We recently learned about the inventor of the hashtag Chris Messina’s concept of Conversational Commerce and how it has changed the way brands interact with their customers on social media platforms. Today we will learn about how this relationship will continue to evolve as we move into a new year and a new decade.
We spoke with Messina in a recent podcast about how a brand can humanize itself for its customers. As you recall, the future of interaction on social media is for a brand to respond as if it were a person, and it will likely be AI-powered in the future. However, before you can have this AI, you have to know how you want it to respond as “your brand.”
In many ways, brand personification follows the cult of the entrepreneur that developed over the past 20 years. When you consider brands like Amazon, Facebook, and Tesla, you can’t help but think of the quirky and domineering entrepreneurs that started these ventures. Their organizations are a representation of the people the founders are, and as you can imagine, their cultures reflect that.
However, Messina says you do not have to be founded by an entrepreneur to develop a brand persona. You can embody what your company is about with your responses on social media platforms. Using a set of principles you and your team have chosen to represent the brand, you could respond to customers in on-brand responses. Messina says humanizing your brand’s persona is about envisioning a real human that personifies your selected principles. These personas then manifest in your brand and content strategy, as well as to your social media presence/persona.
Chatbots can have these personas, too. Many of the early experiments in the chatbot world that Messina thought were interesting and effective were narrative-driven. So, the brand story influenced the chatbot and reflected those values in the response.
However, with using chatbots for customer service, a gap often exists between the language that the user has versus the way that you, as a business, talk about your product or service. Often the words on your website or that you use internally don’t match what customers say when they call in and are describing a problem. To facilitate efficiency, Messina says that a significant advance in chatbot technology is allowing customers to use their language to describe the problem that they’re having or what they’re looking for and programming the chatbot to respond appropriately to their concerns. In those contexts where you have conversational interfaces, Messina says that’s where you want to allow this back and forth to happen. Moreover, that’s where the character or the values come forth, too.
AI Will Change And We Will, Too
Of course, I have my doubts about how well AI can mimic human behavior. However, Messina thinks they can and also that humans might change their behavior in response to AI, too.
In Messina’s most recent TED Talk, The Technology of Better Humans,” he had people imagine themselves as a type of technology. He says we tend to externalize technology. The phone is a thing, and the car is something you park and leave. However, this attitude ignores the fact that these devices change the nature of human experience and human existence. They’re changing the way we communicate and improving our ability to be mobile. They’re amplifying our organic abilities with technological capabilities and augmenting our potential.
We imagine that technology, computers, and AI machine learning will improve at mimicking human behavior. However, humans could modify their behavior to be more adaptable in interacting with these technologies, too. With voice computing, meaning using AI like Siri or Alexa, children are becoming better at talking to those devices. Kids will ask them multiple questions for extended periods, and the AI never gets tired, frustrated, or bored (like their parents do). So, young people are learning a new way to satisfy curiosity or use technology to gain knowledge.
Messina sees this interaction as creating a significant difference with expectations of technology and AI between generations. For example, when we first used Google, we learned how to type questions that would likely return something that we wanted. Then, we would read the page, assimilate it, and then go back and maybe modify the query to get something more. Messina describes this activity as a “Hunt and peck” process. On the contrary, voice computing is learning how to keep track of a conversation or topic and allow you to ask more questions in the area. Therefore, Messina says it changes how children expect technology to interact and respond to them. Whereas, our generation will expect it to be more of a back and forth interchange where the human is doing a lot of the heavy manual lifting, as it were.
So, looking forward to AI and Customer Experiences, the issue is not only how technology can mimic humans, but also how are we changing ourselves to adapt to the technologies and increase the benefits from its uses? Moreover, it begs the question, how are we changing our language and behavior while we do it?
Messina compares our past construction of brands to a biological process. So, if you imagine that brands are an essential body organ in a human, they ingest something and then release something else on the other end. In this way, Messina says brands are the products and the byproducts themselves.
However, humans have a more complex construction, too, particularly with the brain. In human cognitive evolution, our prefrontal cortex facilitates language and allows us to pause in the direct experience of things and interpret them. Then, humans can change our behavior if necessary.
Messina thinks we are at the same place with brand personification today. By mixing AI and emotional and relationship design, interactive AI representing brands will transform into something more holistic than ingest-and- output models they have been in the past. Messina sees this imminent shift as a significant change in the way brands interact in the marketplace.
Messina says this shift starts with language and knowing your brand. Language and the way we talk about these things and understand them is the key to unlocking this holistic brand as an organization. The way that brands talk about themselves inside an organization is the way that they should then represent themselves outside in the products and Customer Experiences that they design and build.
It Starts with Human Contemplative Thought
So how can you use this insight? For me, it starts by taking the time and resources to contemplate what it is that you are trying to do as a brand. It would be best to take a step back from the day-to-day management perspectives that you engage in and ask yourself, “What is that we want our brand to mean? What is it that we’re trying to accomplish here? What are our big goals?” Then, try to imagine how these values and actions would manifest in a human, fictional character.
These insights will shape your brand persona, which can be extremely useful for brand managers who need to respond on the fly to a customer tweet or other social media platforms that require fast response. They can turn to the icon you created and imagine an appropriate response from that “character.” This type of humanization can facilitate brand management in new and exciting ways.
Moreover, you should always have qualitative checks to determine if your brand is moving in the right direction and is amenable to social media, social interaction, and so on.
Consider Lil Miquela on Instagram. She’s a 3D-generated avatar but behaves and speaks as though she’s an 18-year-old on Instagram. She also has nearly two million followers. A team of people construct this character and talk on her behalf, connecting with others on the platform through comments and other dynamic back and forth. Lil Miquela is a sketch of an individual, and what they would say, what their values are, and what motivates them. Lil Miquela can give you a real-life example of how far you can go with this idea of personification that works for your particular context.
Moreover, this exercise requires an understanding of human behavior, interactions, and knowledge of what is happening with customer interactions emotionally rather than rationally. It requires emotional research into understanding what drives value for your customers, research that goes deeper than what they say they want. These unmet needs are the future of your customer-driven growth. That’s where the future lies for me—although I know I’m biased.
To hear more about A Glimpse To The New Trends In Humanizing Technology in more detail, listen to the complete podcast here.
What customers say they want and what they really want are often different things. It is vital to know what drives value for your organization. Our Emotional Signature research can tell you where you are compared to other organizations and what to focus on to drive value for your customers. To learn more, please click here.
Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX