How you can use AI to create, not kill, value for your brand


The use of artificial intelligence in marketing is at a tipping point, suggests Alex Wilman. It’s important brands understand what consumers will and won’t tolerate.

Within marketing, forms of technology progress from being nice-to-haves, to hygiene factors, to enablers, to potential value creators. However, balancing a technology’s potential as a value creator is the threat of the same technology being a value killer. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is currently at this tipping point – where it can create value in marketing and innovation if used appropriately.

Northstar collaborated with Arm – the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer, whose products are used by 75% of the global population – to conduct global research (US, UK, Sweden, Germany, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea) with nearly 4,000 consumers on AI. The insights allow marketers to understand how to use AI to create value, not kill it.

AI: the value creator

Consumers are typically positive about AI, its current impact and its predicted trajectory over the next decade. But how does this translate into marketing actions?

Communicate AI to tomorrow’s high-value consumers. And do so transparently

Younger adults and youths have unshackled positivity towards AI. They’ve grown up in a digital age and AI is simply a progression – a frontier they’re comfortable exploring. For example, 44% of 11-14-year olds prefer controlling their devices with voice vs. just a 14% preference for using touch/buttons. These children are the first “voice” generation. Conversely, many adults are uncomfortable talking to their devices in public. Clearly the newest generation of technology consumers have a more progressive view on using technology that brands must listen to in order to grow their customer base.

Looking at tomorrow’s consumers is key for any marketer. By 2030, today’s young consumers will have vast spending power. Brands must communicate their use of AI to this valuable audience to leverage its positivity.

However, AI’s communication must be transparent. Brand trust is constantly at risk from adverse media coverage which makes young consumers sceptical of brands. Transparency about how brands use AI is therefore a hygiene factor.

Capitalise on the appetite for AI, but only if it’s relevant for you

In 2020, AI is no longer a buzzword. It’s being successfully applied by many brands, supporting consumers in many ways, across multiple sectors. Consequently, awareness of AI and its benefits are widespread and there’s an appetite for it to be used more.

We tested consumer excitement about AI and comfort using AI applications across:

• Healthcare (e.g. AI surgeons)

• Homes (e.g. smart home hubs, security cameras, TVs and fridges)

• Transport (e.g. AI-driven safety features within a car)

• Retail (e.g. smart mirrors and glasses using AR to visualise what clothes look like pre-purchase)

Consumers are comfortable and excited by all these AI developments. However, AI’s use in art and music didn’t win much support. Creativity, at least at this stage, isn’t seen as something which AI can add value to.

But these results come with a caution. Just because AI exists, doesn’t mean marketers should use it. AI must add genuine value to products or brands to excite consumers. Consumers are savvy and will diagnose the extent to which AI adds value. Gone are the days where AI itself, regardless of value, is a novel delighter.

And if brands do use AI, it must be done relevantly. The lack of support for AI in art and music is driven by a perception that AI, with its algorithmic rules, is juxtaposed vs. creative.

Communicate the ‘benefits-of-the-benefit’ of AI

Saving time and money are AI’s core benefits. This is widely understood by consumers. While AI’s ability to deliver efficiency shouldn’t be understated, marketers should be aware this is a hygiene factor and shouldn’t overly communicate it. Furthermore, sometimes explicit communication of time and money savings can negatively impact a brand’s positioning, particularly for high value brands.

When asked to identify AI’s biggest benefits, most consumers identify more profound and substantial benefits vs. saving time and money. For example, AI’s ability to drive scientific advancements – notably for environmental or health benefits.

AI: the value killer

However, the opportunities offered by AI must be tempered by widespread consumer concerns that can potentially harm brands. These concerns create several marketing actions to avoid.

Not sufficiently investing in AI security

Consumer’s core concern with AI is data privacy. Three quarters of consumers are concerned about their data being stolen. This is reflected by the volume of data breach stories in the media over the last few years.

For brands utilising AI, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Faced with a data breach from their devices, over two thirds of consumers would either switch brand or stop using that kind of device entirely. They believe that brands whose AI fails them should be punished.

Sufficiently investing in data security is essential. As is communicating any protections that are in place. This will reassure consumers their data is safe. Soon, we’ll see much more AI-on-the-edge, where AI processing occurs on-device to avoid data being sent to the cloud. This development will help alleviate some concerns about data privacy. But the reality still stands. Use AI responsibly and protect consumer data, or risk severe consequences for your brand.

Being overly intrusive

The line between intelligent and intrusive AI is thin and brands mustn’t over-step the mark. For example, consumers are comfortable with security cameras that move towards suspicious noises. However, they’re much less comfortable with smart door locks that allow delivery drivers home access. And a speaker that recognises if you’re sad and talks to you can ALSO make consumers uncomfortable.

Both examples highlight potential problem for brands when AI gets overly intimate. The first demonstrates a physical over-intimacy (granting home access to a stranger), whereas the second demonstrates a social over-intimacy (unwanted AI psychoanalysis).

Marketers must understand and respected these boundaries. Failure to do so will scare consumers away.

Removing empathy from consumer relationships

Hollywood narratives typically end with humans losing control and AI taking over. Consumers understand this to be science fiction, but the fear of losing (too much) control is genuine.

Take autonomous vehicles, for example. Consumers are comfortable with relinquishing some control (e.g. AI flagging safety issues or automatic engine ignition when the driver is recognised). However, allowing a car to be fully autonomous is more challenging. Many reservations focus around the lack of interaction between drivers and the vehicles. The lack of driving, if you will.

AI can drastically change the relationship a consumer has with a brand. And when AI replaces humans completely, there’s a loss of empathy, or at least it’s harder to empathise. And without empathy, it’s considerably harder for brands to have meaningful relationships with consumers.

Play your cards right

We’re now several years into the AI mainstream and its potential is continuing to be realised by many brands. As AI evolves, it’s vital that marketers keep up to date with the consumer reality and shifting perceptions towards AI.

Play your cards right and the potential for AI to add value to a brand is profound. But by making the wrong move, AI has the potential to kill a brand’s value. Choose your next move wisely.

This article first appeared in

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