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AI: Friend or Foe?

Posted by on Feb 7, 2018 in Ryan's Thoughts | 0 comments

AI: Friend or Foe?

Tonight I was invited out to be on a panel discussion at the Regina Public Library. The topic was Artificial Intelligence, Friend or Foe? I was genuinely honored to be invited out to share my thoughts on the future of marketing and customer service in world where AI is becoming more prevalent.

When I was asked to be a part of the panel, which involved a 5 minute presentation followed by questions, my first thought was that it would be a lot of fun if I had an AI actually prepare my remarks for me. My thinking was that, for better or worse, I would read the comments aloud, tell people that they were actually prepared by an AI, and then let the chips fall where they may.

In the end, I actually chose to write my own talk and share it with the people in attendance. The link to the video from the event is below – please check it out and let me know what you think! Perhaps more importantly – take a note of some of the book recomendations at the end of the video and support your local library by checking the books out!

One note: You might love or hate the comments that I ended up writing myself. I included my original notes below the video. However, I ALSO included the notes that I got back from the AI writer for reference. I’d love to hear your thoughts on both versions.

I used the website for my content. You may have another site or service that you prefer. I’m not offering this as either an indictment or an endorsement of any particular service – I’m just laying out the results of the little experiment that I ran. I hope you enjoy it.



My Talk Notes

How will AI change Marketing and Customer Service?

Artificial Intelligence is going to fundamentally change your lives for the better.

There are going to be hiccups, but we will all be wealthier, healthier and happier in the future because of AI. And marketing, which encompasses all of the experiences that you have with an organization or brand, including advertising and customer service, is going to be just one way that this will occur.

Today, marketers have access to more data about you than ever before. This is a problem, but the problem with that isn’t that people have lost their privacy – because people have freely traded their own privacy for easy access to information and entertainment. The problem with the today’s data is two fold:

1. There isn’t enough of it.
2. Marketers have absolutely no idea of what to do with most of it.

For years, people have been talking about smart appliances – a fridge that knows when you run out of milk and automatically adds it to the grocery list, or perhaps even orders it from the grocery store for you when you run out. That was what we thought the future would look like from a 1990s perspective, but today the technology looks different.

Let’s imagine a visit to a grocery store in the future, based on the technology that we have now.

When you walk into the building, facial recognition software will not only identify who you are, but also the type of mood that you are in. It will know where you were that day and the experiences you had. It will know whether you are in the store to buy something to improve your mood, or something to improve your health.

The human greeter in the store will be wearing an earpiece, or perhaps a new updated version of Google Glass, and as you approach them she will say “Hello Mr. Smith, I wanted to let you know that there is a sale on Ben & Jerry’s ice cream today down in aisle 5.

Or perhaps, if your fitbit data or motion data from your iphone meet certain criteria, the greeter will congratulate you on losing that last 5 pounds and let you know that there is a new flavour of your favourite brand of protein shake that has just arrived. Because, you like strawberry, don’t you?

The machines of the future will be able to know all of these things because we are putting more and more devices into our lives that have the ability to gather up data. Our phones and smart televisions have the capability of listening to everything we say all the time. We are installing cameras into our homes, uploading our workout data to Strava, and sharing intimate details of our lives on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. Google knows what you put in every email that you send. Uber understands more about traffic patterns in large cities than the city government could ever hope to know.

We can see early examples of this type of data collection happening today, but most of these technology pieces exist in silos and are problematic.

If you look at a new shirt tonight on Amazon, you will see ads for that shirt on Facebook every time you log in for the next week – even if you hated the shirt, or worse, if you’ve already bought it. Right now the best that marketers can really do is identify that you looked at something, and not necessarily how you felt about what you saw.

In the future, with multiple data sources and computers architectures built on machine learning, those marketers will know if you clicked the link for that shirt, what you thought of the shirt, if you want to buy it, if you already bought it, or if you really liked that product, but would prefer one in a different color.


Ads in the future won’t be thrown out at you just because you happen to be an adult aged 18-35 living within 25 miles of Regina, Saskatchewan in the way that they are now. Rather than being forced to show an ad to a certain number of people, the AI that the marketer is using will target you, individually, because it knows what you need, when you need it. You won’t see an ad for dress pants, you’ll see an ad for Dockers Khakis in size 34 x 32.

