We recently interviewed Justin Norwood, Chief Strategist for IBM Watson Trend App regarding a fascinating development in cognitive computing.
This has the potential of being a game changer for consumers and brands alike.

Following is Justin’s reply to 4 questions we asked;

1. What is one marketing topic that is most important to you as an innovator?

Personalization at scale. While 1-to-1 marketing has long been the aspirational goal, in practice most retailers are falling far short of delivering on the goal at scale. I believe that cognitive computing – of which IBM Watson is the leading example – is the missing link to making mass personalization a reality.

Many people know Watson from Jeopardy! but it’s come a long way since then. Today Watson represents a new era in computing where systems understand the world in the way that humans do. Watson continuously learns, gaining knowledge over time, and it engages with people in a way that helps them quickly discover new things that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

2. Why is this so important?

Customers have been over-marketed to — receiving scores of irrelevant, untimely messages and offers every day. This has numbed the collective senses of consumers and distanced people emotionally from the retailers and brands that they buy from. Shoppers long for serendipitous moments — when a retailer seems to know them as an individual, sends the right message or offer at the right time, and delivers an exceptional experience. Shoppers want to be known by the companies they buy from – not as a segment or cohort, but as an individual.

3. How will the customer experience be improved by this?

A good example is our new iOS app, IBM Watson Trend, which can be downloaded for free. Shoppers can use the app to understand why people are buying certain products or brands this holiday season, and it also can tell what products will be hot next, before they sell out. The app does this by distilling sentiment of tens of millions of online conversations found in 10,000 sources across social media sites, blogs, forums, comments, ratings and reviews – something no human being could do.

The app has already improved my personal gift giving experience. I am a father of two girls, and my eldest daughter, who is 10, recently expressed her interest in building robots. We have looked for robot kits online and even visited a local hobby store, but we never found quite what we were looking for. Then last weekend I found the Meccanoid personal robot trend on the Watson Trend app. Meccanoid robots are targeted at 8 to 12 year olds (perfect for my daughter!) and come ready to assemble and program. I want to encourage my daughter’s interest in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), so buying the Meccanoid is a no-brainer, but I doubt I would have found it without the insights of the app.

4. How will this improve the effectiveness of marketing?

In today’s world of mass marketing and segmentation, there is so much inefficiency in the system. As marketers, our expectation of conversion rates is dismally low. But we aspire to something higher — we want to create unbreakable bonds between our brands and customers. We want to know our customers and exceed their expectations, and when we do, customer satisfaction and conversion rates will grow exponentially.

There’s a philosophy at my company that a customer’s last, best interaction with a brand becomes their minimal expectation for every future interaction with any brand. At present, the expectation for serendipitous moments (such as finding the Meccanoid robot) is rarely being met, so customers are disappointed on a consistent basis. But with the right insights, retailers and brands can design mass personalization at scale for every shopper who decides to opt in. And for those shoppers, I think the serendipity uncovered by cognitive computing will become a normal course of daily life.

For additional Marketing Innovator stories, click here.