected Health product, up from 37 percent in 2016 and 33 percent in 2015, notes tech research consultancy Parks Associates.

That report buttresses other industry forecasts looking ahead to tech developments in the intersection of connected devices and artificial intelligence. For example, eMarketer has forecast the value of the “Internet of Health Things” will hit $163 billion by 2020, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 38.1 percent between 2015 and 2020.

And within the the next five years the healthcare sector is projected to be “number one” in the top 10 industries for Internet of Things app development. As a separate Accenture report notes, the insurance industry is primed for AI.

The mainstreaming of on-demand technologies that have changed the way people find restaurants and share information with friends online is altering the methods that doctors are “discovered” and engaged by existing and potential patients already.  The use of reviews by patients through platforms like ZocDoc is one case in point.

Is there anything on the horizon that will serve as an alternative means of finding a doctor. Will Siri or Alexa or Cortana likely recommend nearby doctors in the future? It’s a matter of time, Parks Associates’ analysis suggests.

“The steady increase in consumer adoption of connected health products bodes well for the ongoing healthcare practice transformation,” said Harry Wang, Senior Director of Research, Parks Associates.

GeoMarketing: In terms of the Connected Home, as well as devices like Amazon Echo and smart watches, can you put the state of Connected Health in context? How big is this area versus other areas, such as wearables or the Connected Car in terms of consumer adoption?

Harry Wang: Connected Health is intertwined with connected home technology and wearable device industry therefore adoption of these technologies will help connected health industry grow.

We include wearables that directly benefit consumers’ health and wellbeing, such as fitness trackers, smart watch with health & fitness tracking capability as connected health devices (which include connected medical devices, e.g., a BPM, or connected wellness devices, e.g. a Fitbit) from a device adoption perspective, adoption of connected health products as a whole category is perhaps on par with smart home device as a whole category (thermostats, door locks), but ahead of connected cars (depending on its definition). Individually speaking, fitness tracker and smart watch with fitness/wellness features leads with 12 percent adoption each.

Are there any particular use cases that are driving Connected Health? For example, are we mainly seeing growth in Connected Health from wearables like fitness trackers?

Connected health is more than devices. Software and services are actually more exciting. Health and wellness apps are used by more than 40 percent of consumers in the U.S., and access to remote care services (those pioneered by Teledoc and MDlive) is on the rise.

Besides these general categories, the connected health market has many unique, high growth, and niche use cases that are gaining distribution channels and consumer’s mindshare.

These innovations that target specific use cases may be driven more by healthcare providers than consumer marketing efforts.

For instance, Health insurers start to fund/subsidize diabetes prevention programs, hospitals begin to contract digital rehab software makers to offer in-home technology-assisted rehab services.

Each use case has significant room to grow but as their target market is not the entire consumer population, they would never reach the traditional mainstream status.

But for healthcare providers and insurers, if these technologies can help them address the issue of the 80 percent of the healthcare spending by 20 percent population, mainstream adoption is irrelevant.

Is there anything in the Connected Health space that will help doctors, hospitals, and medical clinics, achieve greater discovery through the use of these IoT devices?

We do believe that many IoT devices/software that touch upon people’s life therefore contributing to doctor’s understanding of patient condition and helping patients self-manage their conditions will gain more adoption. Siri may one day evolve to answer health related questions from patients or Echo will collect patient self-reported data to doctors.

Applications targeting health and wellness needs of consumers will find their way to a connected home, a connected car, or a connected speaker platform.

Many remote care applications are mobile driven so consumers can talk to a doctor via video on smartphones, and healthcare system will rely more on these everyday consumer devices to engage patients particularly in preventive care areas.

Barriers still exist; it takes time for consumer and doctor’s habits to replace old ones. But we are getting there.

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Retailers Ramp Up AI Efforts, But Feel The Strains Of Catching Up

While brands from West Elm to Harley Davidson to Cosabella ramping up the use of artificial intelligence to better predict and connect with consumers, only 52 percent of retailers say that they’re able to manage real- time customer interactions, according to a global survey of 717 store brand marketing execs by Forrester and AI platform Emarsys.

That said, brands are scrambling to catch up. About 78 percent of retail organizations polled said spend on AI marketing technologies will increase over the next 12 months by at least 5 percent or more.

“AI is helping us to target specific segments of customers, which is increasing our customer base and helping us in addressing their needs,” one European respondent said.

