These days, companies like Google are actually working toward perfecting machine learning to apply to applications as varied as cars that can navigate themselves through traffic without errors and image recognition that’s accurate enough to locate an item within the image in a product catalog out on the Internet somewhere. The question isn’t “Is the future now?” but more like, “When will the Google future be here?”
Companies like Toyota are working hard to release flying cars before 2020, but it, like many mainstream innovators, is focused on just one very specific application to bring humanity a little closer to a smarter tomorrow. Google, on the other hand, has grand schemes to actually change nearly every aspect of life in a seamless and almost unnoticeable way, especially when it comes to how marketing messages are delivered.
It All Started with Machine Learning
Machine learning, as the name might imply, is a special kind of artificial intelligence that allows a computer program to grow and change when exposed to new information, much like a living organism.
It’s not the beginning of the robot rebellion, not yet anyway, but this is the beginning of the end of signs of life that anyone over the age of 35 can still remember. It was tedious to decide which pair of shoes to buy back when a person had to go into an actual shoe store, now Google can simply predict which pair you’ll like and probably hit the nail on the head.
How they get you is subtle. For example, years ago it was surprising to notice that Google Documents could actually autocorrect articles with intelligent predictions. Instead of presenting a user with a list to choose between, spell check knew which word was correct before the user did. Mind-blowing, right? But that was a party trick compared to future machine learning.
Today’s machine learning takes things to such a new place that some people are legitimately afraid Google is watching and listening to them at all times, going as far as covering their webcams and mics on their devices to prevent eavesdropping. The truth is that Google isn’t getting data that way. It’s collecting both specific and anonymous data from the daily online activities of Internet users, aggregating it and applying smart rules about what ads to serve up instead.
Marketing in the Google Future
Today’s marketing is obviously a lot different than it once was.
Even the very best segmenting in the past resulted in just a fraction of the results a company can achieve today, since people who were seeing advertisements weren’t necessarily interested in a particular product. In fact, many would become annoyed if an ad appeared too often, so many different complicated and expensive creative elements would have to be developed to keep things fresh. In today’s world, however, targeting is not a problem.
For example, a user who has recently been pouring over pages about living room furniture and mid-century modern architecture, plus emailing companies who sell MCM tables about their availability, is likely to see very accurately targeted ads for the type, color and style of tables they really, really want. This is the best thing about machine learning for marketers, as there’s literally a possibility of no wasted impressions because targeted ads are served up to specific audiences who truly want a product or service like what they’re seeing. Even if they don’t buy what’s being served to them, they may shop the store or tell a friend because they are absolutely the ideal target audience.
How you get that result, however, is a bit more tricky. Right now, users are still curated using a string of carefully selected keywords and marketing tools that work behind the scenes. In the near future, however, there could be profoundly more automation based on what is known about similar user profiles.
For example, users taking advantage of Google Lens’s ability to locate products and services using visual search could set a whole new smart data analysis by the system in motion. A user’s search for a rug, for example, may also be able to show sidebar ads for products considered similar based on user data, not simply based on marketer input. It’s a small thing, but it’s a big thing, too.
Is the Future Already Here for Google?
If the question is “when will the Google future be here?” the response should be “it already is.”
The problem, and great blessing, of Google is that it has conceived many futures, all of which are slowly coming to life due to the talented and genius folks behind the technology. From tools like smart contacts to eliminate finger pricks for people with diabetes to the long-awaited self-driving car and even super intelligent, not quite self-aware, search functions, Google is constantly pushing the limits of what most consumers (and marketers!) consider possible.
These are all examples of how putting Big Data to work in the right way can yield unbelievable results.