IBM Watson and the Not-So-Distant Future of AI in Digital Marketing

There’s a great deal of mystery around the future of artificial intelligence (AI) and how it will shape the workforce. But we won’t have to wait much longer to find out.

The term AI conjures up a range of images for people, most of which might center around sinister robots taking over the world. But more often, today’s AI is specific, rather than generalized, learning how to undertake a specific task through a combination of self-learning and human input.

Within the last few years, basic AI has become part of our daily lives, in the form of Facebook news feeds, Siri and Alexa. It has also begun entering various workplaces and industries, including marketing.

IBM’s openly available Watson AI tools are already being leveraged by companies to build cognitive marketing tools that have the power to change marketers’ day-to-day tasks. Hubspot recently hosted a webinar to discuss how AI is shaping the near future of marketing by both augmenting our capabilities as marketers and changing the nature of our jobs.

IBM Watson’s Alyssa Simpson and Equals 3’s Scott Lipman shared insights on the state of AI in marketing today and predictions on how it will continue to evolve in the coming years. They also tackled a few common questions surrounding both the excitement and fear this technology is inspiring, namely: Will humans even have marketing jobs in the future?

Here are a few takeaways from the panel on the state of AI and marketing.

It’s already available for certain use cases.

No, the panelists said, you don’t need to worry about a computer stealing your job any time soon. Today’s AI is focused on automating repetitive tasks and making data easier to search and apply. AI is being implemented to support marketers in many ways, including the following:

Research and database queries

Lucy, the brainchild of Lipman and his team at Equals 3, is a research assistant built on IBM Watson’s machine learning technology. Lucy utilizes AI to search many different data sources within a company’s network and the Internet all from one window, saving time for marketers and their co-workers on tracking down files and information.

“Lucy is the cognitive companion to the marketing professional, built for the Fortune 1000 and the agencies that serve them,” Lipman said. “The problem we set out to solve working with Watson is the idea that marketers have so much content in so many different systems: their own databases, marketing analytics, website analytics, media data, third-party data, and their own documents like powerpoints and PDFs. Lucy is a SaaS that lives in IBM’s Blue Mix environment that has three major components: research, audience and persona modeling, and helping with media planning.”

Lipman demoed the power of Lucy by examining some timely, real-life examples. When asked “What is the latest information on self-driving cars?” Lucy provided a list of responses relying on natural language processing built in by Watson, as well as Equals 3’s training and feedback. With a 94% level of confidence, Lucy compiled information on levels of audience interest, attitudes and opinions about self-driving cars. Then, Lipman was able to mark the best responses as relevant, giving Lucy the feedback she needed to provide even better responses for the next search.

Lucy can also get granular within documents. Lipman asked Lucy to find a detailed SWOT analysis for Tesla. Not only was Lucy able to quickly pull it up and link Lipman to the source, she was also able to scan the entire document and answer specific questions about it, saving Lipman from having to read the entire document.

It was pointed out that Lucy could have aided marketing teams with the recent United Airlines debacles. After getting into hot water for dragging a passenger off a flight, United Airlines likely tried to quantify just how negatively the viral incident affected their brand.

In this example, Lucy was able to scan research from a variety of news and social media sources to provide marketing insights, relaying that 74% of current online mentions of United Airlines were negative. Further, she provided sources, the volume of mentions, tonality per article, hashtag and image associations, and more. This data could be used in a range of situations, but most notably to provide a baseline to help track whether United is rebounding from the incident in the coming months.

Tonal understanding

As humans, we know that it isn’t just what you say — it’s how you say it. Oftentimes, when things get lost in translation, especially online or through text messages, it is due to a lack of tonal understanding.

IBM’s Watson team has recognized the pressing need for computers and humans alike to be able to decipher a person’s tone along with the content of their communication. They’ve been working on a tonality tool to help companies better understand how to approach customer service calls.

“Watson is like a well-funded startup within IBM,” Simpson said. “We’re creating technologies that are, at the platform level, a series of APIs that each do discrete functions. Our tone analyzer takes text and analyzes the tone of that conversation. For example, if you’re interacting with a customer service agent and you are frustrated, we can understand that you’re frustrated and help escalate that call faster or direct you to the right place. Emotion is interesting because reasonable humans can disagree around what emotion is included in a phrase. Emotion is a multi-faceted way of expressing yourself, including facial expression, tone of voice, actual words and context of situation. It’s a very tricky space, but very exciting.”

At least in the near future, AI will be a competitive advantage for marketers — not a job killer.

