Gilbane Conference 2017: Using New Technologies to Connect with Customers

BOSTON — From connected coffee makers to systems that can detect and adapt to human emotion to marketing content that can update itself, new technologies hold the potential to reshape the customer experience, said speakers at the 2017 Gilbane Conference.

With the Internet of Things (IoT) quickly becoming an everyday reality, companies are exploring ways to use the technology to get closer to their customers. Keurig Green Mountain, the single-serve coffee maker giant, is among them, as it’s now beta-testing a connected coffee maker, said Rachael Schwartz, vice president and general manager at Keurig Connect. “We at Keurig are thinking about using enhanced digital experiences and the Internet of Things in order to transform our relationship with our consumer to be a two-way conversation instead of one-way advertising and dialogue.”

Schwartz said that over the past 20 years, the company has sold some 20 million of its coffee makers on the strength of its innovative system, which allows users to choose their brand and variety and make it fresh when they’re ready to drink it. “We reached these first 20 million consumers organically through providing this delicious coffee in a convenient and personalized way,” she said. “But what we realized over the past few years is that in order to get to the next twenty million homes, we really need to do more than just come up with new coffee makers that have new features and settings—we really need to innovate on the whole customer experience.”

In tests of its connected coffee maker, Keurig has found that the big benefit does not lie with any specific features but rather with the stronger connection with consumers, Schwartz said. “IoT enables this two-way dialogue with the consumer, enables us to feel like we have a conversation with them and go back and forth with them leading to a stronger attachment to the brand,” she added. “The real power in digital marketing comes from assembling a coherent set of technologies that enable a never-ending, self-renewing conversation with your consumer. It can become its own ecosystem that’s always drawing in new voices and new customers.”

Gabi Zijderveld, chief marketing officer at Affectiva, discussed the potential for technology to develop a different kind of connection to consumers: an emotional one. Her company, which provides emotion recognition software and analysis, has identified a shortcoming in human-technology interactions: Because the latter are emotionally unaware, interactions between the two “are at best transactional and superficial and most of the time fairly ineffective,” she said. “So what if technology could detect emotions the way humans can?”

The answer, she said, is to imbue technology with emotional intelligence. “We believe that this merger of IQ and EQ [emotional intelligence quotient] technology is inevitable,” Zijderveld said. “Essentially what we’re doing is bringing this emotional intelligence to technology so that systems can sense and adapt to human emotions, and so that corporations can get emotion data or emotion analytics that gives them much deeper insight into their consumer engagement. We call this artificial emotional intelligence or emotion AI.”

Yet another innovation that came up at the conference was adaptive content, which allows marketers to efficiently tailor messages based on persona and context. “The benefit that you get from adaptive content is the ability to create your content once and deploy it everywhere,” said Juhee Garg, senior product manager at Adobe. “From one single piece of content, I can now create renditions for different devices, for different formats—for example, PDFs or websites—or even different personas. So what you get is a single source of content that is now being used to create different renditions.”

It’s easy to see how this approach would prove useful. If a product name changes, for example, a company would not need to make the change in many different places; instead, the change would be made in a single place and reflected everywhere. Similarly, a company might be translating content for different countries. With adaptive content, the translation only needs to be made in one place. Furthermore, “another huge benefit is that your content is machine deliverable—because you have semantics and contextual information embedded within the content, it can be parsed by machines, which can then understand what kind of content is relevant and where that content should be shown,” Garg said.

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