Additionally, retail marketers plan to deploy AI marketing technologies to address foundational requirements for supporting real-time customer interactions, such as understanding cross-channel customer behavior (81 percent), mapping customer journeys (80 percent) and cross-device identity resolution (78 percent).

At the same time, about 65 percent of retailers voiced concern about attempts to keep up with consumers’ rapidly evolving tech choices and the complexity to form cross- channel customer relationships.

To get a better sense of where brands’ comfort with AI stands, the survey grouped retailers into four groups:

  • Experts (11 percent) who demonstrated true AI marketing readiness across all three dimensions.
  • Opportunists (34 percent ) who excelled at two of the three dimensions.
  • Novices (28 percent) who excelled at only one of the three dimensions.
  • Laggards (27 percent) who clearly struggled across all dimensions.

A clear majority of respondents (88 percent) “strongly agree or agree” that AI will reinvent the retail industry and dramatically change what the company does (81 percent).

In addition to finding ways of interacting with customers on their own terms, the bottom line of this call for “reinvention” is the pressure to personalize the shopping experience from Amazon.

Sales on July 11 surpassed Black Friday and Cyber Monday, making it the biggest day ever in Amazon history, the e-commerce giant said in a press release, noting that more than 200,000 women’s dresses — and more than 200,000 lightbulbs —  were purchased by customers on Prime Day 2017.

When asked about West Elm’s AI strategy, VP of Innovation Luke Chatelain told GeoMarketing, “We believe AI has a role in all facets of the technology we create. From programmatic emails to personalized product recommendations, we’re working to create better, more streamlined customer experiences that are personalized to each user.”

In the report summary, Emarsys and Forrester offer this additional guidance for retailers shifting to AI: “Misconceptions of tech skills required for AI marketing hinders mainstream adoption. Users are after all consumers too, they must get their hands-on AI-powered marketing tools to understand, control and teach it to get the best results.

“Not all firms will have all the required skills in the marketing organization, and given the talent shortage, it’s also likely that firms won’t be able to rely on external recruitment to fill the gaps,” the report warned. “Decision makers must educate themselves in all things AI, and ensure that for AI to work there is first and foremost excellent data stewardship, and not necessarily the need for marketers with tech skills.”

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Alexa Poised To Play A Bigger Role This Amazon Prime Day

The third annual Prime Day is set on Tuesday, July 11, with the e-commerce giant promising “hundreds of thousands of deals exclusively for Prime members” with 30 hours of deal shopping starting night before – and new deals as often as every five minutes.

And like last year, many of those deals will be aimed at Amazon Echo owners through the device’s voice-activated digital assistant, Alexa.

In a press release, Amazon singles out “voice shopping”  more “Alexa-exclusive deals” for members with an Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, Amazon Tap, compatible Fire TV or Fire tablet.

“Amazon is exclusively targeting its consumers who have an Alexa-enabled device, offering early-bird access to their Prime Day deals,” notes Dina Abdelrazik, Analyst, Parks Associates. “This will mark the second year that Amazon pushes ‘voice shopping’ with Alexa-exclusive deals.”

According to Parks Associates data, 17 percent of Amazon Echo owners use the device to shop for goods and services. We expect Amazon’s newest Echo Show iteration, which features a screen, to increase voice-supported shopping further.

One other change in the way Alexa homes will be able to shop includes the first buyers of the video/voice device, the Echo Show.

Pre-orders for the $299 Echo Show began last month with, promising consumers “everything you love about” its voice-activated assistant, Alexa, along with the ability to watch video flash briefings and YouTube, see music lyrics, security cameras, photos, weather forecasts, to-do and shopping lists, and more.

While the Echo Show has been a top-selling electronics device on Amazon (naturally) for the past month, the numbers of those shoppers will not have a perceptible impact in terms of actual sales numbers on Prime Day.

However, the use of the Echo Show, and Alexa generally, will certainly influence the shape how the mix of voice- and visual shopping grows.

As Google and Microsoft’s Bing expand the power of visual search as yet another way consumers can find and shop for products, the complementary aspects of voice and visual queries to generate specific responses, as opposed to a list of hypertext links, will force retailers of all stripes to further reconsider their omnichannel marketing strategies.

“With a screen, Echo Show users can visually see what items they place in a cart and make choices based on the displayed selection of goods,”Abdelrazik adds. “Amazon’s other Alexa devices lack that ability – a limitation that has hindered some consumers from voice shopping on devices like the Echo.”

 Prime Mystery

Just how big Prime Day really is remains a well-kept secret, notes Deborah Weinswig, managing director of Fung Global Retail & Technology, in a blog post.