And you’ll have seen that ad because the doorbell camera on your house saw that there was a tear in your back pocket that morning when you walked away from your house and into your driverless Uber. And if you happen to live in a big enough city, and you choose to buy those pants online rather than going into a store, those pants could be waiting for you at your office that morning, before your big sales presentation.

This is actually a great time to be alive, because the opportunities before us are nearly unlimited. There will be challenges, yes, for everybody from cashiers to accountants, and of course, marketers, but we will all look back on the way we do things today and ask ourselves how we ever lived like that. Can you believe we used to have to stand in line at Blockbuster, hoping that somebody else didn’t grab the last VHS copy of Terminator 2 before we got there so that we could finally watch it?

There will be challenges, but every time a company like Blockbuster is put out of business, we are rewarded with companies such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video and Motor Trend on Demand.

The new business models usually bring with them more jobs an opportunity than the old ones did, and with far more freedom and choice for the consumer.


A.I. Written Notes

How will AI impact marketing and customer service?

The problem for the organization in conducting high quality conversations and customer relations is the multitude of channels that customers decide to communicate. [0]

You have to separate the facts from fiction and begin to understand the operational aspects you need to support AI games, while keeping your bookmarks in the areas where you can use them to improve customer service and sales. [1]

In the global e-commerce world, only the most demanding companies bypass the frightened “unsubscribe” button and maintain favorable relationships with customers. [2]

Now brands must learn to adapt to real-time communication, which means that each brand should listen to its customers (and their competitors’ clients) to find the right messages and opportunities for engagement. [3]

However, before we take advantage of the enormous potential of AI in transforming customer service, let us take advantage of the size of the market and the growth forecasts for AI. [4]

With AI, each customer point of contact is not only documented and measurable in real time, the analysis process can also be automated, which allows you to obtain a higher quality and quantity of business information. [5]

Just as the arrival of television brought an era of truly mass advertising and coverage, and the Internet and mobile telephony have introduced a new level of focus and context, so IA will change the way people interact with information, technology, brands and services. [6]

Instead, it will become a collaboration between you and the Intelligent Virtual Assistant, who will perform daily data sifting, provisioning options and information input while delivering creative input and decision making. [7]

Companies of all sizes can use the AI software to create high impact business results, even in predicting future profits or customer behaviour, using several key indicators. [8]

For example, the retail, logistics and finance sector is effectively using technology to serve customers and unstructured data. [9]

By combining footplate technology, faster aggregation and data processing and more open cooperation with consumers, the main brands focus on providing immediate gratification. [10]

With the AI application, organizations will be able to understand what their customers are talking in real time and to respond quickly and appropriately. [11]

In order to achieve customer service excellence, the service organization must use AI software to support the discovery, anticipation, recommendation and automation of engines. [12]

Analysis of moods, product recommendations, image and voice recognition – there are many areas in which avian influenza has the potential to enable social networks to improve on a large scale. [13]

Marketers must think who is a customer and take him on a journey, address their concerns and concerns about bird flu, especially when it comes to privacy issues, otherwise there is a risk that the technology might be rejected by consumers. Read more [14]

Many companies use a combination of rules and analyses to personalize customer offers, but do not take advantage of the real analytical power of the analyst for customer intelligence. [15]

Simply speaking or writing on chatting will allow you to provide a service by analyzing the natural language in combination with understanding the brand data. [16]

AI allows marketers to tailor e-mail campaigns to the individual tastes of each consumer with a serendice element, where users are delighted with new offers personalized on an ongoing basis, without saturating themselves with repetitive content. [17]



Watch Ads and Zen Buddhism

Posted by on Jan 17, 2018 in Ryan's Thoughts | 0 comments

Watch Ads and Zen Buddhism

I was reminded of a story today, which reminded me of another story, and now I’m writing a blog post about it.


The First Story

The first story was from  Eric Weinstein and it was about watch advertising. He noted in an interview with Tim Ferriss that in almost every watch ad the watch’s time is set to approximately 10:10. On an analog watch this creates a pleasing shape with the hands that looks a lot like a smile. It’s one of those subliminal tricks that advertisers use to brainwash consumers into buying their products.


Vintage Rolex Ad


The amazing thing about this, Weinstein noted, was that even in many ads for DIGITAL watches, the time 10:10 is still used!


Apple Watch Ad from

Apple Watch Image from


Was there ever any testing done to determine that 10:10 actually made people smile? Why not 5:00pm when people go home from work? Or 12:00 so that people can think about enjoying their lunch? Or does it just so happen that it was 10:10 when the very first photos were taken and the creative director just wanted to stick with something that worked? The internet is full of rumors and guesses about the original reason, but the fact that the same time is used on digital watches can only be attributed to one thing: habit.