Today’s AI is designed to help you and your customers solve real problems. Rather than replacing marketers, current AI tools are more like personal assistants that help you be a more effective employee, save time, better understand and serve customers, and make decisions based off sound data.

“I think the businesses that complement the talented individual with an AI companion will outperform those who don’t adopt or embrace AI at all or those who rely too heavily on AI to do the job itself,” Lipman said. “This is all about supplementing and enhancing the individual. We’re going to see more expected of marketing departments and agencies, and they’ll keep up with AI. More will be expected, but more will be achievable.”

“That’s 100% how IBM talks about this,” Simpson added. “We see this as man plus machine; it’s about the partnership between humans and cognitive technologies. We talk about AI as “augmented intelligence,” augmenting what humans are already doing and extending that to help them do things they couldn’t do before.”

The water is warm for entrepreneurs looking to create solutions that solve marketing problems.

Now is the time to start thinking about how AI could be molded to create change in the industry — or at least for your own company. By entering the space now, you’ll be ahead of the curve and will face less competition for your idea or product.

Lipman is a prime example of an innovator who didn’t know much about AI, but immediately recognized the potential it had for his company.

“I’ve always been fascinated with the AI space,” Lipman said. “Two years ago it became clear that IBM was making available the Watson platform to developers, so I sat down with my team and asked what we could do with it. We thought about all the marketing technology platforms we’ve stood up over the years, and thought what if we could bring the power of Watson to bring all of that data together?”

Thus, Lucy was born. However, it is important to note that most of the marketing departments you’d be selling your solutions to don’t have a line item in their budget for AI products or may not know what to do with it. It’s up to you to help them overcome prior notions of what AI is, and guide them to see how AI can solve their problems.

“I think one of the challenges that AI has is it’s been a promise for the last 50 or 60 years,” Simpson said. “Hollywood has promised this ‘magic future world,’ so there’s a lot of pre-existing ideas around what this will be and should be. We’re just starting to see in the last five years this being used by businesses at scale to solve real problems. So people are having to learn what’s ‘magic’ and what’s [really available] ‘now.’ The other side is figuring out what problems to apply this to; it’s just a tool. For example, I can sell you a knife but the magic happens when you as a chef have to apply it to build a masterful dinner.

“It’s up to our customers and the users to make that magic happen and apply it to particular industries and business problems. You have to understand how the tool works and what you can do with it, and to understand the limitations. Then, you must decide how you want to take the tool and apply it to a problem you care about.”

It’s not just for coders or computer scientists.

In fact, IBM has designed Watson so specifically to help businesspeople and marketers (rather than replace them) that it enables non-technical folks to create AI software.

Anyone can begin playing around with the Watson technology for free by going to the IBM Watson site and creating a Blue Mix account. IBM’s Learning Lab contains a bevy of resources to help you understand a few use cases and get started, even if you’re not a programmer. In fact Simpson, who is IBM’s director of product management, doesn’t come from a tech background.

“There’s an idea that this is hard, but I have a Liberal Arts degree,” Simpson said. “I don’t code on a regular basis, but I use AI and can use these developer tools.

“As an example, I got tired of people asking me the same question over and over so I built a chatbot. An hour later, I was done. I want to dispel the myth that this is hard or expensive. These APIs are inexpensive and can scale as you grow.”

Regardless of your role as a marketer, you’re likely going to come across AI in more than one way in the next couple of years. You can either be an adopter and adapt to these changes as they become the norm; or, if you’re an entrepreneur interested in leveraging the next wave of opportunity, it may be time to put on your developer hat.

Kickstart Your Startup By Taking Marketing Notes from Crowdfunding Successes

I was wasting valuable time on Facebook yesterday when I noticed an acquaintance promoting her Kickstarter campaign. I’m all about supporting small business ventures and clicked the link, only to realize she was requesting donations to “better herself through an educational trip to Paris.” In between heavy cringing and judgmental thoughts, I did have to admit to myself it was bold and somewhat innovative — and began thinking about how crowdfunding platforms have evolved into quite powerful and accessible marketing tools for all types of ventures.

Kickstarter has become the de facto crowdfunding platform for launching successful businesses, new products and, apparently, even vacations. In 2015, Pebble Time set the record for the most money raised in its Kickstarter campaign for smartwatches, coming in at just over $20 million. Even a less technically innovative project, such as the Exploding Kittens card game “for people who are into kittens and explosions and laser beams and sometimes goats” cracked the top ten most successful Kickstarters list, raising nearly 88,000% of its initial goal.

