Each and every day IBM’s Watson works alongside business professionals in 45 countries, analyzing volumes of data to make better decisions and to solve big problems. But ask the average person about Watson and they might recognize it as ‘the computer’ that beat two champions of the quiz show Jeopardy!
Cognitive computing is complex. Watson is not a single computer. It’s an API (application programming interface) powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence that can analyze unstructured data like text, tweets, photos, audio and video. Watson isn’t human, but it augments human intelligence. It doesn’t have a voice, but it can be programmed to return data results in natural language.
I spoke with Ann Rubin, IBM’s vice president of Branded Content and Global Creative. Rubin oversees IBM’s content strategy including advertising campaigns, website content and social media distribution. Rubin explained that the Watson campaign has evolved over three phases, all of which are intended to help IBM’s customers understand the benefits of cognitive computing.
Phase 1: Watson and Me introduces the cognitive era. These were the first 30-second ads that showed off Watson’s range of capabilities. Watson was seen as approachable, warm, and whip-smart. Viewers saw Watson talking to Serena Williams about improving her tennis game or dissecting songs with Bob Dylan. “I’ve read all your lyrics,” Watson says to the songwriter. “I can read 800 million pages per second. My analysis shows your major themes are time passes and love fades.”
Phase II: This phase emphasized digital content that focused on general outcomes in categories from education to healthcare.
Phase III: In April, 2017, viewers of The Masters golf tournament on CBS were the first to see the television ads that launched the current phase. Watson at Work feature actual stories of businesses achieving specific results.
In one spot a young woman approaches her father working in a vineyard and says, “Hey, Dad, come meet the new guy. I hired some help.” The two walk to a table and meet a blinking computer. It speaks: “Hello, my name is Watson. I know you should check vineyard block 12. My analysis shows it would benefit from decreased irrigation.” The ad concludes with one statistic: With Watson and IBM Cloud, winemakers at E.& J.Gallo use 25% less water to grow grapes.
In another spot, an elevator repairman shows up to fix the elevator before anyone knows there’s a problem. “Who sent you?” asks the guard. “The new guy,” he says, pointing to Watson. The ad is for KONE, a company that services elevators and escalators that move a billion people a day.
Each “cognitive story” is accompanied by its own landing page on IBM.com that takes a much deeper dive into the business case. “We know our audience is curious. They want to learn more,” says Rubin. “So we always give them a deeper content path to fuller stories online. The landing pages include longer videos, interviews with the client, and details about the specific API we use.”
The campaign leverages a basic component of human communication — simple is more powerful than complex. Ann Rubin’s lesson for communicators in any field is to be “single-minded.” One story accompanied by one statistic is easier to remember and far more impactful than bombarding the viewer and customer with a barrage of facts and data. From winemaking to industrial repair, and from airlines to sports, the formula is the same. “Show humans working side by side with Watson, followed by one outcome or one accomplishment at the end,” explains Rubin.
This week IBM introduced a major new ad campaign which is an extension of phase III. It’s called, You: Powered by IBM. The campaign is a good example of the one story/one statistic model of communication. For example,
-A doctor says, “I can keep up with 5,000 new medical studies a day and still see patients.”
-A logistics manager says, “I can see the past, present and future of 70 million shipments.”
-An IT analyst says, “I can analyze 1 million security events a second.”
Watson does things that humans can’t, but it takes a human to help customers understand its benefits.
“People don’t always understand how Watson and cognitive technology can be applied to businesses and professions,” says Rubin. “Using real stories of real clients doing real things with Watson demystifies it.”
Watson can help people make better decisions, but not if customers don’t trust it or understand it. Simple, well-constructed stories help IBM build trust. Stories help people understand the why behind Watson and intrigue them to learning how it will help them improve their business. That’s the power of human communication.