Big Brands L’Oreal and Home Depot Rapidly Adopting AI

New York State, USA --- Home Depot Store Entrance --- Image by © Alan Schein Photography/Corbis

Artificial intelligence and its sister technologies like machine learning and machine vision have been the talk of the town at South by Southwest and in the marketing industry more broadly for years. However, for L’Oreal and The Home Depot, these areas have rapidly evolved from marketing buzzwords and early experiments into necessities for engaging their customers.

Speaking on a panel moderated by Cheddar TV about the future of AI and marketing at the Austin, TX, conference on Saturday, Rachel Weiss, VP of innovation and entrepreneurship at L’Oreal, and Melanie Babcock, senior director of agile marketing at Home Depot, spoke on how the technology and its related fields have started to tangibly impact their jobs, from creative strategies to the teams that they work with. The two brands talked about how they’re partnering more closely with platforms like Pinterest, which was present on the panel, when it comes to thinking about visual search and how AI plays a big role in that space when tailoring relevant content.

“If you have 1,000 faucets in your catalog, people don’t want to see 1,000 faucets — they want to know what faucet is best at my price point,” said Babcock. “To offer up products that are relevant to you requires a significant amount of AI and machine learning.”

Unlike other bleeding-edge technology, AI is more than just another tool for the toolkit — and certainly more than a shiny object, according to these marketers — instead serving as an important solution for managing critical marketing channels.

“It’s significantly changed my role,” Babcock said.

“In four years, social changed — it went from brand marketing to extreme performance-driven marketing,” she added, detailing how she now works with a team of data scientists, audience strategists, creatives and media planners. “We’ve had to literally change our organizational structure to work in this way.”

The future of commerce and shopping

That rapid pace of transformation has applied to channels like messenger bots as well, whose functions have considerably expanded beyond simple conversations in a short span of time, according to Weiss. L’Oreal now leverages bots for functions spanning customer care to product recommendations and signing users up for its loyalty program, and the beauty marketer doesn’t view their role as diminishing.

“For us, we really see [bots] as a future channel of shopping and commerce,” Weiss said. “We make it so that it’s a one-stop shop [and] the most effective and fast way that you can’t do on any other channel, that you can’t do on social and you can’t do in a store.”

While bots are reaching a level of intelligence that delivers value past the novelty of interacting with a brand representative that’s non-human, Weiss doesn’t foresee a robot takeover in the near future.

“It’s less around the artificial intelligence piece [than] it is around the utility piece and the fact that you can push a notification on your phone after interacting with that kind of service,” Weiss said. “It’s replacing and also supplementing the strategy that we already have for other, different channels.”

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