The potential future impact of AI on planning

The potential future impact of AI on planning



Similarly to the past buzz around technology like AR, there’s some scepticism over how life changing AI advancements will actually become to consumers, brands and agencies. Reading about it in the APG 2017 essays led me to wondering; will it change how we connect with consumers? Will it threaten jobs? And could it lead to a future where our world’s ruled by Skynet and marketing becomes irrelevant altogether?

So, what is AI?

Artificial Intelligence is the study of how to make machines intelligent or capable of solving problems as well as people can. Machine learning is a way of creating those problem solving systems.

Previously, we coded computers to give a defined output when given a defined input. If this is clicked, then this should happen. Now, machine learning involves us teaching computers to learn by themselves without giving them a long and predefined set of rules; much like teaching children.

Google has a great example of this in its ‘Google Photos’ feature, where a machine has learnt the difference between certain images like cats and dogs by being fed a multitude of pictures, spotting patterns, and guessing the difference. The more it does this the more it learns.

There’s a long list of ways I think this will start to impact us as planners, and the agencies we work in. For now, let’s explore the three I think will be key to planning specifically.

1. Better human insights than ever before

Big words, I know. With the rise of digital, planning has arguably benefitted from an influx of data to utilise. Not only do we have our own user interviews and research, but now we have a reel of platforms and tools we can use to gather insights, alongside the data we can look at from past and current campaigns.

The only difficulty with all this information is just that; it’s a ton of information and pulling it together takes time. AI could be harnessed to integrate insights across these different points like one giant meta-analysis, spitting out what you need when you need it.

Imagine you were given a brief based around pregnant mums, an audience you had worked with in the past and currently had communications going out to. An AI could corroborate research reports based on the specific weeks and topics of pregnancy relevant to this campaign, alongside relevant insights from your recent campaigns and communications, from multiple different platforms tools and documents you give it access to.

Before you even get started you’ll have all the information you need with no searching necessary.

2. More time for bigger thinking

AI has been tipped as likely to free up time for everyone across every industry by taking care of things like diary management and time sheets.

But aside from that, it may have a specific impact on planning time. In a recent blog post Google tipped AI as being ‘like having a million planners in your pocket’ when it comes to gaining relevancy at scale.

Now if you’re a planner like me, that phrase is a little scary. If AI can do what we can, where does that leave us?

This quote came from a discussion on relevancy and personalization, something we know consumers are increasingly expecting across all communications. Currently we have to split our time between making sure we’re as relevant as possible and working on briefs for large creative campaigns. In the future, AI may provide relevancy at a scale that just wasn’t possible in the past.

Taking our pregnancy brief again, let’s imagine that this time we were asked to completely update an email programme to make it personal to stage of pregnancy. An AI could take the bulk of the work out of that, using all the data sources it’s already integrated together in the point above to choose content relevant to a pregnant mum at each stage of her journey.

The creepy email examples from brands who’ve taken personalisation too far and gotten it completely wrong serve as a warning to the potential downside of this. The problem is that it alone has no common sense to decide what is and isn’t acceptable. So, AI could tackle personalisation for us at scale, but only if it’s given human oversight and smart parameters, a key job for planning.

That would free up time that planners could reallocate to areas that need more of a human focus.

3. New considerations as consumers adopt AI

AI is already changing the landscape of how we get our messages to consumers, and this is only predicted to increase in the future. As AI becomes more integrated into our lives, it’ll change the way we interact with brands and, crucially, how we find them. Our searches online, and even our purchases, may be decided by our own AI.

Take Amazon Alexa as an example where this is already happening. If you ask Amazon Alexa to purchase something that’s not in your purchase history, it’ll recommend something for you from Amazon’s vast database. There’s little opportunity for you to browse and the decision is pretty much made for you.

I think this is a pretty interesting planning challenge. How do we advertise to not only the human consumer, but the algorithm in partial control of their spend? Will the future include a new paid channel, forcing brands to assign budget to have their products recommended by AI?

This also highlights the growing importance of great creative campaigns. Aside from the IPA evidence that the more creative a campaign the more effective it is, in a world where people’s lives are partially controlled by algorithms, it will likely be even more crucial to creatively connect with them with the human side of our campaigns.

The future is uncertain

AI advances are sure to impact all our lives, but the extent of this still seems uncertain. For planners there’s one thing we can be sure of; it will certainly throw up some interesting challenges in how we communicate with consumers, and how we work as a partner with this technology going forward.

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