Artificial Intelligence: Are We Effectively Assessing Its Business Value?

Artificial Intelligence
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By: Richard Boire, Senior Vice President, Environics Analytics


As most data science practitioners know, artificial intelligence (AI) is not new and has been explored by academia back as far back as the fifties. The real core of AI is the branch of mathematics related to neural nets which have been explored both by academia as well as data science practitioners. A number of practitioners including myself familiarized ourselves with these techniques which became one more item within the data scientist toolkit. For those of us involved in using predictive analytics to predict consumer behaviour related to marketing and risk, logistic regression and decision trees in many cases performed at about the same level as neural nets. In some cases such as fraud where there were typically a much larger volume of records, neural nets did exceed the more traditional type of modelling techniques.

But the appetite for AI deployment was always negated by its lack of its explainability to the business stakeholder and as mentioned above the minimal examples of its superior performance relative to the more traditional techniques.

So what changed and what has led to all the excitement about AI. In order to better understand this evolution, one needs to focus on the research. Research in this area for decades always focussed on how these tools could better classify images. Back in the nineties, I remember reading numerous articles from publications where the ability to classify images was approximately 40%-50%. In the last 5 years, though, this accuracy has now achieved levels of 95%+. This game breaking change was caused by two factors with the first factor being related to technology and how data could be processed.

Data and Big Data could now be processed and consumed using parallel processing as opposed to sequential processing. Meanwhile, this newfound technical capability allowed practitioners to consume exponentially much larger volumes of data for analytics (both advanced and non-advanced) purposes. The consumption of these extremely large volumes then allowed users to explore the notion of more complex type neural nets or deep learning, which is the ability to utilize many hidden layers and many nodes as opposed to a single hidden layer with few nodes that was the common occurrence within a restricted sequential data processing environment.  This ability to more fully leverage the power of artificial intelligence was the second factor which now improved the image classification accuracy to 95%+.

With this breakthrough, AI had to be more seriously explored as another option in improving results. But does that mean that we should blindly adopt AI in all our business processes. Certainly, we are seeing the emergence of applications to better detect fraud through improved image recognition while enhanced customer service is the outcome of improved AI-developed chat boxes. Many more applications are being explored and which are expected to provide further disruption to an already changing economy. But let’s discuss the notion of AI within the world of predicting consumer behaviour both from a marketing as well as a risk behaviour.

The use of data science and machine learning to predict consumer behaviour has been an ongoing business discipline for many decades. Success for seasoned data science practitioners in this area was never..Continue Reading


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Snapchat and Amazon: A New Mobile Commerce Pairing

Social Media, Marketing, Snapchat, Amazon

By VICTORIA PALLIEN, Digital Media Solutions

Snapchat and Amazon recently united forces to direct consumers to Amazon’s e-commerce site from Snapchat’s social media platform and make headway in the market against competitors like Instagram and Pinterest.

How will the Snapchat-Amazon partnership affect the Snapchat app?

User experience

This collaboration introduced Snapchat’s visual search feature, which allows users to take photos of products or barcodes in real life, whether on the street or in a store. Snapchat then links the user to Amazon for purchase or price comparisons.


Leaders in the marketing industry noted this partnership is a smart step for both brands as Snapchat provides a dedicated user base and Amazon offers a large e-commerce platform. For Snapchat, partnering with an e-commerce behemoth like Amazon allows the brand to save money and avoid building visual search technology in-house.

This collaboration may be an effort to increase monetization on the Snapchat platform. While the platform is growing and expected to welcome 1.2 million new users by 2022, eMarketer now predicts Snapchat will only generate $662.1 million this year, as opposed to the $1.03 billion eMarketer had estimated for 2018 last spring.

How will the Snapchat-Amazon partnership hold up against the competition?

While Instagram has been building its ad revenue through shopping tags in storiesand their new streaming service, IGTV, Snapchat has been working hard to compete. Alongside efforts like the Nielsen partnership and Snapchat Shopping, the Snapchat-Amazon partnership is the latest punch thrown.