How does this relate to you and your startup? Because regardless of whether you’ve got a great idea for an innovative tech product or an innovative card game, your marketing strategy can play a key role in making, breaking or surpassing your business goals. While crowdfunding to create a toy isn’t exactly the same as looking for backers to launch your own business, there are quite a few strategic marketing lessons startups can glean from the most successful Kickstarter projects.

Video is worth…well, more words than anyone is willing to read these days

Recent studies say humans now have shorter attention spans than goldfish…but then again, I only paid attention long enough to read the headline. This means you’ve got a limited amount of time to capture potential customers’ attention to get them interested and invested in your brand. The most popular Kickstarters of the past show your best bet to accomplish this is by creating a video.

Kickstarter projects that include a video have a much higher success rate than those that do not (50% vs. 30%), and also tend to raise more money. The same is true of businesses, as seen by video conversion rates whether they’re utilized on social media, emails or on your website. One-third of all online activity is spent watching videos, and putting a video on a landing page can increase conversions by 80%.

Kickstarter suggests following three simple guidelines to film a quality video: clear audio, ample lighting, and footage of you and what you’re making (your story). Incorporating these three elements are that basis of creating any great video, regardless of budget or experience.

That third element is something startups sometimes struggle with. It’s not enough to tell the “what” of your business; you have to tell the “why” behind the brand to get viewers to care. Kickstarter recommends asking yourself these six questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What are you planning to make?
  • Where did this project come from?
  • What’s your plan and schedule?
  • What’s your budget?
  • Why do you care?

By incorporating these elements into your video, you can show the personality and passion behind your efforts, which is what gets viewers invested. Enjoyment of video ads increases purchase intent by 97% and brand recognition by 139%. And if you still need to further quantify it, note this: the latest research estimates a one-minute video is worth about 1.8 million words.

Here’s an example of a well-done video for the record-setting Pebble Time campaign that incorporates the suggested elements.

Take your startup’s supporters behind the scenes

There is a reason Kickstarter recommends you start your video by answering who you are. When you are asking people to invest in a young, unestablished idea, you are really asking them to invest in you. Make your early backers feel they are responsible for and part of your business’s success in a few ways:

  • Show the product or service in action through video or photos on your website.
  • Update your blog regularly with insight on production and progress from your perspective.
  • Give followers sneak peeks of upcoming product launches or news on social media.
  • You can even throw an event or walkthrough at your startup for your first customers / investors or followers to thank them for their early investment.

For a great example of the “behind the curtain” technique, take a look at this Kickstarter for a short film called “Wonder.” The filmmakers of “Wonder” took backers behind the scenes by introducing the cast and crew, explaining the passion behind the script and laying out the budget. They even included a section on the risks and challenges they faced filming a movie on a tight budget for complete transparency, which created empathy and trust with supporters.

Make like Oprah and give something away

Give away content like you're Oprah.

Take it from the piles of free branded t-shirts I received in college that are still hanging proudly in my closet — people love giveaways and it hardly matters what the piece actually is. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a physical piece of swag, such as a button or poster. My personal favorite part of checking out Kickstarters is what they offer supporters, and I’ve seen creative giveaways range from credits on a movie to a band’s hand-painted old Volvo for the highest backer.

From a business standpoint, content can be one of a startup’s most effective giveaways. Free educational content that’s relevant to your industry is a great giveaway for a few reasons: it creates a relationship with a potential customer, builds recognition and respect for your brand, and grows your email list all at the same time. Think about what type of content your brand could offer that would be valuable but also leave the customer wanting more. This could range from an eBook to an email series that teaches them something new or a webinar that presents you as an industry thought leader.

Talk to your startup’s customers early and often

Let’s say you’ve followed the steps above and have already made a sale. Congrats! Now, don’t spend too long celebrating before reengaging with this customer. One of the reasons Kickstarter campaigns are so successful is because they constantly update supporters on the project’s progress, successes and even failures.

Create a marketing strategy focused on keeping customers engaged once they have made a purchase from you. This should involve engaging your customers soon after they first make contact with you and on a recurring basis. One proven way of doing that is to send out a drip campaign to customers after they make a purchase or sign up for your service. This content can be a combination of promotions and personalized interaction.

For example, ask your customers to take a survey of their experience working with you to improve upon pain points in the checkout or customer service process. If your business depends on a one-time sale, you can send your customers a thank you note for their support and a discount code to encourage them to return to your business. If your startup is a SaaS, you can send customers information on getting the most out of your offering along with recommendations for related services. You’re not only educating the customer, you’re learning what elements of your business might be most valuable to their broader needs.

On average, repeat customers make up 40% of a business’s total revenue. Not only are they valuable in terms of revenue; it take less time and marketing effort to sell to someone already in your funnel than to find and convert new customers. By following up with customers and keeping them in the loop regarding updates on your startup, your brand will stay top of mind and also appears transparent, building trust and respect.

