Artificial Empathy

September 10, 2020

Can machines really help us to pitch and pivot our marketing in sensitive times?

What a year it’s been. We’ve had wildfires, a pandemic, murder hornets, Tiger King, a much-needed social justice movement, and hurricanes – all in the space of a few short months. What’s next? Aliens? Godzilla? 

If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it’s that huge, world-altering change can happen extremely quickly. Far more quickly than most humans can predict or even anticipate.

Yes, the best-prepared brands had crisis strategies that helped to inform their marketing during the shockwaves of this year. But even the most strategically prepared brands struggled to pivot their messaging in ways that were meaningful for their audiences – and everyone found it extremely challenging to make those pivots with the kind of speed needed.

How do we know this? Because we’ve researched it extensively.

In association with Sapio, we recently surveyed 250 influential marketers, and discovered that the industry was overwhelmingly challenged by the problems of empathy, sensitivity, and speed of change in these strange times.

Empathy and AI

In our last article in this series we covered the tricky issues of responding sensitively and empathetically to social change without being seen as ‘cashing in’ or adding pointless noise to an already stressful mediascape. 

We discovered that over 90% of brands are trying to deliver more empathic campaigns, but are struggling to pivot ‘with empathy’ – partly because they’re unaware of which metrics best predict the kind of ‘empathy’ users need to see in unpredictable times. 

In addition, while 81% of survey respondents pivoted their marketing campaigns due to Covid-19, 75% of these found it difficult to pivot as rapidly as needed.

However, many saw a way forward. 97% of respondents believe that AI plays a crucial role in helping marketing to improve and evolve. A lot of marketers see value in AI as was of being more adaptive and agile in their approach. In years like 2020, agility and adaptability is absolutely vital.

So, how can AI help marketing teams to pivot their messaging speedily and sensitively? Let’s take a look:

Nothing new under the sun

You know the saying that ‘history repeats itself’? Well, it’s kind of true.

While the details may vary, certain types of events and situations will keep occurring over and over again through the course of human history. And – while it may be hard to predict when and in what form these events will occur – we can predict how people will respond

At the end of the day, people have evolved a certain set of emotional reactions. These have occurred time and again over history and will continue to do so until we evolve new parts of our brain which bypass them.

Sure, you can mix those emotional reactions into a variety of different outcomes, just like you can ‘mix’ the notes a piano keyboard makes into a variety of different tunes. But that doesn’t mean we can’t predict the ‘tune’ that will come out in any given situation.

Think of it this way: even the least musical person in the world knows the kind of music they can expect to hear at a wedding reception.

A more experienced, more ‘trained’ musician will be able to predict with a reasonable degree of accuracy which kind of tune (fast, slow, smoochy, cheesy…) will be played next at that wedding reception, depending on things like the mood in the room, the timing, and so on.

Now imagine that, instead of a musically-trained human attending that wedding, it’s an AI that has spent its entire life parsing the patterns of music played at events – going through hundreds of thousands of data points each second and never forgetting a single thing. 

As it processes all the different factors in real-time (the culture of the wedding, how drunk people are, how well they know each other, how well they’re getting to know each other and so on…), it will cross-reference these with the patterns it has learned from tirelessly studying wedding reception music for the equivalent of thousands of human years.

That AI will be able to predict with 99-100% accuracy which tune will be played next at any given moment in that wedding – despite how different each wedding is, despite all the random things that can occur when drunk people get emotional in a room together, and despite all the notes available to the wedding band.

And it could predict the ‘tune’ with the same kind of accuracy and speed if the ‘notes’ were human emotional reactions and the ‘wedding reception’ was a global event like Covid-19.

AI, pivoting, and empathy

Yes, the Covid-19 pandemic was unprecedented. And yes, it brought out a lot of reactions that we were not perhaps expecting. 

But a machine designed to predict things could have prepared us for what was to come – at least, in terms of human reaction.

A good AI spends its entire ‘life’ parsing the data we feed it. If we ask it to learn about human reactions to huge, society-changing events, it will go deep into all the available data and swiftly start coming up with patterns it would have taken a human years – maybe centuries – to pick out.

It could then use these patterns to make predictions on a granular level about the ways in which people will respond to society-changing events – and it could do so in real-time.

Even this information may be enough to help human marketers pivot their messaging quickly and sensitively – but a good AI will go further.

It could even tell marketers the kind of content that their audience will be expecting to see in these times, how to create that content sensitively, and the best, most empathetic ways to be marketers in interesting times.

Intrigued? We’ll take a deep dive into AI and sensitivity in the next in this series…