#SFSNYC: May AI Help You? The Marketing Opportunities in Intelligent Search

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Artificial intelligence is the future of search engines. Increasingly conversational, intelligent, and visual, search engines are adapting to become the centerpiece of consumer engagement, as well as a virtually new tool for marketers.

Artificial intelligence and search are essential for the marketing industry because together, “They take the pain out of life,” said Purna Virji, senior manager for global engagement at Microsoft/Bing. Virji enumerated the uses of artificial intelligence in search at a presentation during Wednesday’s Street Fight Summit in New York.

Virji explained how Bing collects information such as user location, demographic profile, product preferences, and search engagement, among many other categories, to develop an understanding of consumers and open the possibility of individually targeting them.

The data collected by Bing serves as a foundation for artificial intelligence development. “AI is like a baby—it needs to learn. Like a baby learning to walk, it needs a lot of practice,” Virji said. Search, she said, is the perfect place for that practice.

Once AI learns from search data, it can then inform and improve the capabilities of search engines themselves, forming a symbiotic relationship. For example, when a consumer types “stress management” in the Bing search engine, the system may ask: “What do you want to know about this treatment?” and provide a variety of response options. Using artificial intelligence, the system knows to ask questions and clarify meaning, rather than simply provide results based on keywords, Virji said.

Marketers can leverage this conversational ability. For example, Bing has recently added a pilot Chatbot Extension, which allows users to engage with a chatbot to ask follow-up questions about search results. This extension can be particularly useful for marketers, she said.

Virji also delved into the growing power of image search, which allows users to conduct a search even when they do not have the words to describe the object of their inquiries. She recommended that marketers optimize for image search and chatbots in order to leverage the growing power of AI.

Pirji cited a quote from tech analyst firm Gartner to illustrate the scale of future search engines and artificial intelligence. “By 2020, the average person will have more conversations with their bot than with their spouse.”

“As technology gets more power and gets more advanced, it becomes invisible. And as it becomes smaller, it can fit in every area of our life,” Pirji said.