Tools shape the profession and when the tool changes, the profession adjusts. The profession of marketing is no different and is very much defined by the tools available at any given moment. At present, the marketing toolkit is experiencing a period of great innovation and transformation. One of the most impressive evolving marketing tools is interactivity. Nowadays, consumers do not expect to be persuaded by the traditional unidirectional mass-market approach to advertising, but rather prefer to participate and interact with brands before making a decision to accept or reject the products and services being offered. This evolving trend has moved many companies from traditional transaction-based communications to conversation-based interactions. Interactive marketing relies on consumers expressing their preferences so that more relevant marketing messages can be produced and advertising becomes a dynamic process by following consumers rather than leading them.
As interactive marketing is evolving on a continuous basis, the analysis and prediction of customer behavior are becoming key reference points for marketers. And herein lies a significant opportunity for robotics. Robots have the advantages of speed and extraordinary data processing capabilities, and can work tirelessly without taking a break. A robotic workforce can increase efficiency in banks, shopping malls, family entertainment centers, exhibitions and events, airports, stores, and many other places where the types of customer interactions are standardized and repetitive in nature. Carefully crafted approaches to automation can boost the level of personalization and customer service, thus enhancing the brand’s competitive advantage. Several companies are already working to integrate innovative approaches to customer interaction using robotic technologies. The goal is simple: to create appealing robotic avatars that can keep customers engaged.
The humanoid robot Pepper is a good example. Pepper is produced by SoftBank Robotics and Aldebaran Robotics, and is part of SoftBank Group’s ambition to expand the reach of robotic technology to markets beyond factory floors. The creators of Pepper claim that their robot is the first in the world that is able to read and respond to human emotion; it can analyze how people are feeling and guide them in the right direction. According to Masayoshi Son, Chairman and CEO of SoftBank, “The dream to create an advanced consumer experience with Pepper is now coming true. We hope that by providing people the opportunity to interact with a robot whilst shopping, we can help create experiences of wonder and delight for consumers.” SoftBank also hopes to sell thousands of Peppers to consumers, starting this summer, predicting that eventually robots will become a mass-market product. Nestlé Japan has plans to use this robot to sell Nescafé machines as part of its ongoing effort to enhance brand engagement with consumers in Nescafé’s biggest market. Nescafé will use the robot to sell Nescafé Dolce Gusto and Nescafé Gold Blend Barista coffee machines in home appliance stores in Japan. Nestlé Japan is planning to use the robot nationwide in around 1,000 stores by the end of 2015. In a survey conducted by The Daily Mirror, 53% of respondents stated that they would feel comfortable buying a coffee machine from a robot. In a similar move, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group will introduce Nao, a 58 cm tall robot also from Aldebaran Robotics, at a couple of its bank branches this summer on a trial basis. The robot is programmed to speak 19 languages and uses a camera to detect emotions from customers’ facial expressions. In fact, the group reckons that by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the robots will be advanced enough to deal with every type of customer.
Marketers can benefit from automation in day-to-day tasks and robots can play a significant role in improving and expanding their interactions with customers, especially in the case of marketing operations and campaigns targeting hundreds of multilingual customers in a day. However, in today’s world where humans still prefer to deal with other humans, customer acceptance of robots for these types of interactions is still low. Successful interactive marketing requires that focusing on the customer is more than just talk. At present, there are many challenges for robots in marketing, and the most important one is when to use robots for customer interactions, and when not to do so. Moreover, the current forms of human-robot interaction technology are underdeveloped and many robotics companies are trying to find better ways to manage a conversation – for example, when Pepper does not understand the answer to its questions, it changes the topic and then the interaction becomes frustrating for the human. Interacting with humans and keeping humans satisfied with the quality of the interaction, after all, is still not an easy task for a robot to perform.