The British philosopher Gilbert Ryle described this position as a „Ghost in the Machine.” The machine is, of course, the body, while the spirit is the collective mind, soul, and intelligence of the individual, which makes us unique and efficient. Without the „spirit,” the machine is nothing more than a passive tool that only works when someone requires, it is not able to operate proactively.
The text was initially published in May 2019. However, its second part will soon see the light of day, so I decided to update it a bit. Therefore, in several places, you will see footnotes updating my view and clarifying some issues. Enjoy your read!
Let’s be honest: in one way or another, we are all guilty of manipulating others almost every day. But there is nothing to be ashamed about; there is nothing wrong, in principle, although the word „manipulate” sounds a bit harsh.
Most of the messages we exchange are intended to convince, leaving a good impression. The belief is that the other person will benefit from our smart words. We continuously act on each other in the social space. Some people do it better, others worse; some more often, others perhaps too rarely. Classic marketing tries to do it all the time.
Have you ever had that feeling when you step into a store, and your eyes are bombarded with zillions of messages, not necessarily tailored to your preferences?
When Reed Hastings, co-founder, Chairman and CEO of Netflix, was asked, „How many versions of the application are available?” he instantly replied: „As many as users.” A very catchy answer, in addition to being 100% true.
Actually, that's about 80% true. Netflix puts you into several different cohorts. This means that in a particular (often only known to Netflix) aspect, you fit into a group of other users. In practice, however, what it displays to you on the homepage is a compilation of several different sets, creates the illusion of full personalization. With Spotify, which I'll also mention immediately below, it's similar.
Artificial Intelligence techniques - the hero of this text - are mainly based on illusion and sometimes cheap tricks. There is nothing wrong with that. If something is stupid but works, it means that it is not stupid.
Netflix is just one big framework of recommendations, in which (almost) each tile is set by algorithms. It is like a good friend you’ve known since childhood, who has watched every film, animation, and series since the invention of the camera and is just waiting for you to ask for help. Spotify, for instance, is an audiophile friend who recognizes your preferences and knows how to surprise you.
Google is a class leader who knows the answer to every question, learns every time you ask something, and can predict biased queries.
At the time, we had not yet written much about natural speech processing. In fact, it was long before, for example, BERT was implemented. If you are curious about this aspect of artificial intelligence, be sure to check out the section on NLP on our blog.
What makes all these apps proactive? The spirit, of course – Artificial Intelligence (AI). They learn automatically. There is no reason why your online store shouldn’t have such a spirit!
Ghost Intelligence listens…
Let’s take a step back and see how it looks offline… Active selling is an essential part of the marketing strategy of any store – from big chains to small shops.
An experienced salesman who knows his customer well knows what products to offer to suit his preferences. Merchandise display is a science (you can ask Sam Walton about it)! A smart shop owner will know how to organize products in a way to optimize cross-selling, upselling, and branding. By using short questions, a clerk can specify his client’s needs and skillfully examine his preferences.
Consider for a moment: you are at a drugstore, and this “perfect salesperson” is helping you. Would you believe him? Would you be fooled by his tricks?
Some of us probably yes. It depends on our personality. Most customers, however, instead of “falling for” his brilliant handling skills, words, and charisma, would withdraw.
So, what makes a multi-level combination of an online store marketing effective, even though it’s just trying to be the “perfect salesperson”?
Ghost in the machine
The dualism mentioned earlier is only one of the positions in the philosophy of psychology. Some philosophers didn’t believe in such a division. Still – we all have both thoughts and bodies.
In the case of Spotify, Google, Netflix, this is not obvious to the average person. The ease and pleasure of using them are simply the „ease and pleasure” of using a tool or a pharmacy. The average user is not aware of being under permanent analysis, in some way claiming the merit of a positive experience. The spirit is invisible.
The strength of a marketer is, or it should be, that his customer does not notice his existence (spirit). At the same time, his store (body) deals with a skillful sale, as the marketer expects. At edrone, we name this „dualism” as the Marketing Machine.
“I Like the Melodies I’ve Heard Before”
Customers [people] don’t like changes. Most of the time, they choose to it out of necessity or under the influence of a strong impulse.
Therefore, the goal is to offer what is most likely to be desired. Whether the customer will buy these products (and whether this is what you should care about) is another matter.
By the way, have you ever recommended a song, a movie, a series, or a book to a friend? It’s definitely not an easy task. Notwithstanding, one of the components of Spotify’s success is smart recommendations that allow you to broaden your musical tastes. These songs seem to be new, but they’re still somehow "Your favorite" among others… often presenting completely new artists.
Why does it work? Spotify is not a pushy salesman – the presented offer is discreet, full of enthusiasm and sincerity. Additionally, it has been carefully prepared by AI based on your historical data.
12 Angry… Clients?
Actually, that's not the only thing behind the effectiveness of Spotify recommendations. Do you know the principle of complementarity? It’s indeed a fascinating topic in psychology, and marketing psychology in particular. What is it all about? A correct compliment that affects another person is one that has a context.
Then, it becomes more authentic and gives the impression (rightly so) that someone worked hard to prepare the message. This makes the client feel special, and then, based on the principle of reciprocity, he/she is more likely to repay, even subconsciously.
Second, people love to be quoted. In the movie 12 Angry Man, an old man summoned as a witness testified against a boy accused of murder. He bent the facts a little bit, even though he gained nothing from it. Why? As the plot unfolds, we learn that he did this because so far, no one had called on him. No one had quoted him in the newspaper. He felt insignificant, unnecessary.
However, one must be careful with this citation. People – your customers – take care of their privacy as a matter of principle. In the age of social media, of course, many of you will probably disagree with this, as we're flaunting sensitive data all over the internet, but remember - we share it without fully realizing how much we're sharing. We consciously share what (and only what) we want to show off.
Society is becoming increasingly aware of this, as evidenced by several recent privacy scandals. Soon third-party cookies will be a thing of the past. It's not clear what will replace them. Google's alternative - FLoC - has not been warmly welcomed, and there are at least a few others.
Take the appeal below even more seriously than it sounds.
The machine must put out its message based on customer behaviour analysis in the proper context and by referring to data that the customer is aware of. Ideally, it should be information that you directly ask him about, but viewed or purchased products are OK.
Hey, we saw that you liked these products a lot! A lovely addition to X and Y is Z! What do you think?
We analyze the full measurable spectrum of customer behaviour, then refer to those most obvious, open-ended actions and behaviours in a clear and obvious way. We call them explicit.
Insights, such as preferences, site behaviour, gender, orientation, religion, other sites visited, and more, are implicit data that may worry the customer and leave them between the lines of the marketing message. And ideally, don't bring them up at all.
Watch, and learn
It is also essential to give the customer a free hand. Nobody likes to be forced to do anything. Encouraged? Of course. The old man, when asked for his opinion, gave the investigators answers even though he was not connected with the case. It is enough for the customer to take an interest in the products, look at them. Don’t worry – they were carefully selected for him. Let the decision be up to him.
- In the worst-case scenario, we will get another insight. We learn from our mistakes. Artificial intelligence is no exception. We are taking a step forward. What remarketing is for!
- At its best, we get conversion and three steps forward. Retargeting is effective too ;)
As I said before, whether or not psychophysical dualism is the right view, the fact is that mind and machine should work together to achieve the goal. The success of Netflix and Spotify is proof of that. It is an excellent time for the next applications, websites, and eCommerces to receive the Ghost for their Machine…