Last year, estimates of the day’s sales ranged as high as $2.5 billion, Weinswig says, citing figures from Internet Retailer.

“Amazon reported that orders increased by 60 percent worldwide and by 50 percent in the US on Prime Day,” Weinswig writes. “Even in 2015, Amazon commented that its Prime Day sales exceeded its Black Friday sales in 2014.”

In a comparison of contrived shopping holidays, Prime Day is way below China e-commerce hegemon Alibaba’s Singles’ Day, which saw $17.8 billion worth of gross merchandise volume last year.

“The shopping holiday serves several purposes,” Weinswig says. “First, it offers exclusive deals for Prime members, rewarding them for their membership. Second, it drives Prime membership, as nonmembers are offered free trial memberships.

“Amazon figured out long ago that Prime memberships represent a virtuous circle for the company: signing up Prime members and providing them with exclusive benefits encourages them to renew their membership the next year and encourages others to sign up for the program who will then renew their own membership,” Weinswig says.

The relative success of Prime membership shopping programs could mean that a saturation point is fast approaching. There were 80 million Prime members in the US in March 2017, twice as many as two years earlier, according to Weinswig. That represent 64 percent of US households.

As rivals like Walmart expand its own responses to Amazon’s e-tail dominance, Amazon’s ability to reduce fees and offering more deals and still make the program worthwhile has to hit a wall at some point in the near future.

So as rival retailers at all levels gird themselves for Amazon Prime Day’s onslaught, the time is right to fine-time their own responses and personalized marketing tools.

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Rental Car Brands Avis And Hertz Shift Gears To Self-Driving

As a range of car manufacturers like General Motors roll out more connected car features and evolve their approach to shared mobility, car rental brand Avis Budget Group and its rival Hertz are working to make sure they doesn’t get caught behind all the technological changes.

Like any other company that depends on getting its customers from one place to another, Avis and Hertz recognize they’re operating in the transportation industry, not just the car rental business.

So rather than follow once car manufactures like General Motors, with its growing Maven shared-mobility program, or Audi, which recently acquired airport-focused and app-based auto rental startup Silvercar, the two are starting to explore their respective options with self-driving cars.

On Monday, Avis signed a “multi-year agreement” to begin working with Google parent Alphabet’s Waymo autonomous vehicle experiment.

The Avis deal calls for the rental car company to support Waymo’s “growing” autonomous vehicle fleet as well as Waymo’s early rider program, a public trial of its self-driving cars in Phoenix, Arizona.

Waymo recently announced that it is adding hundreds of Chrysler Pacifica minivans to build a 600-vehicle fleet. This partnership will allow Avis Budget Group to service Waymo’s growing number of cars on the road, “ensuring Waymo’s self-driving vehicles are ready for riders around the clock,” the company said in a release.

“With members of the public using our growing fleet of self-driving cars, our vehicles need standard maintenance and cleaning so they’re ready for our riders at any time of the day or night,” said John Krafcik, chief executive officer, Waymo. “Avis Budget Group is an ideal partner to provide fleet support and maintenance. With thousands of locations around the world, Avis Budget Group can help us bring our technology to more people, in more places.”

“We are excited to partner with Waymo, the self-driving technology leader that is changing the mobility landscape in a profoundly transformative and beneficial manner,” said Larry De Shon, president and chief executive officer, Avis Budget Group. “Not only does this partnership enable us to leverage our current capabilities and assets, but it also allows us to accelerate our knowledge and hands-on experience in an emerging area as Waymo-enabled self-driving cars become available in the marketplace.”

Hertz Drives With Apple

Separately, Bloomberg News reported that Apple began leasing Lexus RX450h sport-utility vehicles from Hertz’s Donlen fleet-management unit in April, citing to documents released by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

The Bloomberg report pointed to restive investors’ growing concerns about the role rental car companies will play in the autonomous vehicle future that appears to be fast approaching.

Even more than Hertz and Avis, Apple is also trying to keep pace with self-driving cars. With Amazon and Google ahead of the Cupertino company in powering voice-activated assistants within the connected home, Apple’s Project Titan, the name for its self-driving program, is perceived as lagging its rivals’ efforts in that area.

Still, Apple’s got a vastly different focus that might allow it to ultimately strike when the autonomous car moment is particularly hot. Instead of building its own autonomous cars, the company is mainly interested in providing the software that powers other brands’ vehicles.

In that sense, the race for the autonomous car is chaotic, and each brand is approaching it from the perspective of its own set challenges and strengths.

