How AI can help marketers to be more human

September 17, 2020

Previously, we’ve spoken about how the various crises of 2020 presented marketers with problems. It was hard to pivot messaging fast enough to accommodate the changed world, and it was especially difficult to find the right, sensitive and empathetic tone.

After researching this, we discovered that many marketers think AI could hold the key to unlocking the right tone. An AI trained in human behaviour and emotion could provide the kind of insights that it would take a human marketer decades of intense study to fathom. 

Today, we’re going to dive a little deeper into the concept of empathy, and explore exactly how a machine without feelings could help us to connect with our audiences on a more authentic emotional level.

What is empathy?

‘Empathy’ refers to the human ability to put ourselves in the shoes of another – to ‘empathise’ with how they are feeling, even when we aren’t necessarily feeling that way ourselves.

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of empathy:

  • Affective empathy, which occurs when our moods genuinely change to mirror those of others. For example, when we cry along with fictional characters as they experience grief and loss, or smile to see people enjoying themselves.
  • Cognitive empathy, which occurs when we don’t necessarily feel what the other person is feeling, but we do understand the emotion and the reasons that they’re experiencing it.

Empathy is a vital skill for any social animal. Without the ability to see things from other perspectives, we’d very quickly find ourselves unable to socialize, or work together, or understand one another. Empathy is crucial to any kind of human connection – which is why it’s a much-needed skill in marketing.

An AI cannot feel affective empathy. Nor can it really work with cognitive empathy in the same way that humans can. So, how on earth can AI help human marketers to connect with audiences on a more empathetic level?

Unfeeling robots?

AI cannot understand complicated human emotions. No AI is going to cry when Bambi’s mum dies.

What they can do, however, is predict with stunning accuracy how a certain action or event will make a person feel. And they can respond accordingly. For example, if an AI deduces that global events (like Covid-19 lockdowns) have left people feeling stressed and upset, it could recommend appropriate changes of tone to its marketing ‘bosses’.

But can’t human marketers do that too? Why bring in an AI to perform this basic human skill in the first place?

Well, as we covered in the previous articles in this series, Covid-19 has demonstrated that, in fact, human marketers can’t respond with the requisite speed and empathy in the face of huge events like Covid and we have the research results here to prove it.

Part of the problem is that humans have vast emotional range. Everyone responds to events in slightly different ways. And those slight differences really are important. What one person experiences as a sensitive and empathetic tone, another might experience as patronising or insincere. However closely you segment, it’s still nearly impossible for a human marketer to strike the right tone every single time – and getting it wrong can have disastrous consequences during periods like the recent Lockdown, when emotions are running high.

An AI, however, can get it right. If programmed properly, a good AI will quickly learn to anticipate emotional reactions, and to suggest the tone which will best work for every segment.

Then there’s the time factor. One of the biggest problems marketers experienced in 2020 was the speed at which things changed. It was extremely hard to pivot in real-time – which led to some nasty snafus when pre-Covid messaging went out into a world that was no longer appropriate for it.

AI, however, are famed for the speed with which they make their calculations. Their ability to predict and draw accurate insights is far, far faster than that of their human counterparts. This could be invaluable for aiding future pivots.

But this isn’t all. Using AI to communicate with empathy could be key in the world’s push towards more ethical marketing.

Ethics are the future

Numerous studies have shown that companies which operate from within an ethical framework are rewarded by custom. Especially if they also display empathy.

Often, however, the ethical framework can get bent out of shape. Humans are fallible, and we sometimes let our baser needs get the better of us – despite our best intentions.

AI are not fallible. An AI programmed to prioritize empathy and ethics will always take the ethical route. It will always act as a brake against unethical practice, because it doesn’t know any better.

Sometimes, it might even recommend holding back on offers that might be good for the company, but not good for the customer. Whether or not this is desirable is for individual brands to decide – but it’s worth noting that people are increasingly aware of when they’re being manipulated.

Of course, it requires humans to program these AI to be ‘empathetic’ and ethical in the first place. That will require a lot of strategizing and discussion. But, if they get it right, the net result could be an infallible, imperturbable AI that acts as a guardian of brand ethics.

The AI can suggest the most ethical path for a brand to take, advise on how to address certain customers, and warn us when we’re straying from the right path.

We can’t develop relationships with robots, because they don’t actually care about us. We’re not about to go for coffee with an AI any time soon. 

What we can do, however, is to use robots to improve our relationships with each other.