Ruth Mortimer on Web 3.0s robot marketing wars

Inside every woman and man lurks the dreaded inner geek. One man recently admitted to me that he yearned for a stamp collection, while a female friend confessed that she had learned all the lyrics to every Queen song ever written. But much, much worse than this, my inner geek is thinking about something called Web 3.0.

You may now be asking: are you serious, haven’t we just got Web 2.0? And will this really affect me and my business? The answer is yes and yes. Web 3.0 is on its way. So you might as well engage your inner geek now because it is likely to have a major impact on the way you market to your customers.

Web 3.0 is also known as the “semantic Web”, another dreary term that belies something very interesting for anyone managing a brand. In plain English, it means information that is understandable by computers without human intervention – enabling computers to perform more of the boring work involved in finding and sharing information on the Web.

For example, the search engine “spiders” that find webpages based on certain keywords will gain an understanding of natural language. They will be able to read the pages rather than simply respond to given words and so will be able to deliver more targeted contextual ads. It’s not yet technically artificial intelligence but perhaps we can call it “artificial braininess”.

It doesn’t stop at computers learning their ABCs. Keeping up the geeky space-age theme, there will also be “intelligent agents”. These are software applications that will make decisions on behalf of online users like you and me without needing to refer to us at all, since they will know all our preferences already. It’s like having your own personal shopping comparison site for everything, or a robot butler.

All this is the kind of thing that makes you look like you’re spending too long in front of a monitor and not enough with human beings. But let’s see how it will affect marketing in future.

First, we must accept that there will be robot wars. We’re all going to have these “intelligent agents”. If, for example, a retailer wants to tell a potential customer about a new range of clothes the agent belonging to the seller will enter into a dialogue about the information with the agent of the potential buyer. It’s a bit like celebrity personal shoppers on a tiny scale – first, get past my personal assistant and then you have a chance to sell to me.

This presents marketers with an unusual dilemma. Everything in modern marketing is geared towards treating people in an individual way and appealing to human emotions. Going to Starbucks is not just about the taste of the coffee product but the whole immersive experience of a cosy coffee shop.

But if these intelligent agents are the buyers’ first line of defence against advertising, marketers need to appeal to machines first and foremost. It’s only after you get the robot on your side that you will be able to have the access to humans necessary to show off your ad. It will become harder to appeal with purely emotional ads.

These intelligent agents will not be the only deflector that potential consumers can deploy against brands. New search engines are appearing that return results based on the “trustworthiness” of the websites. So if your brand is not seen as particularly trustworthy judged by the parameters set by the engine or users, you won’t even get in front of customers’ eyes.

To make sure you are ready for the robot invasion, I recommend you do the following:
Don’t panic. This was the advice initially given by fictional travel guide The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, one of the nerdiest books of all time. It has stood geeks in good stead for nearly 30 years and it still applies now. You will not suddenly lose all your customers, these changes will happen slowly. After all, we’re not yet travelling in our hovering cars, are we?

Think about the search engine optimisation you already do on behalf of your brand. This is essentially marketing to computers. The semantic Web will be an evolution of this; it’s about adapting the skills already in practice rather than starting all over again.

See the semantic Web as a challenge. While you may have to market to intelligent agents with no emotions, the human is still there a little further down the line. It will simply mean balancing the rational and emotional a little better in your branding messages, which could well be a masterclass in good practice.

Try to keep some of these things in mind in future and you might find that tuning into your inner geek is pretty profitable. It’s going to be interesting (in a nerdy way), but is it the end of marketing as we know it? No – that really would be science fiction.

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