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Hearst Invests in Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality


Phil Wiser
CTO
Hearst Corporation

With the launch of its new Native and Emerging Technologies (NET) group, Hearst Corporation has made a big push to keep up with emerging technologies such as augmented reality, artificial intelligence (AI) and voice-controlled search. But the century-old company isn’t just playing around with cutting-edge tools—rather, Hearst is using them to develop a New Age marketing and analytics workflow that delivers real business value. That’s according to Phil Wiser, CTO at Hearst, who spoke with eMarketer’s Maria Minsker about how the company is making the old work with the new.

eMarketer: What led to the origin of the NET group at Hearst, and what purpose does it serve?

Phil Wiser: The group originated because we noticed a shift to voice-based interfaces, especially for search. We know that a meaningful percentage of online searches shifted to voice over the past year. Because we want to be relevant to the consumer, our emerging technology group has been looking at new interfaces, such as Amazon’s Alexa. We’ve already learned quite a bit about reworking written content to make it relevant for these interfaces.

eMarketer: Repackaging articles and other content to make it voice searchable sounds like a huge undertaking. How is this done from a marketing technology standpoint?

Wiser: We leverage content matching capabilities powered by artificial intelligence. While AI is a bit overhyped right now, there are very solid technologies in that category that we use to automate the way we’re organizing, personalizing and delivering content.

“There are very solid technologies in [the AI] category that we use to automate the way we’re organizing, personalizing and delivering content.”

For example, we’ve got a data science team that looks at feedback from our machine learning and deep learning technology. They work closely with our emerging technology group to take our large collection of content, pair it with audience data, and deliver that content to different devices like Alexa.

eMarketer: How are new interfaces changing the way marketers think about search marketing?

Wiser: We’re all now learning how to optimize the presentation of content, and leverage keywords in the Alexa ecosystem, in an effort to get in front of more consumers. We want to make sure we have the best chance of being discovered through that interaction.

Just like search engine optimization [SEO] was a skill that was developed across the industry over 10 years ago, we now have to collectively figure out voice optimization and voice discovery optimization.

eMarketer: There are plenty of marketing tools in the industry that can help with an established practice like SEO. When it comes to something new like voice search, is the marketing technology space keeping up with marketers’ needs?

Wiser: At this point? No. It’s so early that only those who are creating content and engaging with consumers directly are learning how to interact through new interfaces, [and they’re doing so by building their own tools and developing their own processes]. The overall marketing technology landscape has not developed around [voice search] yet, but it will get there eventually.

eMarketer: Besides AI assistants, what are some other areas the NET group is looking into?

Wiser: We are also looking at augmented reality and virtual reality [VR]. We’re working with all the major platform providers and content creators that are relevant in those spaces.

“In a VR context, consumers are fully focused—they can’t pick up their phone every 10 seconds and look at it.”

There’s a push for more content on major platforms such as Oculus, Samsung Gear VR, Google’s Daydream and YouTube VR. These are all interesting platforms that are experiencing rapidly growing engagement.

Brands can make very strong statements in a virtual reality environment because in a VR context, consumers are fully focused—they can’t pick up their phone every 10 seconds and look at it. To get that level of commitment, though, brands need to invest in special and engaging experiences. I’m currently working with grant partners to develop those kinds of engaging experience that warrant full attention.

eMarketer: What advice do you have for marketers as they start experimenting with some of these emerging tools?

Wiser: Make sure you’ve got a handle on your own data. Gaining a more unified view of your customer across platforms is going to be increasingly important, and the cost of doing that as a marketer continues to go down.

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