Says Peter DeBenedictis, CMO, Microsoft, MEA.
Peter DeBenedictis took over the role of CMO, Microsoft in the Middle East and Africa in March 2017. Prior to joining Microsoft, Peter led marketing functions with several of the world’s leading brands, including General Electric, Philips, and FedEx.
In over three decades of his life in the Middle East, Peter has built multiple public-private partnerships with large government organisations, driving regional technology development, local software and engineering skills, and entrepreneurship. He’s also a regular speaker at marketing conferences across the region.
In part one of his two-part interview with MarTech Vibe, Peter speaks at-length about AI, a topic very close to his heart. He also sheds some light on IIoT and immersive technologies like Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR).
AI is quickly becoming a buzzword in the Middle East. What are some of the core elements marketers need to work on an AI-driven marketing strategy?
AI is empowering marketers to process and act on customer data in a way that more effectively reaches the individual. It adds an important layer to the consumer journey, bringing to life new potential to leverage this insight, and provides consumers with relevant, personalised and timely content.
Having the tools and skills to navigate an AI-enabled future is the key here. Modern marketing is a unique blend of art and science, so there needs to be a balance of analytical and creative skills. Marketers today need to be as much data scientists as they are creative gurus.
Are conversational AI and voice-based search going to be disruptors in the AI space? Do you see Middle East investing in conversational AI tech in 2019-2020?
Voice search involves speaking a command into a device, rather than typing it out, whereas conversational AI is more of personalised two-way engagement. We see conversational AI as the next user interface wave in computing. In our experience, a lot more organisations are experimenting with digital assistants and chatbots – due to their ability to streamline customer service traffic, use employee hours more productively, and offer more personalised service.
Telecommunications firm Telefonica, which operates across the Middle East, for example, built an AI-powered digital assistant named Aura. Customers can check their bill or data use, via text or talk, and even get recommendations for what to watch on TV. They’re using our services to train the assistant in understanding the different accents and utterances of each country and culture. It’s interesting to see how we’re evolving from a world of having to learn and adapt to computers, to one where computers are learning how to understand and interact with us.
I think we’ll definitely see more organisations in the Middle East investing in this technology, especially those that receive a high volume of customer queries, such as banks, telcos, airlines etc.
Also Read: 5 Ways You Can Use Chatbots in Marketing
Has the immersive technology (AR/VR/MR) market in the Middle East grown in the past couple of years? How can marketers include these technologies in their marketing campaigns?
It definitely is growing. The International Data Corporation (IDC), for example, expects that the market for AR and VR in the Middle East and Africa will reach $6 billion by 2020, up from $182 million in 2017.
This technology makes for richer customer experiences and memorable campaigns. Before anyone buys anything, they like to know how it will feel, or look in their homes. Immersive technology adds this layer, allowing customers to experience the product or service before committing to it.
What are your thoughts on investing in IIoT solutions?
IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) is on the rise in the Middle East. The region’s industrial sector is investing heavily in digitising its core offerings through IIoT and cloud computing. It’s definitely something brands should consider investing into because when brands modernise with IIoT, they are able to craft innovative customer interactions with connected devices and sensors, build offerings that evolve with their customers by adding specialised features and services over time, and foster brand loyalty by continually adding value and improving product designs based on real-time and predictive behavioural analytics.
What are some of the challenges marketers face in the Middle East in terms of technology adoption? How can these be overcome?
Marketers need to acknowledge and embrace new technologies, new ways of engaging their customers, new ways of listening to and understanding their customers’ needs. To do this, they need both the tools and the skills and mindset. True digital transformation is achieved when there are technological advancements and cultural changes that result in new business models. Often, this shift in the mindset and culture comes from the top down. We recently released a piece of research examining the impact of AI on leadership. Interestingly, the UAE ranks highest in overall confidence that AI can help business leaders set the direction of the company. 53.3 percent of leaders want to use AI to improve decision-making within the next year, compared to 33.7 percent globally. With the buy-in of leaders, it’s much easier for the marketing team to make the necessary changes.
In the second part of this interview, Peter talks about the challenges of digital transformation, predictive analytics, personalised marketing, and more.