Artificial intelligence has been capturing our imaginations again, from HBO drama Westworld, to the news that Mark Zuckerberg has his very own Jarvis. Amazon recently unveiled Amazon Go, a concept store in Seattle driven by machine learning, and this follows hot on the heels of Google Home, an AI powered smart home assistant.

Meanwhile, we’ve become used to carrying AI around with us, in the form of Siri and Cortana, and very soon we might be being driven around by AI thanks to Google and Uber. But ask a random person on the street what AI means to them and they’re more likely to talk of robots than the technology we use everyday.

General understanding of AI is still limited, with only 18% of consumers stating that they know a lot about AI and 48% knowing a little. Given that many consumers haven’t a clue what AI is, using AI itself as your main selling point is not going to work. How then, do the likes of Google and Amazon market their AI powered technology?

Returning to the aisles of Amazon Go, you’ll find the tech giant barely mentions AI when describing the technology working behind the scenes. Instead, it focuses on drawing analogies to other AI in use – self-driving cars for instance. The benefits of using Amazon Go are also detailed at length: a seamless, checkout free shopping experience is shown in a walkthrough video and paragraphs are dedicated to the in-store experience.

Speaking of practical experience, another technique the tech giants have used is to give customers an idea of what using the tech feels and looks like. Consumers have previously reported that they felt hands-on experience or expert reviews were the most credible sources of information on AI. Google, Apple and Amazon have recognized this, unveiling their AI products at increasingly high profile launches designed to generate excitement around their products.

While these events do go into some detail on how the tech works, the focus is primarily on how a customer actually uses and benefits from AI. Many marketers at smaller tech companies probably can’t compete in scale with these product launches, but the thinking behind them can be tapped into. Creating video content and imagery that helps customers imagine using your product in their daily lives can be an effective technique. Likewise, sending out tips and tricks via social media, in the style of Apple and Amazon will help consumers understand how to use your product and get the most out of it.

Another technique companies including Amazon and Google use is to re-brand AI with simplistic product names to describe them. Amazon Go uses Just Walk Out technology and Google has Google Assistant. These terms are almost comically obvious, but when marketing something as complex as AI, sometimes it pays to keep things simple.

It may be tempting when somebody has given their all to build an AI or data science model from the ground up, to talk about how technologically advanced the product is. But shouting about neural nets, machine learning and Bayes’ Theorem is not going to have the desired effect on your audience.

Telling consumers what AI is going to do for them is a far more straightforward strategy. Amazon Go promises you’ll never have to wait in line, Google Home is “always ready to help” and Siri “helps you get things done”.

Another point to note, is how how Apple, Microsoft and Google encourage us to make a personal connection with AI. To interact with their virtual assistants, you simply call their name. Likewise, chatbots are built to emulate human conversation as much as possible. People do business with people they like, so making interactions with AI feel more humanlike and less robotic might be rooted in some logic.

When launched, Siri hit headlines not just because of the technology, but because of the humour Apple programmed into her. Ask Siri the meaning of life and you’ll get a witty answer, ask her for a haiku and she’ll happily oblige.

Laughter has been shown to be an essential element to building social relationships. Therefore, making a person laugh when they interact with an AI could very well have a similar effect to laughing with an acquaintance.

Of course, no company can get it right all of the time, and there have been some occasions where Google, Amazon and others have fallen a little short. If you look at DeepMind’s website, you’re immediately faced with the idea of ‘deep science’ which is a term most industry insiders would find nonsensical, let alone the public. Likewise, Amazon uses the buzzword-y sensor fusion on Amazon Go’s website.

Marketers might be tempted to invent a new term or phrase to describe a product offering, but without the right context consumers simply won’t understand what you’re talking about.

There is definitely some food for thought when you look at the strategies companies like Google have used to grab consumers’ attention. Many of these techniques complement each other, but don’t feel like you have to do them all. Choose the methods that will resonate with your target market. That’s the main technique used by all the tech giants: know your audience and speak to them in a way they’ll understand.

Guy Marson

Guy Marson


Guy is Director and Co-founder at Profusion.