The use of AI in marketing is a hot topic. According to Salesforce’s State of Marketing Survey from last year, 57% of surveyed marketers say that AI is essential to helping them deliver “a gold standard” for customer journeys. And more than half expect that AI will have a substantial impact across marketing use cases, from productivity (59%) to hyper-personalization of content (61%).
So it’s easy to see why the use of AI in marketing is the talk of our industry. But, according to Cory Treffilletti, CMO of Voicera, we should stop talking about AI. As marketers, we should instead focus on communicating tangible benefits AI in marketing to end users. After all, no one wants to know how the sausage is made.
We caught up with Cory at RampUp on the Road in New York, where he shared his thoughts on not only how to talk about AI without actually saying the letters, but also how to overcome barriers to adopting the technology.
Listen to our podcast interview with Cory below or read the transcript.
RampUp: Cory, thank you for joining us today. Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to Voicera.
Cory: I came here six months ago, and prior to that, I led marketing for the Oracle Data Cloud for three and half years. Before that, I was CMO for BlueKai. BlueKai was acquired by Oracle, and we had two businesses there. We had the DMP and we had the data exchange business, so we utilized the data exchange to then build from the ground up what became the Oracle Data Cloud.
Prior to all that, I was a consultant. Prior to that, I was an agency person. I’d been in that space for quite a long time.
RampUp: What is Voicera, and what do you guys do?
Cory: Voicera provides an enterprise-grade meeting assistant called Eva—which stands for Enterprise Virtual Assistant. It’s a virtual assistant that is on any conference call or at any meeting where you want Eva to be. Eva will dial in, announce its presence, and then listen and take notes to help organize the follow-up for everybody in the meeting so they can be more present and more focused on the conversation. We recently launched our mobile app and Eva can be in the room with you for an in-person meeting taking notes, too. You can even have Eva take notes in meetings you couldn’t attend because you were double booked. It’s a powerful tool for increasing your productivity.
Once that conversation is over, you can look at the notes and the moments that are highlighted. You can edit them and push them into any platform. So, wherever the collaboration in your group happens, if it’s in Slack or Salesforce or some other tool, or if it’s just in an email, Eva will make sure all those notes get out accordingly.
RampUp: So, from a value proposition standpoint for your clients, what are some of the things that you help enable them to do?
Cory: Well, if you take a step back from what we’re doing, there’s a hypothesis that business is built upon what happens in meetings, which are probably where you spend 70% of your time on any given day. But, they’re disconnected from what we call a collaboration workflow. So a lot of collaboration happens in email, Slack, and other tools, but you spend more of your time in meetings. In theory, they should be extremely collaborative, but they’re disconnected from everything else.
So, with Voicera, we put Eva into meetings, and once Eva’s there to gather notes, organize follow-ups, and push it into other systems, what you have now are meetings that can actually be collaborative.
You can be much more present and focused because you’re not distracted by taking notes. You’re not distracted by other things that are happening. So really, the value that we’re trying to create is enhanced presence and focus as well as the connection to the rest of the collaboration workflow.
RampUp: Excellent. So, sort of shifting to the topic of specifically artificial intelligence, can you lay out some basic use cases for AI that the vast majority of marketers are already using, or discuss automation use cases and how those tactics drive results?
Cory: There’s two ways to look at that from my perspective. The first one is for a marketer as an actual person, as a knowledge-based worker, this is the concept that we talk about with the AI exoskeleton, which is that you have too many things to accomplish during the course of your day, and AI and other tools out there exist to augment your ability to get stuff done. It’s like throwing on the Iron Man suit.
So, there are tools like Grammarly, which allows you to write better throughout the course of the day. It helps fix any grammatical errors. You have tools like x.ai, which helps you decrease the amount of time you spend trying to organize your schedule. There’s tools like Waze when you’re getting from point A to point B, and you want to make sure you have the most optimal way to get there. There’s a lot of tools like that which enable the knowledge worker to be significantly smarter about his or her day.
Now, in the marketing environment, specifically, I’m always a little bit wary about companies who lead and talk about AI as the core of their functioning technology. I think it becomes an arrow in the quiver for them to help solve problems, but I do think AI can be used in a lot of ways to either better understand the audience that you’re trying to reach—that is, the ability to extract audience segments from data that you have available to you—or match messages to specific groups of audiences and optimize that delivery.