The Other Story

This brings me to the second story and Zen Buddhism. There’s a great Zen story that I read at Zen Stories To Tell Your Neighbors:

When the spiritual teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, the cat who lived in the monastery made such noise that it distracted them. So the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice. Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up. Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice.

Those darn cats.


The Blog Post

One of my favorite things is coming across ancient stories that somehow seem to perfectly sum up some facet of life today. It’s a great reminder that things don’t really change as much as we think that they do and that there are a lot of simple truths that, if we only implemented them, would probably make the world – or at least our life – much better or more fulfilling.

There’s also another part of me that is reminded just how much baloney we all blindly accept on a given day. It’s a reminder at work to test, test, test every single thing that I can in order to find out what is actually working. Is our industry throwing huge budgets into programmatic advertising because it’s the best value, or because it’s the cool thing to do? Is newspaper REALLY dead, or do those coupons in the Sunday Sun still drive hundreds of people to your store every Monday? Is investment in AI and Virtual Reality really going to move the bottom line at our companies, or is it simply an exercise in who has the coolest toys to play with?

The answers to those questions are different for every company (except for maybe the programmatic advertising one). The only way to know FOR SURE that something really works is to try it. And the only way to know that something doesn’t work is to try it.

We’re two weeks into 2018. Are you doing the same things you did last year? Is that because those are the best things to do, or because it just so happens to be 10:10 and you’re doing what you’ve always done?

What cool things ARE you trying out this year? I’d love to hear about them below – and what you’re doing to test them!


On Sears and Retail

Posted by on Oct 21, 2017 in Ryan's Thoughts | 0 comments

On Sears and Retail

A couple of weekends ago I went to a shopping mall. What was perhaps even more unusual for me was that I took my entire family with me and we did some real shopping – going from store to store, trying things on, comparing prices, and finally, purchasing items. It just so happened that the day I went to the mall was also the final day that the local Sears store was open for business.

There will undoubtedly be several books written about the failure of Sears as a company. Companies close their doors all the time, of course, but I think it’s truly remarkable that Sears is one of them. If ever there was a business that should have been at the forefront of the juggernaut that is online retail, it was Sears.

From Wikipedia:

Farmers did business in small rural towns. Before the Sears catalog, farmers typically bought supplies (often at high prices and on credit) from local general stores with narrow selections of goods. Prices were negotiated, and depended on the storekeeper’s estimate of a customer’s creditworthiness. Sears took advantage of this by publishing catalogs offering customers a wider selection of products at clearly stated prices. The business grew quickly. The first Sears catalog was published in 1888.

In 1893, Richard Sears and Alvah Roebuck renamed their watch company Sears, Roebuck & Company and began to diversify. By 1894, the Sears catalog had grown to 322 pages, featuring sewing machines, bicycles, sporting goods, automobiles (produced from 1905 to 1915 by Lincoln Motor Car Works of Chicago, no relation to the current Ford line),[7] and a host of other new items. By 1895, the company was producing a 532-page catalog. Sales were greater than US$400,000 in 1893 and more than US$750,000 two years later.[8] By 1896, dolls, stoves and groceries had been added to the catalog.


The modern day parallels to Amazon are incredible. By 1896, GROCERIES had been added to the catalog – hello Whole Foods! I can just imagine the naysayers of 1897 complaining that Sears was killing local businesses and driving the Family General Store out of town.

Sears built it’s business from shipping. For a century Sears was the king of mail-order retail. Long before telephones were common in rural areas families would gather around the Sears catalog, select clothes or Christmas presents (or even a HOUSE) and then drop a check in the mail and eagerly await the day that their goods would arrive at the post office.

How could this company POSSIBLY have failed to adapt to the internet age?

Amazon is now the king of online shopping, and as they continue to expand they are in a rush to gain a local presence. They are putting up their own brick and mortar stores to ease shipping, they bought Whole Foods to help them expand their network, and they’ve partnered with local agents to set up ‘pick up’ locations throughout your city so that people who can’t have packages left on their doorstep can still take advantage of the ease and convenience that comes from online shopping.

For many decades Sears, in addition to their catalog business, had brick and mortar stores in hundreds of communities, where people could go to try things on or pick them up in person. For decades, Sears partnered with local stores in the tiniest of towns so that rural communities and people without a porch could take advantage of the convenience of mail-order.