Snapchat currently holds 0.6% of the U.S. digital ad market, according to eMarketer, but 2019 and 2020 may be better years for Snapchat’s revenue as its recent addition of new advertising tools may entice more marketers. This collaboration could also threat brick-and-mortar shops if Amazon attracts even more consumers through Snapchat’s user base.

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Using Pinterest as a Tool to Build Brand Awareness, Engagement

Sprout Social, Social Media, Marketing
Image source: Hotel Business


CHICAGO—Social media has become a vital part of how people communicate and a key part of how hotel companies can extend the brand’s reach—from boutique to major chain hotels. Pinterest, in particular, remains a dominant social media platform, especially for hospitality brands. Why? Simply put: It’s good for business.

“Everyone is on in,” said Rachael Samuels, social media manager at Sprout Social. “There are 200 million people globally using Pinterest every month, which makes it a great social platform for business owners. Five percent of referral traffic comes from Pinterest. Marketers and business owners in hospitality can use it to strengthen their social media strategy as it’s an engaging platform.”

Pinterest is also highly visual; enabling hoteliers to curate and showcase various types of travel experiences they can offer to consumers. Additional exposure for the brands can come in the form of “repins,” which occurs  when a person discovers something they like and repins it to their board, enabling other people to see it on their home feed on the platform.

Hoteliers can take advantage of the platform by becoming co-creators with travelers or social media influencers via Pinterest, building a wider reach for the brand’s offerings.

“It’s how you make connections through repining,” said Samuels. “It’s a two-way dialogue—the brand and consumer are connecting more than they have before. It gives more freedom to co-curate. Hotels can curate content to specific audiences and how their brand is being placed in different contexts. It can tell you about what consumers are doing with your content and they’re strong stakeholders in the evolution of brand identity and what it looks like long-term.”

Sprout Social is working with hotel brands to exploit Pinterest for maximum benefit. “We do that through Pinterest integration,” she said. “One of the first things you can do is create and publish content on Pinterest and manage it on a unified platform alongside other social media channels such as Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn and Pinterest—all at one time. Sprout facilitates team collaboration within a content calendar. We also provide powerful analytics and now Pinterest is a part of that. We can tell you what the top performing pins are and leverage it to get the most of your visual strategy.”

For hotel companies deciding whether or not to put time—and money—into marketing efforts on social media platforms, there are various ways to determine a return on investment.

“ROI is such a hot topic,” she said. “At Sprout Social, we believe that the ROI of social isn’t just in the form of dollar signs, it’s the various stages—awareness, consideration and engagement—of interaction with the posts. We offer access to reports, ranging from unique engagement to general performance, allowing a deep dive into the data. Clients can go high-level or granular on how audiences are interacting with content, performance and where it’s coming from and with whom.”

Sprout Social also offers a variety of paid tools to provide another view of a holistic social media strategy. “We help clients to understand the data,” she said. “The reports are elegant and visually accessible. The design team takes great care so it’s easier to digest.”

For hoteliers seeking to maximize their social media efforts, Samuels offer these recommendations:

Customer service: “They should be—and I hope they already are—paying attention to customer care,” she said. “Social media makes it easier to have a two-way dialogue and provide top-notch service. Being responsive and meeting customers where they are in their own environment is key. Sprout Social’s inbox makes it easy, so clients don’t miss critical moments and can handle reputation management, if anything negative comes about.”

Create content to be shared: “User generated content really taps into that with how Pinterest can make a consumer take brand-generated content over to them,” she said. “You can see what others are saying about the experience within the context they’re talking about it. It helps to build awareness and nowhere is that more important than in the hotel industry.”

Lend a listening ear: “It’s not just about analytics,” Samuels said. “Hotels are comprised of many aspects, there is the food, spa, fitness, the outdoor pool and maybe even a nightclub… listening into social and using listening tools to curate better content is paramount. If you realize that the people staying at your hotel are local, maybe dig deeper into a hashtag like #staycation and listen to the conversation. You can dig into the experiences that seem to be aspirational for the consumer and deliver it.”