Avis’s Connected Car Commitment

Over the past year, Avis has struck a number of partnerships designed to allay those concerns and position it at the table for whatever shape the autonomous vehicle future arrives in.

Back in May, Avis touted its commitment to the connected car, saying that 50,000 more vehicles becoming fully connected by early 2018, more than doubling the number of connected vehicles in the Avis fleet. I

“This investment will bring the total of connected cars in the Avis fleet to nearly 100,000,” said Arthur Orduña, chief innovation officer, Avis Budget Group, at the time. “It will also ensure that we remain at the forefront of our industry and will bring us one step closer to realizing what we believe is the future of car rental for our customers.”

Roadmap To The Self-Driving Car Future

After Uber and Alphabet/Google stepped up investments in autonomous cars, traditional car companies and electronics manufacturers reacted quickly to form alliances and stakes in companies to ensure that they, too, don’t get left behind.

For most consumers at the moment, the idea of a driverless car still seems like science fiction — and along with the uncertainty of buying wearables, it’s not certain that people are clamoring for a virtual chauffeur. But then again, before the iPhone, how many people considered taking photos of themselves with their phones or pressing a button for food delivery and payment — or order a car service, for that matter.

As the technological hurdles are being dealt with on the road to the driverless car, a variety of major automotive manufacturers, electronics companies, and tech platforms appear all in on the idea of “if you build it, they will come.”

And for Avis and Hertz, along with all entities across the auto industry, if they’re not part of the building it, they’re likely to be stranded when the mainstream expectation fully emerges.

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Salesforce: Email Still Works To Drive Consumer Connections, As Artificial Intelligence Emerges

“Personalization” is the primary focus of marketers in the Age of Amazon, but to actually achieve that one-to-one relationship with consumers, a Salesforce report highlights the value of one of the older forms of digital marketing: email.

Email seems like an odd touchpoint for marketers’ success as social media and messaging apps emerge as key entries for personalized campaigns. On average, the 3,500 global CMOs surveyed by Salesforce in its Fourth Annual State of Marketing report say 34 percent of their budget is spent on channels they didn’t know existed five years ago — and they expect that to reach 40% by 2019.

The reason for email’s continued relevance, even as Saleforce’s survey shows growth for video, texting/sms, and AI, is that email works well to amplify all those channels.

“Over the past two years, we’ve seen an explosion in the use of newer channels like video advertising, SMS, mobile apps, and native advertising/sponsored content,” Salesforce says. “The percentage of both B2B and B2C marketers using video advertising, for example, has risen by triple digits over the last two years.”

Despite its well-established presence in the B2C marketer’s toolbox, email is still growing at a significant rate, Salesforce notes. Email’s number two ranking among marketing professionals surveyed indicates that marketers may be testing new channels in conjunction with proven ones to find combinations that work for their consumers.

The three biggest benefits cited in the report are improved awareness, higher rates of customer engagement, and improved customer acquisition.

“Email provides a window into customer behavior — such as which emails they open, what device they use, and which offers they redeem — making it a natural candidate to leverage alongside other channels to boost personalization and engagement,” the report states.

While email, when combined with other channels, can help reinforce a message and extend reach, using the data available to craft the message can have a bigger impact.

“This is a missed opportunity for most marketers who aren’t evolving messages between email and other channels based on customer behaviors or actions,” Salesforce concludes. “About half (51 percent) of the emails they send are identical messages to what they’ve broadcast in other channels.”

AI’s Coming Impact

The Salesforce State Of Marketing report notes that 51 percent of marketers surveyed are already using AI.

A separate IDC/Salesforce analysis buttresses that report’s view that that AI will be the fastest growing channel in the next few years.

AI-powered CRM activities will drive new efficiencies in how companies sell, service, and market, ultimately expected to create more than $1.1 trillion in new GDP impact worldwide by 2021.

The IDC/Salesforce report says 2018 is poised to be “a landmark year for AI adoption.” More than 40 percent of companies said they will adopt AI within the next two years.

In addition by 2018, IDC forecasts that 75 percent of enterprise and ISV development will include AI or machine-learning functionality in at least one application.

Salesforce has made a particularly big bet on AI with the release of its Einstein project last fall. With Salesforce Einstein, AI capabilities are embedded with “every Salesforce Cloud,” the company has said. Einstein leverages all data within Salesforce—customer data; activity data from social media chatter, email, calendar entries, and e-commerce; social data streams such as Tweets and images; and even IoT signals—to train machine learning models.

