Editor’s note: Alexander Ferguson is CEO and founder of Raleigh and Charlotte-based YourLocalStudio.com, which is partnering with WRAL TechWire to present a series of in-depth interviews with thought leaders in the field of Artificial Intelligence as part of the firm’s new series UpTech.

RALEIGH — Renowned technologist William Ammerman is the author of “The Invisible Brand,” in which he examines the dramatic transformation of marketing in the age of artificial intelligence. In this book, Ammerman speaks of the revolutionary and often controversial tools of persuasion that are shaping our society.

From personal assistant artificial intelligence like Siri and Alexa, to political social media campaigns, these technologies are affecting every corner of our existence. Whether we fear or embrace these new forms of public engagement, one thing is certain: it’s here, and we better understand it.

William Ammerman

In this first video of our three-video series, we talk with Ammerman about the impact this new era of digital marketing has on business and how people can stay ahead of the game.


Ammerman: When I was a kid, everything was on radio towers. We sent out a television signal to everybody at the same time. We all watched the same news. We listened to the same radio program, and we read the same newspaper. Today, we deliver news and information to people when they want it, and more often than not, we are delivering just the information they’re wanting. So, if you’re a business owner and you’re competing in the world for people’s attention in this kind of attention economy, you’ve got to realize that your competition is you’re competing against people who know a lot about the individual consumer.

It’s no longer everybody; it’s somebody very specific that you’re hunting. And when you’re tailoring information to meet their needs, you’ve got to realize that you’re competing for their attention against a lot of other people who know exactly how to punch their hot buttons, how to get ’em to open their phone and check their Facebook likes. Did somebody like my photo? Did somebody like the image I posted? Did somebody remark on the comments or on the story that I posted? So, you’re competing in this attention economy, and the more you know about individuals, the more competitive you are.

Ferguson: Ammerman tells us how modern digital marketers are extracting and utilizing massive amounts of data about our lives. Companies conduct forensic analysis of consumers’ behavior to answer the questions of how to make a sale.

Ammerman: What ad did they see? What did they consume? What were they doing before they made this purchase selection? Of course, Amazon owns both sides of that transaction. At the beginning, they own the recommendation. People who liked this also liked this. They can give recommendations. But then they can follow those recommendations all the way through to the point of purchase.
So, they’re tracking your behavior right up to the cash register and watching what you spend based on what you did. And they’ve gotten to the point where it’s scientific. We can go backwards, we can create models, we can study statistically those behaviors, and we can start to bend those curves. We can start to shape the future. So, instead of just thinking about it as a predictive statistical analysis, think of it as a prescriptive type of statistics.

Ferguson: So, how can small business owners compete in this modern age of digital marketing?

Ammerman: Machine learning plugged in to your cash register system can start to help you surface and understand audience segments. So, now you get into the idea that we can automatically segment the audiences of people who are visiting your pet store.
Turns out there are some people who only come for the discount dog food. There’s some people who come to bore their pets. There’s some people who come for your grooming services. And when we start to segment the audience, we can start to seeóhmm, okay there are patterns here. And I can start to realize, okay, I want to target this group of people with a certain type of messaging. You’re only buying discount dog foodólet’s look at what other discount products and services we can provide.

Ferguson: In our next video, we continue our conversation with William Ammerman, who tells us about some of the potential dangers we may find in this era of modern-day digital marketing and how to survive them.

Artificial Intelligence and you: Introduction to a new video series ‘UpTech’