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How to Balance Marketing Strategy and GDPR Today

Inbound Marketing, GDPR
Image Source: Martech Advisor

By Justin Keller Vice President of Marketing , Sigstr

Sigstr Vice President of Marketing Justin Keller, speaks to the future of MarTech regarding building stronger leads, better strategies in the era of GDPR 

When the May 25th GDPR enforcement date was announced, leaders from multiple industries panicked, as negative speculations started to take shape. Knowing that GDPR would have an effect on everything from data portability to the right to access and even website design, the field of digital marketing was especially concerned. However, the enforcement date has finally passed and the industry didn’t come to a screeching halt as many speculated.

While digital marketing has survived, it was not without some trials and tribulations. But the tradeoff is a competitive advantage when you consider the big picture and future landscape of the industry.

However, this shift has caused many companies to update cookie policies and be left with a smaller list of leads and less raw-data to manage after sending out a re-opt-in the campaign. So, what does the future look like for digital marketers? Here are the answers to some of those worrisome assumptions regarding GDPR.

Building a “known marketing” strategy is better for revenue and GDPR regulation

A known marketing strategy can be defined in a variety of ways. One component of this type of strategy is having the ability to map all the known relationships throughout a company’s employee-base and not just the CRM or MAP activity of your audience.

With helpful solutions on the market that combine security and marketing, compliance departments can analyze communications instantly and ensure compliance of all regulations. Healthy relationships are built on a foundation of strong communication and the ability to measure these relationships allows marketings to better understand their audience.

“Known marketing” has the ability to understand which leads can turn into customers

GDPR shouldn’t be viewed as detrimental to marketing. Instead, the guidelines can be viewed as a welcome catalyst to shift toward “known marketing.” This entails identifying the targets and contacts that are most important to a brand and are actively engaging with employees and the company overall.

However, many still view GDPR as a database destroying hassle, but again this assumption is far from the truth. In the past, marketers would flood their funnels with volumes of unknown acquired personal records that hardly ever turned into quality leads. With new protections around personal data compliance, the door is open to turn new leads into long-term customers. No one more wasted cycles, or “spray-and-pray” inbound practices.

The expectations that the marketing department will produce valuable leads stills exists

Many were concerned that GDPR would completely eliminate the ability to collect user data, however, it is still ok to collect this data as long as the process is documented and can be managed or deleted. The true challenge is knowing how to make the most of your data since most marketers are trying to identify the personas in their pipeline and develop valuable, appealing content. This is a common theme and through the use of GDPR regulations and known marketing, marketers can gain new insight into these relationships and identify where opportunities lie.

Despite any hassles that ensue, GDPR is a necessary shift to the problematic practices that weren’t doing the industry or marketers any favors. Moving forward, marketers will have the ability to make the most of the data they’re receiving and leverage it properly to create valuable relationships and leads.

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How Can Inbound Marketing Help Your Restaurant Grow?

Marketing, Business, Inbound Marketing, Restaurant
Image source: The Marketing Folks


There are a lot of restaurants out there to choose from, and if yours is relatively new then it can be hard to attract the following you need to make the business successful. It’s very difficult to gain attention in a new market, especially if you don’t have a main road location. Your potential customers are also being over-saturated with advertisements and learning to tune them out, so this option isn’t great. However, inbound marketing for restaurants can work wonders for helping you to build a following.

This technique is much less intrusive than straight out advertising to your target market, and is based on the idea that by interacting with people and making it easy for them to find you they will be attracted to your restaurant. This is can be done through digital marketing, using SEO and social media to attract and engage with potential customers.

As a restaurant your inbound marketing will mainly revolve around SEO (getting your website visible on Google) and social media. These digital strategies can be time consuming, but they should help you to grow your brand and – more importantly – increase your customer base and revenue.

