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Management

Let’s not become slaves to algorithms

Design a marketing strategy that wins over the algorithm – that sits between the brand and your customer – so that your product stands out

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 December, 2017, 3:02pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 December, 2017, 9:53pm

How much of your holiday shopping this year did you do online? Did you go online, with a specific product in mind and purchase precisely what you wanted? Or did you outsource the thinking and ask Alexa to do your shopping for you?

For more than a decade, organisations have focused on search as a key discovery mechanism in digital, but with the emergence of new interfaces, such as messaging, chatbots, and voice powered by artificial intelligence, customers have new ways to explore their possibilities.

For example, in 2017, Amazon Alexa began buying for users. If you ask her for a product, without specifically naming the brand, you get what she orders based on algorithms.

Algorithms do not notice (nor do they care about) branding efforts, celebrity endorsements, or publicity campaigns and there’s a very real possibility they’ll soon sit squarely between an organisation and its customers.

This poses a potential problem for consumer-packaged goods and retailers. If there is no longer a physical place where a brand might exist and come to life for consumers, how will brands connect with shoppers?

Managers must learn to navigate and engage with the algorithms and face facts about their brands. Brands dependent on visual cues in an auditory world where voice enabled recommendations and transactions are the norm may suffer

As the algorithms behind those interfaces become evermore powerful, their impact on marketing grows exponentially, especially in the product space where optimising for algorithms will soon became an important task.

Managers must learn to navigate and engage with the algorithms and face facts about their brands.

Brands dependent on visual cues in an auditory world where voice enabled recommendations and transactions are the norm may suffer.

Existing brands with strong names will have a massive advantage. New brands trying to establish themselves may face an uphill battle.

A key consideration will be for whom an algorithm works. Does it work for the user or for the platform? (Alexa, for example, works for Amazon, often prioritising Amazon Prime products.)

What can a company do to stand out so its products are sold? As Accenture suggests in Fjord Trends 2018, our 11th annual report examining trends expected to impact business technology and design: Get to know the gatekeepers.

Understand them, understand how to be ranked by them, understand how to bypass them. Consider carefully where a product or service can be designed to make it past the gatekeeper, and how to earn customer loyalty once it does.

Consider creating collaborative or complementary services on an existing platform (Dominos paired up with Alexa in the UK; JD.com and Tencent teamed with Wal-Mart for Singles’ Day this year.)

Adapt to the new marketing environment. It will be more important than ever for people to use your brand name so make it stick. Think of how Band-Aid became synonymous with a bandage or Kleenex with tissues, Coke and Pepsi are terms for soda, and many sports shoe companies have loyal customers who simply refer to their brand names. In this way brand names can operate like a secret password.

Hone additional tactics that aid brand recall and differentiating features. Could one click purchase ads be the saviour of impulse brands (and advertising)? Consider how to inject purchase prompts into the environment where the customer is in the home, car or elsewhere.

And make it fun to shop in person again.

This year, many of Hong Kong’s sports retailers wooed customers into their shops digitally (via mobile messages and interactive games) then played more games (plank challenges anyone?) to make in-person shopping fun and encourage customers to re-engage with the brand they choose to wear.

In the end, you need to design a marketing strategy that wins over the algorithm – that sits between the brand and your customer – so that your product stands out. That means you need to do more than just be a slave to the algorithm itself.

Yu Yi is Accenture’s digital lead for Greater China

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