First published on WARC

LONDON: The growing use of artificial intelligence will dramatically change communications planning, especially in low-involvement categories like FMCG, according to two industry figures.

Writing in the October issue of Admap, Toby Roberts and Rohan Tambyrajah, Global head of strategy and Group strategy director (Unilever), respectively, at PHD Global Business, question whether the current role of marketing communications in making brands salient at buying moments is fit for purpose.

They highlight two themes – how AI is closing the gap between consumer need and fulfilment and how it is aiding consumers’ purchase decision-making – that they argue will combine with the use of voice and gesture user interfaces to radically shift buying behaviour, and, by extension, communications planning.

As technology comes to anticipate consumers’ requirements, “the role of a brand as a ‘signifier of quality and enabler of choice’ starts to change as algorithms assess choice based on factors directly relevant to the needs of the buyer”, they note. “the usefulness of brand salience as a means of influencing people starts to diminish.”

In low-involvement categories, commodity choices can be automated based on simple measures such as historic preference or price; the focus of communication planners will therefore from getting on the consideration sets of people to getting to the consideration sets of machines.

“Planners will need to focus more on building brand affinity and product preference in the pre- and post-purchase stage to ensure brands make the consideration lists of algorithms,” say Roberts and Tambyrajah.

They identify three emerging types of buying behaviour that communication planners now need to influence.

The first is limiting choice, where algorithms present a narrowed set of options to a buyer based on various signals that infer his or her preference; brand salience retains a role here.

A second is removing choice, where algorithms present a single option to consumers based on a deep understanding of their needs. “Communication planners will need to think about how the metadata embedded in product descriptions enables it to be surfaced against priority need-states,” say Roberts and Tambyrajah.

Finally, a wholly automated model sees algorithms anticipate needs and service them without human intervention, rather as some beauty subscription boxes currently do.

“While communication planners will need to focus purely on influencing the algorithms that make these choices, marketers will also need to think about creating much wider portfolios of products that meet much more specific consumer needs,” they conclude.