IBM’s Watson: World’s First Artificial Marketer

Watson is being infused into all of IBM’s marketing, commerce and supply chain products. The company Apple once smashed as the place that turns humans into machines is now in the business of turning machines into something like humans, and they’re getting pretty good at it.

That headline may exaggerate a bit, but the message from IBM Amplify a couple weeks ago in Las Vegas was all Watson all the time.

Watson is being infused into all of IBM’s marketing, commerce and supply chain products. The company Apple once smashed as the place that turns humans into machines is now in the business of turning machines into something like humans, and they’re getting pretty good at it.

I’m writing this a bit removed from the show, so I have the time to see what stuck with me … And yeah, Wayne Brady’s freestyle marketing rap is high on that list:


But beyond that, what stands out to me now is that you can have Watson act as your personal assistant, and you can talk to it. And if Watson doesn’t understand the word you use, it — he? let’s go with he — he will stop you, say the word he doesn’t recognize, and ask you to define it.

So if Watson isn’t going to be your next CMO, he really might be your next marketing assistant.

Yes, Tony Stark did have something that sounded a lot like Watson.
Yes, Tony Stark did have something that sounded a lot like this.

(I’m also curious how much you can train Watson to curse like a Biker’s parrot, but IBM failed release his profanity coefficients.)

The emphasis on Watson makes sense because this is something IBM has that its competitors really don’t. Last year, Salesforce rolled out Einstein. Last week, I wrote about how Adobe rolled out Sensei. But my understanding is that those are both collections of recommendation engines that learn, not quite the same as true artificial intelligence.

Watson, on the other hand, has been out-thinking humans since 2011 when it won Jeopardy. And IBM feels it can help you out-think your competition too.

“Watson is on an incredible roll,” said Harriet Green, IBM general manager, Watson Internet of Things, commerce and education. “It has now been adopted by nearly every industry and every professional discipline. This year alone, at least 1 billion people will be touched in some way by Watson.”

Talking about the recently announced partnership with Salesforce, Green also said, “You know you’re doing something right when even your competitors are turning to you for your technology.”

It is fair to say that wherever machine-learning is going, Watson looks closest to that today and everyone else looks like they’re trying to catch up. But does that translate into better marketing for IBM users? That’s the big question.

Watson promises to enable what IBM is calling “The Cognitive Era.” This is IBM’s vision for an era of marketing where thinking machines help marketers create unique customer experiences based on what those customers are doing, thinking and feeling in real-time and at the largest scale. The system uses the Watson AI to “understand, reason and learn.”

For example, Watson will identify problems and anomalies in your audience segmentation. And he will do that automatically and suggest fixes, without the marketer even having to initiate the process.

Mindy Grossman, CEO of HSN (formerly Home Shopping Network), said they are counting on Watson to use data and help identify the right new customers, opportunities, at scale.

So, I’ve seen the vision …

No, not that Vision.
No, not that Vision.

Now the only question is: Can IBM bring this home to marketers in a way you can use?

If they can, we’ll be well on our way to augmenting our teams with, essentially, the world’s first artificial marketers.

A Human Writes This Blog … For Now

“Our machines should be nothing more than tools for extending the powers of the human beings who use them,” Thomas Watson Jr. That quote, from IBM’s founder, is on the site of IBM Watson. I’ve spent this past week admiring artificial intelligence (AI) — or “cognitive business” as IBM positions itself…

Our machines should be nothing more than tools for extending the powers of the human beings who use them.
Thomas Watson Jr.

That quote, from IBM’s founder, is on the site of IBM Watson.

I’ve spent this past week admiring artificial intelligence (AI) — or “cognitive business” as IBM positions itself — and the achievements happening in the world of machine learning. IBM Watson Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Gold presented at Marketing Idea eXchange, telling us of the marvels of computing today. If we think our current daily data output of 2.5 quintillion bytes is a flood, wait until the 44 zetabytes data tsunami that’s just around the corner gets here, every day.