There is a growing amount of commentary about the death of retail – Toys ‘R’ Us filed for bankruptcy protection at around the same time – but how can that be? Walmart is continuing to do well, Amazon is expanding into physical retail locations, and even the above mentioned shopping mall is succeeding in some areas. Best Buy, which everybody claimed was going to shutter its doors in the face of the internet, has managed to turn itself around and stay relevant.

So why did Sears, whose practices mirrored those of e-commerce 100 years before the internet was created, fail?

Amazon is, in many ways, following the same path as Sears did during their growth years. Amazon has been my default store for a while for everything from shaving cream to books and Blu-rays to Christmas presents. It’s not that I don’t ever remember shopping at Sears… it’s just been a long time since I had. Shoppers have always voted with their wallets, and if a certain company provides a more pleasant shopping experience, with better selection, and better value, then they are going to win out in the long term.

The most important of those is the shopping experience. Keeping the stores tidy, keeping them stocked with the appropriate merchandise, keeping them staffed to appropriate levels, and making sure that those people treat your customers with respect.

There are countless books written about Customer Service (I recommend anything by Lee Cockerel as a starting point). Staffing levels can be monitored by analyzing year over year trends and making adjustments – erring on the side of too many staff rather than too few to deliver great service.

The appropriate merchandise and stock levels are, I think, where today’s stores often go wrong. Amazon has almost everything that you can possibly imagine in stock. Not just items that are blockbuster sellers, but also items that are difficult to find in other places. One of the most important questions you can ask in business, marketing, or life is “Why?”. Why do we exist? Why do people shop here? Why do we carry this item? It’s very easy to look at sales year over year and start cutting SKUs based on poor sales. But if you don’t ask why people are buying certain things, you can end up alienating your customers. Keeping your inventory turning over is more important than ever, but making sure that you have some key pieces in stock is almost more important – there is an opportunity to build brand loyalty.

For whatever reason I am a Home Depot loyalist. I love wandering through the aisles, and if I need something home related I ALWAYS go there. For a few years of my life I spent so much time in Home Depot that I often knew the store better than the part-time employees who worked there. Even once Lowes opened up in my city, I continued to shop the Home Depot. Once, I was looking for a specific piece to repair a drawer – I had seen them before at the Home Depot, but I couldn’t find them when I needed them. An employee told me (once I could finally find one) that they no longer carried them because they were not a good seller. What was I to do? I wasn’t going to replace my cupboards because of a $2 drawer guide! I went to Lowes where they had a wide selection of drawer guides. The next time I was looking for bathroom fixtures? Instead of going to the Home Depot immediately, I thought I’d check out what Lowes had to offer.

Too many people think that stores compete only on price. At a higher level, they compete on inventory. If my local drug store is always out of deodorant when I go in, then I’ll add deodorant to my Amazon cart next time I’m buying a book online (because even though I love browsing at my local Chapters Indigo store I don’t trust them to have a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations in stock when I pop into the store.)

Sears knew for years that things were going down. Rather than do something about it, they doubled down on the things that were driving them out of business. They could have shrunk their stores, changed their inventory, pivoted (Why didn’t Sears buy Whole Foods?) Instead, every Sears on the planet assaulted you with makeup and perfume counters, racks and racks of clothes fewer and fewer people wanted to wear, a dwindling selection of tools, and they spun off their most profitable segments – furniture and appliances – into new stores while still keeping their giant flagship stores open at full capacity.

Retail stores (all businesses, really) exist to solve problems. If you don’t know what problems your business solves, then you should do some deep thinking about your purpose and why you exist, and why you will still exist in 10 years time. Use data to determine not just what your best selling products are, but also why they sell! Look at your competition – what new areas are they exploring? What appears to be working for them? What do they seem to be failing at? Is that something I should try with my business? What problems do I have? Is my advertising converting to sales? Where do my customers find out about new products and services?

Far too many businesses feel that they have a right to exist – they don’t. If their business model is not working, doubling down on it and hoping things are going to improve is not a business strategy. At some point, someone at Sears decided that they were too big to fail and leadership decided that they knew best what to do with their company. As terrible a loss as it would have been to, for example, close all the flagship stores and focus on making Sears Home successful, I’m sure that the thousands of people who’s jobs would have been saved would have preferred that strategy to what they are facing now.

Don’t let it happen to you.