In terms of SEO the first step is to have an attractive and user friendly website. Ironically, focussing on keywords and SEO at the web development stage can actually be counter-productive, because the most important thing for your website is that people like using it and are likely to return.

As a restaurant your site should clearly indicate your location and opening hours, along with any specials. You should also have a page for your menu, and a way to book online. A photo gallery featuring your different dishes can also help encourage people to use your site and come to your restaurant. A blog featuring news about the restaurant and some recipes can also be a big help.

You will then need to start working on your off-page optimization. A good way to build high quality links back to your website is to offer recipes to food bloggers with a short plug about your restaurant (with a link) at the end. You can also try to encourage people to review your food to help spread word of mouth.

A strong social media presence is also a huge boost to your inbound marketing efforts. As a restaurant you will be able to share photos and videos of your food preparation, as well as information about menu changes and specials. The main challenge will be not spreading yourself too thin!

You will probably get the highest ROI (even if the only investment is your time) out of Facebook and Instagram. These platforms will allow you to share visual media easily, and to interact in the comments with potential customers. Facebook also makes it easy for customers to send you messages, and hopefully leave positive reviews.

Instagram is a very high reward environment to involve yourself in. Apart from sharing your own images and videos of your food, you can encourage your customers to get in on the action and promote your restaurant for you (for free). Many brands build a very successful community over this social media platform, and reap the benefits.

There is a risk to having a lot of social media engagement, however. If your food is not as good as you believe it is, or something goes very wrong in the kitchen, the news will spread like wildfire. You will not have control over this process, especially over Instagram, as people will be posting their own pictures and comments.

Even with the risks involved, it is still worth using Facebook and Instagram. After all, if your food is bad enough that the strategy backfires then you will not succeed as a restaurateur no matter what marketing strategies you use. You just need to make sure that your food is well-presented as well as delicious.

Inbound marketing for restaurants can be a fantastic strategy which yields great returns. If done properly you can keep yourself in the front of the mind of your target market, and therefore get a lot of repeat customers as well as getting recommended to their friends. It’s also a lot less likely to annoy a market that is getting increasingly jaded about traditional advertising anyway!

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Nasa’s social media deputy talks IGTV, VR and govt control

Social Media, NASA, Technology
Image Credit: Nasa’s social media deputy talks IGTV, VR and govt control


From Facebook setbacks to Snapchat triumphs, what’s a marketer to do when it comes to navigating the rapidly changing world of social media? As the deadline for The Drum Social Buzz Awards 2018 approaches, we spoke to judge and NASA’s deputy social media manager, Jason Townsend on Twitter about some of the latest trends hitting the social media scene.

He explains how impactful IGTV is to mobile devices, why social needs to be more integrated in the media mix, why shares are like gold dust and why Nasa can’t just jump on any social platform bandwagon.

You must see lots of new platforms come and go, how do new platforms – like #IGTV for example– change the social landscape?

IGTV recognizes the importance of mobile devices in the social media landscape. So many platforms support vertical video, but few have made it the showcase product the way IGTV has. Will others follow? Time will tell.

Has social media finally moved away from being a ‘nice to have’ option and become an integral part of the marketing mix?

Social has to be integrated. Fans of your brand are already talking about you, even if you aren’t on social. It’s much healthier to be a voice in the conversation, assisting fans & putting your messages out than to not be. Use social to drive the conversation where you want to go.

Data is a huge talking point with all marketing. In your opinion, how do you successfully incorporate data into a social media campaign?

Shares are highly valued. Think about it: a share says someone liked your post enough to put it into their timeline w/ stamp of approval. Most-shared posts show trends over time. Glean lessons & apply on an ongoing, continuous basis.

Low performing content usually has common issues, too. Ensure you analyze user comments/replies since followers are usually vocal when it doesn’t work. Break it down. Do Gifs get more RTs? Do video posts get more link clicks? Incorporate data to make smarter content.

Looking ahead, what do you predict will be the ‘next big thing’ in social and why?

