The post-mortem that follows the Covid-19 pandemic will be painful and detailed, as global responses are assessed, failures identified and damage calculated. Much of it will make for unhappy reading, but one positive we can already chalk up involves technology’s ability to make remarkable advances at the moment they are needed.
Rapid-fire vaccines are now draining the strength from a virus we had scarcely heard about a year ago; in recent days, AI-driven screening tests have emerged that propose to provide speedy diagnosis; and meanwhile, conversational assistants found their perfect moment, as the world clamoured for information and governments, public health organisations and brands used conversational AI to provide it.
In India, the government deployed a conversational AI-based virtual assistant, through its digital infrastructure MyGov and a full range of social channels, to deliver accurate healthcare information to millions in cities and rural areas across the country. Hospitals in the US managed demand and after-care with digital assistants and chatbots in virtual waiting rooms.
Nor is the groundswell in conversational AI limited to health, as businesses of all kinds have responded to booming customer enquiries with AI-based automation on numerous fronts. Gartner forecasts that by 2025, businesses that embed AI in their customer engagement platform will further enhance their operational efficiency by 25%.
Against our increasing familiarity with ever more complex conversational AI interfaces, conversational advertising represents an inevitable next step beyond customer-service chatbots and digital assistants.
With retail footfall severely reduced over the past year and likely to be permanently diminished, digital channels need to bear the burden of not only conducting sales but driving demand and fielding queries along the purchase path.
Unlike much other advertising, conversational does not simply push a static brand message. Instead, it enables interactions that are closer to human dialogue, with the vital ability to evolve and re-focus as new information is revealed.
Simultaneously, other trends are converging too, including a desire among advertisers for more engaging formats and better metrics, and a need for sophisticated digital tools to help drive international expansion.
The applications of conversational advertising are numerous across the digital spectrum, enabling not only real-time dialogue but video, maps, AR and embedded e-commerce.
The customer journey offers many other opportunities for brands with conversational AI.
Our global conversational advertising ’cloud’ fits neatly within messaging apps - a vast growth area in which advertising has struggled to find its niche. But it also merges perfectly into social, where conversation is expected and brands just need a little help in being in the right place at the right time.
When the pandemic broke, we promptly launched an initiative to make our engineering, data science, and product development teams available for fighting the coronavirus, and became involved with a variety of projects as a result.
Times like these represent important catalysts because they enable us to see the world accelerating into a new reality. When the speed of that change slackens just a little and we have a moment to look around, we will find ourselves in a very new place, where we all do many things differently as a matter of course.
Conversational AI is projected to grow at a rate of nearly 22% a year over the next half a decade, from $4.8 billion in 2020 to $13.9 billion by 2025 [source: Markets and Markets]. Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Artificial Intelligence likewise expects the chatbot market to reach maturity within two to five years.
Advertising is just one example of a business in flux, but conversational advertising’s place in the sweet spot of so many converging trends makes its continued growth seem inevitable. And if our first hope for 2021 is for a robust global recovery, our second is the continued adoption of technologies that will help to arm our brands and organisations for the future.
Janicke is the Chief Marketing Officer at Cavai