Imagine that you are looking to go on holiday. Somewhere sunny that you haven’t been before, but a destination that is still similar to the great place you went a couple of years ago, just with a slightly better hotel and rental car this time around.
Usually, booking the holiday would involve a lot of online research, comparing prices, reading reviews – and adverts. So many adverts.
What if you could hand over all of the boring parts of picking the perfect holiday to someone else who knows all of your preferences and whom you trust to do all of the research for you? Someone who doesn’t care about the adverts at all, who won’t be influenced by them, and who will come back to you with the best possible deal.
That is, in essence, what a virtual human agent (VHA) would be able to do for you. Not just for holidays, but for pretty much any and everything you wish to purchase. As a result, you won’t need to deal with the annoying adverts – and companies will need to completely rethink a large part of their marketing strategy.
Your VHA Knows What You Need
Your personal AI-powered VHA, which is one of the things that Connectome is developing a platform for, can fill many roles and functions. One is being your personal assistant. Over time, it gathers data about your preferences, what you like, and can make increasingly accurate evaluations of what you would want. Connectome’s VHAs use blockchain technology to secure the data, so it stays in your control.
Somewhat simplified, you can say that VHAs have the ability to leverage big data and AI not only to analyze what you would prefer in a specific situation but to automatically undertake a range of tasks on your behalf.
If we go back to the example with the holiday booking, a VHA knows where you went, as well as what level hotel you stayed at and what car you drove. It can use the information, as well as its other insights about you, to create a predictive analysis of potential holiday destinations you might enjoy. It can include looking at average weather and specific forecasts to find destinations that will likely be sunny during the days you are on holiday. Furthermore, it can research flight times and prices to the locations, find prices for hotels and cars and present you with a set number of different bundled packages for you to choose between. You can then make the final decision.
A VHA can do all of this in a matter of seconds, meaning goodbye to the confusing and frustrating hours spent doing all of it manually. In the future, it is likely that the VHA will even be able to contact different vendors and negotiate a better price on your behalf. Just last year, an experiment with two AI-powered bots at Facebook showed great promise for leaving such negotiations to AI-driven systems like VHAs in the near future.
Goodbye To Advertising (As We Know It)
The scenario described above may be a few years away from becoming an everyday occurrence. However, it is likely already causing concern for advertising agencies and marketing departments – and judging by the popularity of ad blockers it is probably also making many consumers very excited.
Convincing someone to buy a specific product is a process where advertisers mirror the way that our decision process works when making a purchase. You often start with a research phase, followed by a decision-making process, before making a final choice. There are many different theories about – and descriptions of – how the customer journey looks from start to end, with one of the most popular being the funnel metaphor. A common factor of all the different theories is that advertisers want to be able to influence you along every step of the way. To do so, they place adverts across all the platforms that you are likely to use during the purchase process. In other words, you see adverts when looking at holiday destinations, researching hotel and car deals, as well as when you watch TV and when you are just walking down the street.
However, a VHA doesn’t care at all about advertising. It is not swayed by promotional videos, Instagram influencers, online adverts, pre-roll video ads on sites like YouTube or anything else. It doesn’t fall for the emotional angles that advertisers use to try and convince you to buy a specific product or choose one destination over another. It only cares about the data and getting you the best possible deal.
That leaves things like banner ads on websites much less likely to influence you, and thereby much less valuable to the companies who pay advertising agencies to develop and place them.
As a result, advertising agencies and companies alike are going to have to rethink the way that they engage customers. Customers, on the other hand, get a lot more power – and can potentially leverage their VHA and data in new ways to get better deals and monetary rewards.
VHAs Just Getting Started
One reason that VHAs could soon be getting new deals is connected to a news story from 2018. Much was written about two bots developed by Facebook that ‘invented’ a new language to negotiate deals with each other. The bots not only taught themselves to lie to get the best deal, they even developed negotiating tactics like aggressively pursuing items they didn’t want and then ‘compromising’ to get everything they wanted.
In other words, VHAs could soon be savvy negotiators, and while companies may develop their own VHAs, online marketplaces like the one developed by Connectome means that they will likely be playing catch-up. Your personal VHA is, in other words, going to be able to out-negotiate many systems.
Secondly, VHAs can give you control of data. Especially those using blockchain. Today, companies gather information about you, your habits and your preferences through the data you provide. This is doubly true for the data they get by following your purchase journey. The aim is to get to be better at targeting you with ads that will convince you to buy certain products in the future.
As you get control over more of your data, companies, and the advertising agencies working on their behalf will have a harder time targeting you. They may well be willing to remunerate you for access to some of your data. The exchange could be for a better deal on a specific product – or even a monetary reward. Blockchain would allow you to track what the company does with the data, as well as if they share it with other companies.
What Change May Come
It is important to stress that we don’t see VHAs as killing off all advertising. While it can control parts of your buying process, it is still informed by your likes and desires. Which are, in turn, influenced by what you encounter in all aspects of your life.
Most of us probably dislike the fact that many of the so-called free-to-use services that we engage with today come at the expense of either handing over a lot of our data for free or being directly exposed to adverts that we have no desire to see. Not to single out any particular service, but YouTube and Spotify are good examples of users having to pay to avoid adverts. In other words, having to pay for a better user experience.
Of course, this makes sense, as YouTube, Spotify, and a million other services, need the revenue from advertising to offer you their services and make a profit. VHAs do, however, open up new opportunities for users to perhaps offer some of the data they have so far been giving away for free as a way to avoid annoying advertisements on such services.
VHAs also incentivizes advertising agencies and companies to focus on other ways of engaging with potential customers than the ‘carpet bombing’ approach that they seem to have preferred so far. Perhaps focusing more or interactions that add value to both parties.
One example could be that when your VHA is looking for a holiday, a hotel that it looks at can be made aware of the fact thanks to the data you are willing to share and offer you a free guide to the best sights and beaches in the area plus a rebate on day-trips to them. In other words, a potential win-win for both parties.