Personalized customer experiences are now an imperative. At minimum, customers expect personalized greetings, relevant content, and a service/sales experience based on relevant past transaction information. They expect to be delighted by an empowered sales rep who can address their issues on the spot and take proactive service to a level that used to be reserved for luxury brands. Anything less is a miss. So where do we go from here?

Facial recognition technology may create the next quantum leap in personalization

AI-powered facial recognition technology holds the promise of taking marketing personalization to new levels. Like autonomous driving vehicles, the technology is already here. Brand strategists should be thinking now about how it can be deployed in a way that to builds brand trust (and avoids the ‘creep factor’).

Facial recognition software has been quietly transforming security, access control and law enforcement for several years, although public awareness has recently risen with San Francisco’s recent ban on police use.

Meanwhile, commercial applications are well underway. Disney and Universal incorporated facial recognition to their theme park surveillance methods. Seattle airport is experimenting with it for flight boarding. And Texas-based startup BlinkIdentity is experimenting with LiveNation and others to use facial recognition software to ensure ticket authenticity at event venues.

Facial recognition technology and marketing

As for marketing applications, in late 2017, advertisers were offered a digital screen with embedded cameras in London’s Piccadilly Circus. The signage is able to “respond and deliver bespoke ad content triggered by surroundings in the area,” by reading characteristics of the crowd, such as gender, age group and even the make, model and color of passing cars. In late 2018, tech start-up AdMov began to install tablets in the backseats of cars of ride-hailing services that use their cameras to scan the faces of passengers and deliver targeted ads. With multiple vendors offering ever more powerful tools and algorithms, more advertising applications are no doubt on the way.

I am especially intrigued by the potential for using facial recognition apps to personalize web and retail customer interactions. My computer already recognizes my face to log me on. The possible applications for further customizing my online experience are endless. For instance, why do I need to remember site specific passwords when my face is staring into a webcam? Taking things a step farther, perhaps an app could read my emotions - am I looking upset, sad or happy? – and tailor content accordingly.

In the physical world, facial recognition technology could enhance my interactions with personnel at stores, hospitals, restaurants, and the gym. Facenote is a location-based system that uses facial recognition technology to help businesses recognize their most valuable customers the minute they set foot in the door. Customers opt-into the service by uploading a selfie through their phone or a kiosk. The image is married up with information about purchasing behavior, style preferences, etc., equipping store or other location-specific personnel with tools to engage in the purchase decision in real time. Click here for a video on how it works.

Facial RecognitionThe Facenote system can work both ways, feeding new data on shopping behavior and preferences back into the system, offering more opportunities for business intelligence and analytics.

Risk and reward

With law enforcement applications of facial recognition technology putting privacy issues in the spotlight, marketers may feel hesitant about deploying it to improve the customer experience anytime soon. I think this would be a mistake. Amazon, one of the leading providers of the technology, is no doubt already testing applications online and in its stores. To stay competitive, retailers and other marketers will need to pay attention, or risk being caught off guard by rising customer expectations of personalization.

As with all new technology, it’s not the technology itself that is the problem, it’s how it’s used. Done right, application of AI-powered facial recognition technology to marketing may be a powerful opportunity to demonstrate innovation, build brand trust, and give your brand a leg up on competition. The key to successful deployment will be staying true to brand values.

Web and retail use of services like Facenote offer the advantage of acquiring customer’s consent upfront. Opt in permission is a huge difference from surreptitious law enforcement uses, but that difference may be lost on consumers. Overcoming the ‘creep factor’ will require demonstrating the benefits – how the technology creates a more personal, fulfilling experience – as well as complete transparency in how the data will be used.

We can help

If you are considering a facial recognition personalization initiative, give us a call. We can help you think through the applications, select the right partner and design research to understand customer response. There are many players other than Amazon, but only a few offer the quality needed to create a powerful and positive experience.

We advise A/B testing facial recognition messaging and employing frequent, in-depth voice of the customer research to track its impact on customers. Special attention needs to be paid to understanding emotions as well as behaviors. We have a range of voice of the customer options that will help you get the insights you need to make sure customers are delighted, not dismayed, comfortable and not creeped out.