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Meet the post-AI consumer, says Salesforce's Mathew Sweezey

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher September 20, 2021
It's time to think more about consumer AI, says Salesforce's Director of Market Strategy.

Adapting to change as a business idea with a man walking on tightrope that transforms into a staircase © Lightspring - Shutterstock

AI is nearly always talked about today from a business perspective, less so from a consumer one. That needs to change, according to Mathew Sweezey, Director of Market Strategy at Salesforce in a session at the recent MAICON (Marketing AI Conference) event called The Post AI Consumer.

Sweezey’s day job involves spending a lot of  time researching and learning about the trends facing consumers and companies today that influence customer experience. One thing he’s noticing is that  today consumer lives are dictated and directed by AI, but we don't talk about that.  And consumers love AI-driven experiences, he added, pointing to search, social, gaming, communication and finance as practical applications.

He quoted research that said the average consumer spends 450 minutes a day interacting with digital media, whether it's checking the weather, calling someone, asking a question, setting an alarm, or even streaming music. Soon, he said, every app will have AI, and those that don’t won't survive because AI provides better experiences and outcomes.

It's not much different in the B2B world either. Fifty-eight percent of B2B buyers would rather talk than type their data into a system, showing an even higher affinity for voice assistants than consumers.

AI, according to Sweezey, is already becoming part of the unnoticed, but always expected backdrop to lives, like the Internet. It's not something you ask for, it's just there, and soon you'll have a hard time telling if you are interacting with an AI or a human. Consumers have learned to expect better outcomes, and AI is what is driving them.

Post-AI expectations

So, if AI is all around us, driving better outcomes, then consumer expectations are changing. They now have higher expectations of what is possible, and they won't tolerate less, said Sweezey.

  1. Consumers feel empowered to ask better questions and ask them easily through their mobile devices. And that means everything is a considered purchase, even toothbrushes. (Sweezeys’s boss Marc Benioff used to build entire keynote presentations around the Smart Toothbrush!)
  2. Consumers expect better personal outcomes by offloading some of their tasks to AI. Think Fitbit or Apple Watch for fitness tracking and heart monitoring, Noom for weight loss, Siri for voice assistance etc.
  3. It's not about shorter attention spans; it’s that consumers want things to be easier and quicker - type faster (Google's type ahead), find things faster, make faster decisions (IKEA's Place app), check out faster.
  4. Consumers expect to be able to interface with a brand in a way that makes the task most effortless, and that means brands will need to enable multiple modes of communication. AI enables companies to produce new outcomes in new ways, not just remove friction.
  5. As self-driving cars evolve, consumers will find more free time to consume more content or do more work.

How to reach the post-AI consumer?

Sweezey said that four years of research has led to one significant finding - the key trait of high-performing marketing organizations is executive buy-in to a new idea of marketing.

Organizations have just wrapped their heads around the idea that customer experience is critical, and we need to create the best experiences possible to make customers buy our products and love our brands.  But it's not the experience that's most important, Sweezey said. It's the outcome. Experiences make the outcome easier to achieve.

If that's the case, then marketing is heading for another transformation. Organizations need to focus on orchestrating outcomes. The metrics now change. It means giving up Net Promoter Score (NPS) for Time to Value (TTV). It means creating new experience guidelines that includes the employee experience when delivering better outcomes.

It means context drives engagement, and you need to find better ways to achieve greater context. And it means organizations need to get past their data silos and build data flywheels that encompass all the key types of first-party data that help identify and understand the buyer faster and better.

My take

I get what Sweezey is saying. Consumers and B2B buyers don't engage with brands for the experience. They engage to get something - some outcome. So while it is essential to deliver a great experience on the way to achieving that outcome, if you can't deliver the desired outcome, that buyer isn't going to stick around.

But he also made me think more about the value of AI, particularly in a B2B context. It's been said for a while that the consumerization of IT has changed B2B software expectations. But we're still slower to build B2B software that leverages some of the key capabilities of B2C apps - AI is one of these capabilities. Understanding how marketers can leverage AI capabilities to create the best experiences and ensure the outcome is what the buyer expected is going to take time to figure out. We can expect plenty of mistakes and a lot of learning along the way.

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