Deliver on your promises

How often have you backed a Kickstarter project only to find yourself receiving it a year or more after it was promised (or not receiving it at all)? Sadly, a lot of well-intentioned startups end up with similar reputations.

Don’t be that startup. Don’t get so caught up in creating an out-of-the-box marketing strategy that you deliver a substandard product or fail to deliver your product on time. Make your business and project timelines transparent from the get go, and continue to update customers on progress in the ways suggested throughout this post. The underlying motive behind all of these tips is to build your customers’ trust in a yet-to-be-proved idea. Once you break that trust, there’s no gaining those jaded customers back. It takes years to win a customer and only seconds to lose one.”

Check out Kickstarter’s Creator Handbook for more tips you can leverage into your startup’s marketing plan. And if you’re ready to take your marketing to the next level, contact Dreamtown Creative and let us help you kickstart your business.

Read Our Guest Column for Kapost

By Amanda Farmer, Dreamtown Strategic Director


If you’ve ever turned to our benevolent overlord the Internet for marketing advice, chances are you’ve landed on a Kapost article. As a platform for content marketers, Kapost really practices what it preaches, running a highly strategic, consistent, quality content program that gives it excellent pagerank for most content-related searches.

Being a content writer and strategist myself, I was certainly aware enough of Kapost to feel flattered when its editorial team asked me to become a guest contributor to their blog, The Marketeer.

We started with a series of posts centered around frequently searched content marketing definitions and will be tackling some more in-depth issues in the coming weeks, including how B2B tech marketers can more effectively market to IT teams.

Until then, take a look at some of my recent contributions. Enjoy!


On content marketing:

The Content Audit: What Horrors Await?

Ask someone to perform a content audit, and it sounds pretty straightforward. Sit down to actually perform a content audit, and you’ll find yourself in a circle of hell that Dante dared not speak of. I exaggerate. But barely. You’ll be challenged by a number of beasts during your journey through Content Audit Hell, which always begins in the Valley of Inventory. The first beast you’ll meet, fittingly, has no specific name. We’ll call him “Ambiguity.” Read more


Content marketing definitions:

Content Strategy

You may think that writing a blog post on the definition of a self-explanatory term like “content strategy” is just an SEO ploy. Well… ok, you’re partly right. But before you get all smarty-pants smug, let me ask you a question. Does your company have a documented content strategy? Not an editorial calendar—a content strategy. Read more

Content Marketing Workflow

Are you one of those people who loves making lists? As a child, did you buy fresh notebooks and flip through the pages, inhaling the scent, before finally committing that first, perfect stroke in glossy ink, tingling in anticipation over the moment you’d later cross through it with a single, straight line? You sound like kind of a weird kid. Were your parents worried? Read more

Editorial Calendars for Brand Publishers

For centuries before the idea of “brands as publishers” came along and gave a generation of marketing writers renewed job security, traditional publishers used editorial calendars, or ed cals, to plan upcoming stories and help advertisers choose their insertion schedules. That hasn’t changed, but today, brands have co-opted the editorial calendar, in name and essence, as a way to plan and manage their content marketing programs. Read more

Content Production

Because the vast majority of any content marketing program relates to research, strategy, and analysis, some might call content production the “fun” part. It is, after all, the point in the process when your uptight, left-brained strategists finally unleash a horde of neurotic, right-brained creatives to turn your plan into reality. (Sometimes the same person is responsible for both strategy and production—take it from me, you don’t want to hear the conversations going on in that head.) Read more

Production Analytics

I’ve always loved mindless tasks. I remember the day a supervisor at my first job decided she’d reward me for good creative work by taking away all the mindless, entry-level tasks I’d been responsible for—reports, restocking paper, you name it. It was hard to hide my disappointment. Read more

Dessert Content

Content masters create campaigns the same way master chefs create multi-course meals. They think of each course as part of a journey through distinctive but thematically unified experiences. (Now re-read that in Anthony Bourdain’s voice. Much cooler, right? Feel free to have him narrate the rest of this post.) Read more

Content Pillar

You might have never heard the term before, but if you’re running a content marketing program, chances are you’ve worked with content pillars in the past. A content pillar is simply an in-depth piece of content, such as an eBook, whitepaper, video, or research report, that can be broken out into many smaller assets, such as blog posts, infographics, and emails. Read more


If this is your first time hearing the word “microblog,” I know exactly what you’re thinking. [meme: What is this? A blog for ANTS?!] Common misconception. Read more