Agency heads, digital marketers, and innovative thinkers came together for WP Engine’s third annual European Summit in London last week, which highlighted breakthrough developments in WordPress, personalization, and voice.
WP Engine also unveiled a groundbreaking new study on Artificial Intelligence during the event, which took place at the historic Langham’s Hotel—where guests have included Mark Twain and Princess Diana.
Empathy and Intelligence: AI’s Competitive Advantage
Jeremy White, Executive Editor of Wired UK, kicked off with a look at the dramatic rise of AI, driven by technological advances which mean that today, a $1,000 computer is a million times more powerful than in 1993.
“Seven years ago we were teaching computers how to recognize cats,” White said, “and now KFC can recognize a customer, know when they last visited, what they ordered, and what’s new on the menu since their most recent trip.”
White also highlighted how McDonald’s uses AI to recognize customers by their license plates at the drive-thru and to change menus dynamically depending on the traffic flow, the weather, the time of day, or even up-to-the-minute eating trends.
Facial recognition is now so good that Apple-owned Emotient can read crowds at an event, analyze the mix of gender, age, socio-economic group, and even mood, and then adjust ads on digital billboards to best target the audience in real-time.
For example, sports audiences are predominantly male, but at half time, when men are more likely to buy a drink and use the bathroom, the audience can become up to 80% female, which is priceless information for advertisers looking for precision targeting of customers.
Voice technology is still relatively nascent, but it’s growing at a fast pace, especially in Asia: the Bank of China now handles up to two million customer “conversations” every day. Meanwhile, Samsung’s Viv can write its own program on your phone to provide accurate answers to sophisticated queries like, “Will it be warmer than 70 degrees at Golden Gate Bridge the day after tomorrow?” So far she can only do it in American English, which is why Viv is not better known.
AI is not just clever; it gives you a proven competitive advantage. Just ask Bd4, whose “digital empathy” AI improved conversion rates on a travel site by 40%; or Nintendo, whose market value shot up by $8.5 billion in the two days after Pokémon Go was launched.
AI’s Role in Mobility and Dynamic Content
AI is a big driver in mobility innovation, argued Mark Crosbie-Smith, Head of Product and Global Design at cab company Addison Lee, who shared his insights into London’s new autonomous vehicle service, Endeavour, which is launching a pilot in 2020.
Mr. Crosbie-Smith revealed that Endeavour is using WordPress as a “headless” Content Management System (CMS), (which separates the user head from the back end) to communicate with customers during the trial, partly because of its proven success with Addison Lee customers and on Samsung’s global news app.
“The ability to create dynamic content throughout the customer journey is going to be really exciting,” he said. “I love using the WordPress CMS and, importantly, our content generators are familiar with it. Headless has an exciting future—it’s going to be a hell of a ride.”
The Human Touch: Put People at the Heart of Your AI Strategy
Dr Chris Brauer, Director of Innovation at the University of London, discussed the “urgency” of adopting AI in a study co-developed with WP Engine, which examines the best ways to build powerful digital experiences.
Despite what he called the “mindstorm” of Brexit, Dr. Brauer said that the UK is a uniquely competitive AI marketplace, up there with the U.S. and China. The UK is number two in the world for AI readiness and number three for investment, plus it has a long history of leadership in this space, going all the way back to Alan Turing, the father of modern computing, and 19th-century mathematical pioneer Ada Lovelace.
The AI ecosystem continues to expand at speed, with worldwide investment forecast to rise by 44% to $35.7 billion this year. Dr. Brauer advised that the money will be wasted unless companies embrace the shifting culture, where corporate responsibility is no longer just about the shareholders, but must also include the workforce, the customers, and the environment.
Dr. Brauer said: “If you use AI just to exploit customers and sell more widgets, you are doing it wrong. Ultimately consumers don’t take away efficiency, they take away values. You have to put people at the heart of your AI strategy because only by establishing a solid foundation of values can companies fully harness the value of AI. Have you accurately reflected customers’ identity, or have you reached too far into the unknown?”
Companies need to be accurate in their personalization, as 99.6% of respondents agreed, but it’s equally important to be “free from creepiness,” according to 99.1% of those questioned. If you master both these skills, 40.3% of consumers will return to your website, because the experience provides a sense of emotional engagement.
“A values-led approach is the only way to generate value,” Dr. Brauer said. “Get your values in order, integrate AI into your service, and merge them together into a single vision.”
The Gen Z Data Exchange
Thanks to customers’ willingness to share their data—particularly the Gen Z generation—brands will increasingly be able to build more and more meaningful experiences that reflect customers’ values.
Mary Ellen Dugan, Chief Marketing Officer at WP Engine, introduced a panel of Gen Z representatives for a lively discussion about life online, which for Gen Z is governed by the expectation that the Internet will know what they need—and be able to provide it.
WP Engine’s research shows that 40% of Gen Z will stop visiting a site if it doesn’t anticipate their needs and likes, and 67% trust that websites will know what they are looking for before they tell them. Luckily, Gen Z are generous with their data—they are 25% more likely to provide personal information than any other generation.
The combination of AI and data is at its most powerful when a company has established a clear set of values and embedded them in all its processes. “If you are good at enacting your values, you generate higher levels of value,” Dr. Brauer concluded, “and you play a meaningful role in growing the economy.”