IBM brings cognitive computing to marketing cloud

Vendor brings Watson system into marketing and commerce platforms

Kareem Yusuf
Kareem Yusuf


IBM’s Marketing Cloud and customer analytics offerings have traditionally sat at arm’s length from the vendor’s enterprise IT solutions and in particular, its high-profile Watson and cognitive computing advancements. But not for long.

During the opening day of the IBM Amplify summit in Tampa, Florida, the vendor revealed plans to embed its cognitive computing services into its marketing and ecommerce product suites, a move aimed at helping brands improve the way they engage customers end-to-end.

In the opening address, IBM general manager of Watson IoT, commerce and education, Harriet Green, said marketers today can know customers better than they ever have before thanks to digital and data.

“Today, we can record every move a customer makes as they navigate a website, how they move through our store, through to analysing and engaging with unsolicited social sentiment about our brand,” she said. “Every bit of info can be used to understand where a customer is in their journey.”

The challenge is being able to process and glean insights from the goldmine of unstructured data representing human behaviour and insight in order to be more targeted and relevant.

“To be useful, data needs to be analysed in real time, understood in all its complexity, in order to supply us with reasonable, actionable insight,” Green said. “With Watson and the advent of cognitive computing, we now have an ability to do so.”

According to Green, leveraging cognitive computing will provide expertise, insights and recommendations that helps users make better decisions about brand and merchandising activities. Cognitive computing can understand natural language, ingest vast types of data and find correlations between data sets, discover patterns and insights and importantly, learn from activities and human feedback.

“Systems that understand, reason and learn will allow us to work with larger datasets, enabling us to combine data to drive new insights,” she said.

The first way cognitive computing is being employed is through Real-Time Personalisation, which is being launched within the IBM Marketing Cloud (Silverpop) and aims to help marketers deliver the right message and offer to customers in the moment. This is being achieved through the Cognitive Rule Adviser, which employs machine learning capabilities to learn, advise and suggest the offer and message that should be shared with digital customers.

The engine is designed to improve suggestions both for messaging and personalisation rules over time through self-learning algorithms and analytics.

As an example, IBM said cognitive could help a sports retailer identify a customer whose site profile and behaviour indicates they are interesting in getting into cycling. Initially, cognitive could recognise this and tailor the retailer’s website to provide more foundation-level content and offers to drive that consumer’s purchasing. It could then advise adapting and serving up other types of content, imagery and messaging as that customer’s needs and experience of cycling grows and matures.

“With cognitive expertise, what we have really been focusing on is how to empower the user to make better decisions,” said IBM VP of offering management and development for IBM Commerce, Kareem Yusuf. “In the case of Real-Time Personalisation, it’s all about defining those rules for personalisation then automating those rules. And it’s about driving one key thing: Engagement.”

IBM’s second cognitive application is Commerce Insights, designed to deliver a real-time view on how products and categories are performing online. These include category sequencing capabilities, allowing merchandisers to automatically place products on a Web page based on current demand and inventory, as well as adapt content and offers as sales and inventory levels change.

Rather than encoding set behaviours, cognitive systems are in a constant learning loop, Yusuf said. But giving access to this capability has to be done in a way that fit into the way marketers work.

“In all of this, it’s about the outcome marketers are trying to drive. So what we are very focused on is how we seamlessly bring these powerful computing capabilities to bear in the hands of our users in a way that fits into their workflow,” he added.

Tackling the integration game

Bringing cognitive computing to marketing is one of several ways IBM is endeavouring to improve integration between its marketing product suite, and wider owned and partner technology offerings. Like many of the marketing cloud providers today, IBM’s stack has been built off the back of a number of acquisitions, raising integration, data and workflow challenges.

IBM’s VP of strategy and product management for IBM Commerce, Chris Wong, recognised a key issue marketers face is bringing together marketing and ad technology capabilities into one integrated ecosystem. He suggested adhoc technology adoption has often reinforced organisational silos, rather than addressed them.

One of the ways IBM is looking to overcome the data utilisation problem is with its Universal Behaviour Exchange (UBX), a data connection hub for actioning information stored in different applications both within and outside of IBM’s marketing offerings. This can then be used to power marketing activities. The vendor has pre-integrated UBX with more than 100 different adtech and social platforms to date, and recently struck a partnership with tag management vendor, Ensighten, to further extend its integration ecosystem.

“The ability to connect data stored in different applications is key to creating experiences,” Wong commented. “This allows you to click and connect audiences across all apps, activate and reconfigure events and audiences dynamically.”

As an example, Wong said a marketer could undertake a retargeting activity for select customers by identifying then passing that audience segment into another system for paid, owner or earned campaigns.

Wong highlighted Melbourne Fashion Week’s use of UBX to address and attract different targeted audiences to its annual fashion show, engaging with them via Facebook. The program of work resulted in a 15 per cent increase in ticket sales, he said. ING Direct in Australia is also using UBX in concert with its DMP, MediaMath, for a retargeting acquisition campaign to identify and exclude existing customers from advertising messages.

IBM is also overhauling its Marketing Software stack, a move again aimed at tighter integration across that family of products. Marketing Software is the on-premise offering formerly known as Unica and includes IBM Campaign, Interact and Marketing Operations.

On offer with Marketing Software Version 10 are new advanced search tools, the ability to manage complex flowchart libraries, and a new workflow engine. The software can now be directly tied to Marketing Cloud, so marketers can execute digital interactions from their Campaign platform and vice versa.

Marketing Cloud also includes new planning capabilities provided through Allocadia, along with expanded digital channels to include mobile and social, features for digital message sending, and a new programs capability.

Wong said it’s about ensuring marketing teams have the workflow and management capabilities to collaborate. “Integration doesn’t just mean technology, it’s the integration of people and teams,” he commented.

Six months on from launching its Journey Designer feature for managing customer journeys, IBM has also announced tighter integration between it and its campaign management systems. Journey designer, which is part of IBM’s Open Platform strategy, can also talk to third-party applications, such as DMPs or social services like Weichat. Users can assign work tasks to user using those other systems, adding to the overall focus on team collaboration, Wong said.

As a further enhancement, IBM is integrating location weather data from its recent acquisition of The Weather Channel, allowing marketers to use weather events to triggers targeted campaigns. Wong said users could also place customised, real-time weather content into their creative.

Performance Insights, IBM’s analytics capability, is another area that has been redesigned and now includes a visualised user interface to show segment performance, as well as mobile-enacted timeline and activity benchmark tracking.

  • Nadia Cameron travelled to IBM Amplify as a guest of IBM.

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