How Can 'Smart' Marketers Be So Wrong About IoT And Chat Bots?

Another day, another brand jumping on the IoT and chat bot bandwagon, or should I say artificial intelligence assistant? Marketers should learn the lesson that journalists have always known which always tells you what you need to know.

It's the moment in every Columbo episode when the smart detective turns to the guilty party and says, "Just one more question." It's always the question that exposes the ugly truth. For Columbo it was always some very clever observation he'd been keeping to himself until near the end of the show. For marketers it's the simplest question of all, "What do my customers get from this?"

So today we have the announcement of the Peroni button on a fridge that lets users press a button to order more Peroni. Have you ever come across a device more pointless? Tell me honestly, when was the last time you started an online shop and it hadn't crossed your mind that the fridge could do with a few more beers -- or is it only at my house that it's always a given? When was the last time you were concerned that Ocado, or your online grocer of choice, would run out of Peroni and so you felt you had to get ahead of the game? When was the last time you knew you needed beer but felt you could wait until the weekend's big shop was delivered rather than pop to the corner shop? When was the last time you thought it best to pre-order beer rather than go online and see which of the several brands you like has the best current offer.

OK -- you get the idea? I could understand if this were part of an app that allowed you to scan any food or beverage item so it's added to a short list. But, then again, couldn't you just do that, as most supermarketers do, under the guise of "your regulars" or a list of things you may want to reorder?

That aside, tell me honestly, other than getting a couple of headlines in the marketing press, can you see any customer need that is met by a button that allows a drinker to add just the one beer brand to their weekly shop? 

Right, we're on a roll. Chat bots. What the heck is the fuss all about? We've all been typing in queries into virtual assistant chat boxes for years. All of a sudden they're called chat bots and they're incredibly trendy, which is great apart from that one final question. Do they actually serve the customer? Or do they just frustrate them?

And the ultimate question for chat bots: what do they do that a person could not find out for themselves through a site search rather than going through the charade of getting help? There is no help, it's just a search engine in a trendy box that will spew out a couple of links just like, erm, a search query. Is Google a chat bot? I can ask it how much legroom i get on a flight or how big my cabin bag can be and it just produces the right answer at the top of the page. It doesn't have to call itself anything, it just does it.

I get that in the future more intelligent chat bots will be smarter and sum up policies and give useful feedback. But we're far from there right now. Just ask BA anything and you'll see how far we have to go. 

Technology appears to be out there looking for a use, and it will eventually find a use. I can say with confidence, however, what we have right now isn't that use. It's nowhere near. The next time you're asked to roll out the latest bit of trend tech, just sit back and think of Columbo and ask that "one more thing" question -- "What does this improve for my customers?"

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