Expect to see more experiential media-rich content on social. With more AR & VR tech getting into the hands of audiences, we’ll see more content produced that takes advantage of this, allowing people to be embedded in to experience content in very new ways that are immersive.

When new platforms emerge, do you think it’s best to jump right in or hold back and let others test the waters?

Legally, NASA can’t sign most term of services to jump right in. So when we begin a legal negotiation to create a government law friendly agreement with a company it is after a carefully measured review that a new tool has an audience we want to reach or features we think are a fit.

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How to control your brand message from the ground up

Social Media, Brand Marketing
Image Credit: Pixabay

By J Barbush

Remember brand campaigns of the past? They were those splashy reintroductions to the brand, when a new tagline, new logo or new objective would come out. They weren’t selling anything beyond an idea, an ethos, a spirit to drive the brand forward in new and exciting ways — and hoping current customers, and some new ones, would come along for the ride.

I worked on brand campaigns. The team would sweat every word, every visual, cultivating a pure expression of the brand, synthesized into an epic 60-second spot and maybe a spread. The platforms were limited and controlled. We were able to speak our strategically remastered piece uninterrupted.

But those were the old days. The life and death of a brand today can live in a tweet that trends, a news story that goes viral or an employee that makes an error in judgment. Because of that, many “brand” campaigns have devolved to more of a reactionary, reputation-management approach with a conciliatory tone. The face of the brand appears more when something needs to be fixed, rather than something that needs to be celebrated. Think Chipotle after E.coli. Or Wells Fargo after the accounts crisis.

Social media, cell phones and the unapologetic need to share has resulted in this hard-to-swallow fact for marketers: Your brand is only as strong as the person who represents it at any given moment. Sometimes that person is the face of the company, as in Subway and most recently Papa Johns. And sometimes not.

Maybe your brand is being framed on a global stage by a barista in a green apron, casting personal prejudice across an entire brand. All that brand work leading up to that moment goes down the drain as a new focal point emerges.

Look no further than the Starbucks Foundation to prove that point. It gives millions each year to charity, with programs around nonprofit grants, community service, clean water and improving the community where their coffee is grown.

The coffee chain has spent years cultivating a brand that is authentic to their ideals of standing for more than profit. They have reached pay equity across all races and gender in the US. They have moved to underserved communities after complaints that they only set up shop in white communities.

Yet that all came crashing down thanks to a single employee who called the police on two African American men who sat in a Philadelphia Starbucks without buying coffee, resulting in the arrest of the two men. The cost of $10 for two lattes led to many millions in lost revenue, crisis management and a stigma that permeated the brand, including #BoycottStarbucks trending on Twitter.  In response, Starbucks closed 18,000 stores for a day to teach 175,000 employees racial bias training.

Even if those employees were truly not motivated by racism or unconscious bias, the optics suggest otherwise. And in a world of snap judgments and quick bursts of info, that’s what people will see.

Like it or not, your network of employees are the new brand ambassadors, no matter what their title — from the ticket agent that won’t make eye contact to the flight attendant who warmly greets you to the PR person who jumps on a plane after making an errant and tasteless tweet. For that moment, their individual identity is lost and replaced by the way they represent the brand, for good or bad.

But many times, it is hard for workers to understand they are doing more than just making coffee, ushering you to your airline seat or doing IT work. Education should not just be about racial intolerance. That’s pretty basic, and if someone needs training in that area, they probably should not be on your payroll. But these basics every employee should know:

  1. What your brand stands for, and how can they best represent that as they become the face of the brand, while performing duties on the brand’s behalf.
  2. The values of the brand must come before the values or personal intolerances of the individual.
  3. They are not being paid merely for their service, but for the ability to represent the brand with respect and dignity.
  4. Optics matter more than intent. Even if they are not targeting a group, if it seems like they are, that becomes the story.

For this to be successful, training should not begin after a crisis. It should be instilled from day one.  Without the right people living your brand every day, all that good you build up on a corporate level can become quickly devolved.

J Barbush is VP / Creative Director, Social Media, at ad agency RPA.

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