There are tools like that, and they do a good job. But they’re really focused on the automation of intelligence more so than the artificiality of intelligence, so I think that the term AI is morphing in how people define it.
RampUp: Do you think there are any barriers to adopting different tools and technologies that help to deliver the promise of AI?
Cory: There are some hurdles. One of the hurdles is setting expectations properly. People’s expectations of what technology could do or should do is actually much higher than probably what it’s capable of doing.
Andrew Ng is someone I like to quote a lot. He says that AI exists to automate what takes the human brain between two and three seconds to accomplish, and that’s where it stands right now. Over time, that will continue to increase and expand, but as it is right now, it’s just basic observations and analytics functions that can be automated.
The expectation that consumers have that it needs to be significantly greater than that … that’s going to be a little bit hard to meet. There’s a lot of money, and these are hard problems to solve.
I think what IBM does when they go out and talk about Watson with their TV ads is excellent on the one hand because they’re getting people familiar with the concept of AI and how it helps in day-to-day life. But they’re also setting this expectation that this machine is going to be completely able to understand everything that you say and do everything that you ask it to do. We’re just really far away from that.
RampUp: How far away are we?
Cory: Well if consumers’ expectations can be managed and set properly, a lot of functions can happen within a year or two. But to get to the point where I’m going to sit in my car and tell my car where to bring me to go, and by the time I get there make sure that what I wanted to have for my dinner is ready on the table in front of me—we’re many, many years away from that.
But, I think that in terms of improving or augmenting what any individual can do during the course of the day and allowing them to take those mundane tasks off their plates and focus on more strategic impactful tasks is not far off. I think we’re close to that.
RampUp: So, I think one of the things that is intriguing to me is we’re creating a lot of data that is very personal data in some instances. How do you see that changing the way brands market in the years to come? Does this become a crucial part of a marketer’s dataset, and if so, what’s the fine line from a privacy perspective?
Cory: I think we couldn’t have gotten to this state where we’re talking about AI in marketing unless we had really pushed the boundaries on the world of data. I think we’ve gotten to the state now over the last 10 years where we have more data than we know what to do with. So, now it’s natural that you’re trying to use machines to figure out how to parse through that data, identify the right signals, and do something impactful with it.
I think that you’re going to see, whether it’s consumers or whether it’s a business context, that the job of AI in marketing, in a lot of cases, is to parse that out on your behalf. While there are a lot of new stories around the increasing need of data scientists in the enterprise, I think it’s just simply too much data for any data scientist to actually sift through on their own.
I think that’s where we’re seeing companies utilize these tools properly. How do I make sense and prioritize all the different types of data that are available to me and find the ones that are going to be most impactful? How does that have a step-fold increase on the efficacy of whatever I’m trying to achieve?
RampUp: With regards to some of the roadblocks that you may face or that marketers are running into in selling AI investments for automation, how can they overcome those roadblocks?
Cory: Let me answer the question in a different way. There was an article I read this morning about the idea that people aren’t going to be investing in AI because AI is going to be table stakes. The best examples were that every company is cloud-based now. Every company works off of data. Every company has computers in it. Every company has electricity.
It’s almost going to be that kind of status quo, so I think that we’re going to get to a point where it’s just understood that there’s probably some element of AI on the back end that’s helping to increase the function of any business, whether it’s in marketing or other elements of the business. It’s going to be there regardless, so I don’t think it becomes an area of focus. I think it just becomes something that the IT teams are looking at as a tool.
So, from a hurdle perspective, I actually think the hurdle is getting too much consumer understanding around it. I don’t think that we need to be focused so much on talking about it. We need to talk about what it makes possible.
So, from a marketer’s perspective, it’s asking how do I go out there and say what my solution does better than somebody else? And for the consumer or the end user, whether it’s business or personal, I don’t think they really care about how it gets done. Not many people who get on an airplane day-to-day really care how the airplane flies. They just trust that they can go from New York to L.A. and have a meeting and be safe.
So, I think that we’re overemphasizing the need to market AI to end consumers unless you are accompanying, once again, an IBM or somebody else who is at that scale. That becomes a major differentiation factor for them, but it’s really only a differentiation for now.