Now, 88 percent of this data is unstructured — speech, video, social, according to Gold, much of it beyond the realm of most present-day database analyses and analysts. We know from McKinsey, IBM and even DMA studies that’s there’s not enough talent in the world, never mind the U.S., to analyze it all — to find the patterns and make sense of it, and then to apply that knowledge in faster and faster time.

Enter, AI. IBM is not alone in this quest. Watson may have had its early fun (and success) on Jeopardy, but IBM Watson today has learned a lot since then — how to converse, how to discover, how to optimize decisions, how to personalize and how to analyze. Google DeepMind’s GoAlpha is making its own statement with a Go human challenge — chalk another one four up for the machine. Most certainly Amazon, Oracle and others — anyone with a cloud — are making their way into your mind.

There are implications for society and for marketing. (Is Siri really after my job?)

A former colleague of mine at Harte Hanks used to tell me that automated analytics software is like dynamite — very useful, but only in the right hands. But like Mr. Watson says, it’s only a tool.

We will still need a marketing discipline that is sure-footed, astute-crafted and red-blooded — with young men and women who need to be smart with data, and even smarter with data tools. Marketing success in our business has always been about data, but wow, how that data has changed in volume, velocity and variability!

So I leave with three questions to ponder, for comment and to keep my job a little longer:

Question 1: Can Artificial intelligence fill the talent gap in the world of marketing? I believe the answer is yes.

Question 2: Is AI indeed like dynamite — needing to be handled with care, only in the hands of professionals? (Or is it a democratizing tool, best used in the hands of everyone?) The verdict is still out for me here.

Questions 3: How will AI enter the marketing suite? And which C-level officer will be the first to introduce it in the C-suite? It’s always via the CFO, isn’t it?

Underscoring all of this are ethical implications, too. Much of what we know about risk and data governance comes from a more structured world, but what will we find when we collect immense amounts of unstructured data, and start finding and applying patterns there? Let’s plan for the positive, because there are so many tremendously socially valuable needs which AI can serve (and is serving). Let’s fence the negative, because individual respect, democracy and universality must be preserved, too. And let’s keep humanity in control of the process – because that’s how machines learn in the first place.

Are ‘Geeks’ Re-Invigorating Brands? In a Word, Yes

As we learn to access, integrate and apply data insights, the ad business is getting more quantitative than it’s ever been — let’s pick up the pace.

As we learn to access, integrate and apply data insights, the ad business is getting more quantitative than it’s ever been — let’s pick up the pace.

One of the keynotes I enjoyed from the Direct Marketing Association’s &Then 2015 was IBM’s John Iwata and his announcement that “Cognitive Business” is the company’s new brand positioning. According to Iwata, this replacement for “Smarter Planet” (which I will remember fondly) reflects the realities that are happening when applied technology and artificial intelligence revolutionize a number of fields which IBM serves — including marketing. Take a bow, IBM Watson.

Or how Owen tells his techie friends and family that he now has a job with GE. A venerable brand makes a very data-love statement, and instead of joining a startup, its new commercial hero chooses a job at one of the great champions of the industrial and post-industrial era.

Some may already know many quants have come storming into ad tech, an alternative path to careers on Wall Street. Algorithms are desperately needed to connect relevant content to individuals across devices. The same types of formulae drive programmatic media and audience buying, increasing efficiency and lift.

Our friends at Marketing EDGE — fresh from its Annual Awards Dinner — launched the I-MAX Program [Interactive Marketing Analytics Xperience] in 2013 specifically to build student awareness for careers in marketing data and analysis. Certainly, this is rewarding for students — and it’s a great deal for marketers, too, eager to hire.

There really is a chance for these professionals to create positive impacts, drive innovation in markets — and connect people to the products and services they desire using insights from data as a differentiator. Instead of moving money around in investment banks, they are moving along a global economy (perhaps the same ends in a different way).

GE and IBM certainly captured my attention, so has National Geographic. Merit wins the race: And so we have a competition among us to find, attract, hire and cultivate STEM stars as an integral part of strategic marketing teams. There may not be enough Owens for all of us, so perhaps that’s where Watson may step in. Brands and their advertising partners, in fact the entirety of the marketing field, need to keep doing their quantitative best … Help wanted.