The AI Acquisition Spree and What It Means for Marketers
Venture capital firms and mobile manufacturers alike are on an acquisition spree, investing heavily in AI-powered voice recognition and text-to-speech technology. With its broad usefulness in sales, customer service, mobile tech, and strategic planning, companies are eager to get in on the ground floor of this fast-growing field.
You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows since we’ve all got smartphones these days. But figuring out the Next Big Thing in search and mobile technology? That’s a little bit trickier. Let’s take a look at some recent high-profile acquisitions in the field of AI and voice-recognition, and what they mean for the wider market.
Voice-recognition and personal-assistant tech on the rise
Earlier in July, Samsung paid nearly $50 million to acquire Innoetics, a Greek startup that specializes in text-to-speech and voice-to-speech tech. Their main and much-touted innovation is voice-recognition software that can ‘listen’ to a speaker and then read back a piece of unrelated text in an identical voice.
The buyout comes while Samsung is in the process of rolling out its personal-assistant program Bixby, which the company envisions as a direct competitor to similar programs like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. Though Samsung has not yet confirmed their post-acquisition plans for Innoetics, one anonymous employee told TechCrunch their tech is “perfectly suited for consumer services.”
Within days of Samsung’s announcement, Israeli startup Gong.io revealed they had raised $20 million in Series A funding on the strength of their language-processing tool, which they claim can help train and improve productivity for customer service and sales reps. Powered by machine-learning and AI, Gong’s software can both ‘listen’ to audio recordings of calls and ‘read’ conversation transcripts. It then picks out relevant keywords and emotional cues from the chat and uses a predictive algorithm to determine the conversation’s most likely outcome.
Of course, machine-learning programs need something to actually *learn* from. So, Gong employed a truly unconventional training method for their AI that sounds like something out of a sci-fi flick – their AI watched episodes of Seinfeld in order to learn to process the finer points of sarcasm, humor, and awkward human-to-human interactions. (AI is bringing new meaning to the phrase “Yada, yada, yada!”)
Analysts expect that tech like Gong’s will soon become widespread in sales and customer service, particularly in the CRM systems used by these industries. After predicting a conversation’s outcome, the AI under the hood can make suggestions to the sales or customer service rep on how best to continue the chat, or even automatically respond to any unanswered questions.
Some companies are already hard at work developing AI capable of holding down a sales conversation: The Seattle-based startup Conversica is developing AI-powered sales assistant that can automatically send out relevant sales emails, and even provide conversational responses to email replies.
Investors and marketers have shown plenty of interest in the promise of Conversica’s tech: Late last year, they announced an additional $34 million in Series B funding, bringing their total investment capital to a whopping $56 million.
Using AI and machine-learning, “Conversica will take into account all the variables it knows about the recipient, all the context, and custom craft a message for them,” CEO Alex Terry told ZDnet. And once an email conversation meets specific criteria, it can then be handed off to a human rep to close the deal. Conversica plans to leverage their underlying infrastructure to develop chatbot and voice-assisted services, with the eventual goal of providing an all-in-one automated solution for customer-facing communications.
AI and mobile: The future of marketing
These advances made by Samsung, Gong.io and Conversica demonstrate how speech-recognition and text-to-speech technology – driven by AI – will soon be critical considerations for the day-to-day operations of any marketing agency.
Soon, personal assistant apps powered by artificial intelligence will be available on every single laptop, tablet and mobile phone, and will be able to hold up their end of a convincing conversation. Rather than having an ad served to a consumer through a channel like Google Ads (formerly AdWords,) human-sounding personal assistants will instead integrate the sales pitch into natural conversation.
Say you have a big formal dinner planned for next month, and you need a jacket to complete your outfit. You’ll ask Alexa to show you tailored black jackets in store near you, and she’ll present you with a range of options picked from local organic search results. And once you’ve made your selection, Alexa will transmit your order to the shop, complete with tailoring instructions.
And when a prospective customer sends you an email or calls your service line, they can having back-and-forth conversations with sophisticated AI programs that are almost indistinguishable from real human beings. A predictive algorithm can determine whether callers are likely to convert into a sale, and then provide further comprehensive responses or hand off the call to a human staffer.
The same goes for email marketing and chat: Automation can easily handle the most mundane and repetitive tasks, freeing up resources that can be focused elsewhere. These efficiency improvements to the sales funnel will empower lead-development teams to focus on more difficult or complicated conversations – the ones that generate real value and close deals.
Meanwhile, the mobile platform is capturing a bigger and bigger share of search and web usage. In response, AI and machine-learning developers are developing these technologies with personal assistant programs like Siri and Alexa first in mind, with the aim of ensuring that seamless machine-human conversations are always available in the palm of your hand.
It can be difficult to predict the future with 100% accuracy, but one thing is certain: AI and mobile will be the cornerstones of any effective marketing strategy.