RampUp: As you were talking, I’m thinking how it would transform experiences for individuals. So from an Eva perspective and as technology gets more interconnected, how does that really change your day-to-day functions and give you the ability to focus on what you really need to focus on?
Cory: If you look at what Amazon’s doing with Alexa and what Apple is doing with Siri, what all these companies are doing is not talking about AI. You don’t see the word AI, or actually the letters AI, in any of their marketing. What you see them doing is talking about convenience, time savings, or fun.
I get an email every week from Alexa, and it talks about all the cool things I can do like play Bingo or Jeopardy! or understand what’s going on in the world today. I sit down with my kids and we use Alexa in that way, from a fun perspective.
Nobody is sitting here telling me about the natural language processing systems that Amazon is pioneering on a daily basis to improve how I talk to this machine sitting in my living room because my kids don’t care. I think it’s just about the end use case that this tool provides.
The voice interface is probably the most important component because being able to talk to technology is significantly more interesting to me than having to learn how to use a new UI. All these things are extremely complicated, and it takes a PhD to learn how to use them. If I could just talk to them and have them become voice activated, that’s way more interesting to me.
RampUp: They get smarter over time, right?
RampUp: I’m one of the few people who still doesn’t have an Alexa, and I never use Siri and things like that, so I’m a resistor, I guess, but I think it’s really interesting to understand how it can transform the way you go about your daily life.
Cory: You’re not a resistor, per se. You haven’t had the epiphanies to where it actually makes sense for you. I spend a lot of time in my car commuting to my office, and I use everything through voice in my car now.
I will constantly send myself emails by saying hey, send myself an email, and here’s what I want it to say. I am constantly changing the navigation system. I’m changing the radio. I’m changing the music. I’m listening to podcasts using my voice because it’s safer that way.
If I’m driving, I want to be focused, so that to me, was where I had the epiphany. In my house, I have different use cases for the tools there, whether it’s Alexa or Google or Siri, and different use cases at work.
It comes down to when you have that epiphany about something that makes sense to you. No amount of marketing is going to make you try something because the AI is more advanced than somebody else’s. That’s not important to you.
RampUp: What piece of advice would you give to marketers who are exploring how to become more automated?
Cory: I would go back to a piece of advice that I got when I talked to the CMO of Intel last year. Time flies. What he had said was they don’t talk about it at Intel. They talk about what Intel makes possible, and I co-opted that line for everything.
When I was talking about data, nobody wanted to talk about data. It’s not a romantic concept to talk about. So, you talk about what data makes possible. I went to customers and we said stop talking about data; talk about what data makes possible. Their ears and mouths opened up.
Now it’s, don’t talk about AI. Talk about what AI makes possible. Don’t talk about the future, even. Talk about what the future makes possible, because it always comes down to the personal meaning what is the benefit to me as an individual, or what’s the benefit to my company if I’m an executive in that company.
It always comes down to you, and it sounds extremely selfish, but not in a bad way. All technology exists to make your life better, so explain to me whether it’s in a business context, as a marketer, or whether it’s a personal context as a consumer.
Do I have more free time in my day? Can I get to those things that were on my list that I couldn’t get done because I was stuck doing expense reports and calendaring? Can I spend more time with my kids because I don’t have to spend another three hours today sifting through the notes at my meeting?
Those are the kinds of things that consumers care about.
RampUp: So, I have one last question. As a CMO, what are some of your biggest challenges?
Cory: My biggest challenge is prioritization of all the different tools and all the arrows I have in that quiver. I use that analogy a lot because it’s like Green Arrow. I used to like comic books when I was younger.
He had all these different arrows. The exploding arrow. The pinpoint arrow. The titanium arrow. When do you use which arrow? Which arrow is going to net me the most benefit at that moment in time, because there is actually a science to shooting arrows in a successive order?
So, that’s the biggest problem I have right now. No AI or no machine learning and no technology is going to help me to do that. For me, it comes down to understand the audience I’m trying to go after. What is the benefit to them, the personal message to them that’s going to resonate, and how do I push that message out?
Which arrow gets shot in which order? Am I skilled enough to hit the target? I think every single day I wake up worried that I’m not good enough at my job, but I think that’s actually a good thing because if I woke up one day and I said that I’m great at my job, then I’d probably wouldn’t strive to get any better.