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Deodorant company Schmidt’s Naturals is using an AI platform, called Alexander, to handle all of its customer service — and collect more first-party data.

Building and growing the AI platform not only allows Schmidt’s Naturals to collect and mine its own data — which in turn is used to help the AI platform learn more about its consumers — but helps it deliver more personalized messaging to them as it has grown. The brand, which was acquired by Unilever in 2017, is piloting the AI platform which will eventually spread to other Unilever brands, according to Schmidt’s Natural CEO Michael Cammarata. (A representative for Unilever did not respond to a request for comment by press time.)

“A lot of brands relied on Facebook, Instagram and Google to be able to buy very heartily targeted data,” said Cammarata. “I don’t think the data that a lot of little brands relied on previously is going to be available in the future for big or little brands. So, the biggest thing that we’ve been focusing on is keeping a strong, data-driven marketing online and offline, but engaging the consumer in the conversation to drive our data.”

To do that, the AI platform has been key. Schmidt’s Naturals employs its AI practice to respond to consumers via its social channels and through emails. “It may take a person two to three minutes to write an email response,” said Cammarata. “It takes Alexander maybe a millisecond.” 

Alexander has its own neuro-network and functions without the command of humans, whereas a bot needs someone to command it. It monitors social media and starts conversations with consumers about Schmidt’s Naturals without humans pushing it to do so. Those interactions with consumers are then used to create data sets that not only help with the brand’s marketing but also help make the AI more advanced. Humans will edit some of the responses before they are sent out and those edits also help the AI learn. Within the company, roughly 20 people work directly or indirectly with the AI.

“Marketing is going to be personalized to an individual in the future; products are going to be personalized to individual in the future,” said Cammarata of why the company’s AI practice is key to its growth. “So, if you don’t have technology enhancing your workforce and be able to communicate with millions of consumers in multiple languages all over the world, in milliseconds, you’re going to be left behind.”

Cammarata declined to share how many messages the AI sends out per day or any specific results of the AI but did share that Alexander is doing the work of “20 people.”

Using AI to communicate with consumers makes sense for a brand like Schmidt’s Naturals, according to brand consultant and Metaforce co-founder Allen Adamson. “Schmidt’s targets younger consumers, and millennials like instant communication,” said Adamson. “To be able to respond that quickly doesn’t happen easily. If they can develop an AI-based communication to provide instant gratification, that’s smart.”

Cammarata believes the AI practice Schmidt’s Naturals employs will have a greater impact on the way it spends its marketing dollars in the future. “As we roll out Alexander to more platforms and he starts engaging with more people, that actually is going to move us from a [cost per action] model,” said Cammarata. “It’s almost like a conversation, like word-of-mouth model.”

The AI will be designed to engage with consumers even if the brand isn’t mentioned, specifically to turn negative consumer experiences into positive ones. For example, the brand plans to use the AI in the future to find consumers who may have lost their baggage at the airport and message them to send them a care package with Schmidt’s Naturals products. Engaging with consumers that way will limit the brand’s need to spend on advertising, said Cammarata.

Cammarata declined to share how much the company has invested in the AI or specifics about the brand’s marketing budget but did say the company is investing more marketing dollars in its technology and that the company’s media buys have become more efficient since using the AI.

Using a small brand to test out an AI practice makes sense to Adamson. “If it doesn’t work there’s not a lot of risk,” said Adamson. “Part of the reason you buy a small company is to try something new. You don’t want to try something new on your billion-dollar brands. This is a smart move for Unilever to test and learn fast on a smaller brand so they can apply it to the bigger brands.”

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