IBM Watson is giving brands the keys to its conversational marketing technology for the first time.
The computing giant’s artificial intelligence arm debuted a new tool on Monday called Watson Ad Builder, a self-service platform that lets marketers design display ads featuring chatbots that utilize Watson’s natural language technology.
The company said the development of the software was informed by case studies across categories like automotive, retail, financial services and consumer packaged goods compiled over the two years the Watson Advertising division (formerly The Weather Company’s ad sales arm) has been in operation. The company said these campaigns, which it’s built with clients like Behr, Best Western, Campbell’s, LEGO, Lufthansa and Toyota, could previously take months to organize.
“What we’re trying to do in this instance is scale it with this software solution that will really become the democratization of conversational design,” said Randi Stipes, chief marketing officer for IBM Watson Media and Weather.”We’re trying to put the power in the hands of designers and developers so that they’re controlling the experience using our technology and ultimately getting the offering in market faster.”
For any digital marketer chasing the scale that the current market demands, it makes sense to shift control from carefully hand-managed campaigns with select advertisers to more open self-service models. But striking the right balance between interface ease-of-use and the flexibility needed to accommodate a variety of clients can be tricky. It also opens concerns about brand safety among less-regulated big digital platforms.
“We know that there’s issues out there in the digital ecosystem around trust … We are one of the most trusted, most reliable, safest brands in the digital marketplace today, and we build all our products with that ethos in mind,” said Jeremy Hlavacek, Watson Advertising’s head of revenue. “The product is designed for clients to have some flexibility … but it does have some controls in place to make sure that things are done the right way.”
Personalized conversational display ads produced at scale have long enticed the digital marketing industry. This is especially true as chatbots have become more robust and easier to produce, thanks to advancements in natural language AI technology. Google debuted its own conversational ad platform called AdLingo last October, Facebook has long been trying to crack the code to chatbots in Messenger and Apple recently joined the fray with Apple Business Chat.
In a recent report by IBM and research firm Kantar Millward Brown, 54% of respondents said that Watson’s ads stood out to them as yielding a better impression of the brand than other types of advertising. The report also claims that users tended to spend six times as much time in the ads as they do traditional media, citing Google’s Rich Media Benchmark.
But despite recent growth in the field of conversational marketing, Hlavacek thinks the kind of AI that powers chatbots is still very much in its early stages in the grand scheme of technology.
“There’s actually quite a lot more runway to go,” Hlavacek said. “When you think about things like natural language processing, voice—trends that are becoming really big in the market—those are still fairly early on … We’re going to have a lot more growth in the next five years.”