“AI is impacting all sectors of the economy and every business,” said Keith Block, vice chairman, president and COO, Salesforce. “For the CRM market—the fastest-growing category in enterprise software—the impact of AI will be profound, ushering in new levels of productivity for employees and empowering companies to drive even better experiences for their customers. For companies embracing AI, it’s critical that they create new workforce development programs to ensure employees are prepared for this next wave of innovation.”

Among the key findings from the IDC report on the economic impact of AI on CRM:

  • AI associated with CRM could boost global business revenues by $1.1 trillion from the beginning of 2017 to the end of 2021.
  • This global business revenue boost is predicted to be led primarily by increased productivity ($121 billion) and lowered expenses due to automation ($265 billion).
  • The types of AI companies are planning to use, or exploring, range from machine learning (25 percent) and voice/speech recognition (30 percent), to text analysis (27 percent) and advanced numerical analysis (31 percent).
  • New jobs associated with the boost in global business revenues could reach more than 800,000 by 2021, surpassing those jobs lost to automation from AI.
  • Underpinning the adoption of AI, 46 percent of AI adopters report that more than 50 percent of their CRM activities are executed using the public cloud.
  • The United States is predicted to lead the way in new business revenue growth due to the economic impact of AI ($596 billion), followed by Japan ($91 billion), Germany ($62 billion), the U.K. ($55 billion) and France ($50 billion).

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The Future Of Car Talk: The Weather Company Runs First ‘Cognitive Ads’ For Toyota

The Weather Company, an IBM Business, is taking another big leap in connecting artificial intelligence and advertising with the launch of what the company claims is the “first cognitive ads” for the auto industry in a campaign to promote the Toyota Prius Prime.

The Watson Ads for the Prius Prime will run in The Weather Channel App and on weather.com.

The campaign follows recent uses of Watson Ads by the Campbell Soup Company, Unilever, and GSK Consumer Healthcare, respectively began their first foray into marketing that promises to understand and respond intelligently to consumers’ voice-activated and written queries.

The most recent effort involved Watson Ads being aligned with the annual return of the GSK Consumer Healthcare’s Allergy Tracker digital tools to promote relief through its Flonase brand.

And now, with Toyota, the Watson ads invite consumers connect with brands with a personalized, one-to-one conversation via voice and text.

This Watson Ads experience is primarily focused on driving awareness and brand engagement, says Sarah Ripmaster, head of automotive sales at The Weather Company. “Toyota’s goal with this campaign is to reach and engage consumers who are interested in the Prius Prime.

Text or voice queries are answered directly in the ads, which can also send local Toyota dealership information.

The cognitive ad format combines machine learning, natural language understanding, and integrated dialogue tools designed to deliver on the promise of a personalized user experience.

IBM Watson can discern a user’s intent — as opposed to reacting to a keyword search — to best respond to the consumer, The Weather Company says.

Using Watson Ads, Toyota is employing the power of AI to “engage and educate” consumers about Prius Prime. Consumers are invited to ask questions like, “How can I be a better Prius driver” or “Can you tell me about the Prius’s new features?”

By connecting one-on-one and offering a consumer the new car information they specifically ask for, the effort can guiding decision making during the purchase consideration stage, Ripmaster says.

“Watson Ads put the consumers in the driver’s seat,” she says. “Instead of passively experiencing a brand’s message, consumers are actively engaging with the ad to learn more about car on their own terms. This means the experience empowers consumer to ask the questions that truly matter the most to them during their auto shopping journey, and can ultimately help impact brand consideration.

“On Toyota’s side, they are able get deeper insight into the types of questions that consumers are asking during the decision-making process, which can then influence future creative messaging and media strategies,” Ripmaster added.

The Toyota Watson Ad includes several additional features that extend the interaction, including exploring different Prius models, branded video content, and a Toyota dealer locator.

“In the competitive automotive market, the ability to showcase a helpful and beneficial customer experience is invaluable,” says John Lisko, executive communications director, Saatchi & Saatchi, Toyota’s creative and media shop. ”

We are entering the next frontier of marketing, with cognition and AI poised to take consumer engagement to the next level, and Watson Ads is a prime example of that shift and the great potential we have,”Lisko adds. “We have leveraged IBM Watson in other areas of our business such as the programmatic video campaign of 300 custom pieces for Toyota RAV4 and most recently, the Mirai campaign on Facebook in which the tool wrote thousands of ads and we continue to uncover valuable insights.”

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