Intelligent tech – what Microsoft’s Cognitive Services means for digital marketers

Written by Katie Tucker - 17 May 2018

The dawn of cloud computing has given way to the artificial intelligence (AI) boom and it’s an exciting time for marketers. Never before have we had such a powerful opportunity to transform customer experience with intelligent automation and next-level personalisation.

Machine learning enables us to anticipate and react to customers’ needs in real time. We can improve internal operations, boost lead generation, and map out and enhance the customer journey. AI is being used to automate processes that previously took lots of time, freeing up marketing teams to focus more on strategy and sales.

In this fast-paced digital world, it’s precious time worth having if your business is to stand out from the crowd.

You don’t have to look far to see AI in action in the marketing world. We’ve been using algorithms for years – to target our ads to the right people, to understand and forecast customer behaviour through sophisticated predictive modelling, and – love them or hate them – to manage customer relationships in real time through increasingly intelligent chatbots.

But the difference is; now our tech is able to understand context, meaning and emotion, and from a marketing perspective, that’s a whole new world of opportunity.

The good news is you don’t need to be a data scientist to harness the power of machine learning.

With the giants of tech unlocking the door to AI via easy-to-use tools and accessible technologies – like IBM’s supercomputer Watson, and Microsoft’s Cognitive Services APIs – more and more businesses can experience a slice of the AI pie.

The beauty of machine learning is you can train it. Just like the human brain, we can teach the systems we use to match not only words, images and key phrases, but to recognise and understand the context behind those things. The more you train it, the more it learns, and more efficient it becomes. It’s brain training, on a supermassive scale.

If we look at the simple example of the chatbot –previously it worked by matching just words and phrases to serve the user what it thought was the relevant answer. Now, it can understand natural language to decipher the meaning and intent of the user’s request, and respond in a humanised way with relevant information.

Context is king

The shift into understanding natural language is reflective of where search has been going for a number of years. If we look at how we type or speak queries into search engines, we do it conversationally. We ask Google questions, in text, by voice or use visual search to show it pictures and expect it to identify them. We expect the machine (Google) to understand what we mean (the context), and give us exactly what we want.

When customers are browsing your website, they expect a relevant, personalised experience. For them to interact with you on social media, they expect targeted content that answers their questions, solves their problems or inspires them to interact.

It’s this rising customer expectation and demand for higher relevancy that’s been a catalyst for the growth in AI tech, and if improving your customer experience is important to your business, it’s a bandwagon worth jumping on.

How your business can get started with Microsoft Cognitive Services

Let’s take a deeper look at one of the systems making AI accessible to the masses, Microsoft’s Cognitive Services. A product of the tech giant’s own manifesto to ‘empower every person and every organisation to do more’ through AI, this technology can be easily integrated into your existing systems to enhance customer experience and internal operations, and we’re very excited about it here at Fresh Egg!

It’s an open AI platform split into four APIs that your developers can effectively ‘plug into’ – Vision, Language, Speech and Knowledge. Using these systems on your website and digital channels will enable your teams to solve a host of business problems through powerful automation:

  • Personalise your customers’ experience with targeted product recommendations and semantic search
  • Save time with image-processing algorithms to smartly identify, caption and moderate your pictures
  • Evaluate sentiment across your website and social channels to learn how to recognise what users want.

Save time with smart image matching and cropping (Vision API)

We’ve been testing the Vision API and are very excited about the image matching and smart cropping capabilities to streamline processes and automate workflow when building or editing websites.

Image matching

The Microsoft Vision API is able to take text or graphical data to understand not just the content of an image, but the context. So instead of recognising just what is in the image – a man, a bicycle, a road – it’s now possible to understand the context around this – a man who looks happy, riding a black and red road bicycle with dropped handlebars and clipless pedals.

For example, if a bike shop website had the functionality for a user to upload a photo of a product they liked, (a black and red road bike with dropped handlebars and clipless pedals), the system would search the site for bikes with similar looks and features to serve back to the customer.

It might not be accurate to start, but the key aspect of AI is the systems’ ability to learn. Computers can be trained with massive databases of pre-classified images (images that already have tags describing what they are), enabling them to continually improve their image recognition. The system’s new understanding of characteristics and key features is then applied to future images, creating a powerful recognition tool.

From a usability perspective, this could be a much more engaging way to search and navigate websites with highly targeted and more personalised results.

Smart cropping

Another great feature of the Vision API is the ability to autocrop images and preserve the area of interest by understanding where the main focus of the image is. This might not sound like much, but for websites with lots of product images in different sizes (thumbnails, landing pages, galleries, etc.) this is invaluable and will save development teams many hours work having to create several versions with different orientations.

Now, you can upload one image, and the system crops and resizes however many ways you tell it to whilst still keeping the composition and framing of the focal point.

This comes into its own on mobile and is a great tool for optimising image content on your site to reduce site speed. Combined with smart image matching it presents a host of opportunities for developers to simplify processes, and optimise personalisation and onsite experience for customers.

Understand customer sentiment and enhance content auditing (Language API)

The Language API offers lots of interesting capabilities for businesses, such as text analysis and language understanding. The exciting thing about this is it can be run across your whole website, blog, social feeds and more, to detect language and topics, understand tone of voice and sentiment.

We see this as a perfect tool for content auditing, as it will very quickly paint a picture of how your audience perceives you and the tone of voice you’re putting out on your channels. It’s particularly useful also for developing a consistent brand personality across your website, social media and digital comms.

For example, you could run the Language API with text analysis and language understanding over your business’ social feeds to uncover what main topics users are talking about and what the sentiment of their conversations are.

Or, you could run it on your forums or contact form submissions to identify and prioritise support tickets depending on urgency or which products are most mentioned as problematic.

Alternatively, running it over your company blog might identify that you’re not the giving optimistic and positive advice you thought you were but instead focusing on negative language and therefore are not engaging or empowering users.

This insight is available in seconds and is abundant. The more you teach it, the more it learns, the smarter it gets, with infinite possibilities. In short – it’s a web developer’s dream.

Transform your data insight into action for your business (Knowledge API)

We’ve already written about the big data problem and how to make sense of the data deluge. With the Knowledge API the hard work is done for you, able to analyse vast amounts of data to draw links where people couldn’t before.

In terms of marketing automation and personalisation, this is incredibly powerful but it doesn’t stop there. Microsoft has big plans to use its AI platform to transform the lives of those living with disabilities , (the Vision API in particular helping blind people to ‘see’ and interpret the world around them with smart glasses, for example).

The Knowledge API has already helped the medical industry by analysing vast amounts of data to make connections where people couldn’t before, to help identify symptoms to diagnose illnesses in patients, for example.

Machines saving the world and we don’t even have proper flying cars yet. Who’da thunk it?

Build responsive, reactive app experiences (Speech API)

Powered by Bing, the speech API is perfect for building smart apps that are triggered by voice for a more responsive, reactive app experience. It works by converting audio to text and can understand intent to convert it back to speech again for natural responsiveness. Voice recognition has been a thing for a long time but the difference here is it understands natural language and tone, and tries to emulate it.

This new world of powerful AI technology holds many exciting opportunities for web developers, marketers and audiences across the board. It can transform workflow for web teams, mine and present new data insight that we would never be able to do ourselves, and offers next-level customisation and personalised experiences to customers.

Can you tell we’re just a teeny bit excited here at Fresh Egg? We’ve already been testing and can’t wait to see how we can use this to create a richer, smarter and more streamlined experience for our clients’ customers.

The opportunities are endless. Lets talk some more.