A framework for effective AI

Sklar Wilton's Marina Laven digs through the research to figure out how to get consumers to welcome the new tech.
Artificial intelligence

By Marina Laven

Marketers can no longer afford to reject artificial intelligence simply because they don’t yet know how to incorporate it into their strategic plans. New players are disrupting every industry and established brands must take proactive steps to ensure that disruption doesn’t to happen to them.

Results from a Sklar Wilton & Assocates study of Canadian consumers demonstrate that people recognize the utility of AI applications but, at the same time, they are concerned and distrustful of brands that use them. The long-term path to the successful implementation of AI strategies requires companies to approach the integration of AI with a “Triple Win” framework of Utility, Privacy/Security, and Trust.


Brands across categories are increasingly using voice assistants, chatbots, and robots to help consumers physically and virtually wade through complicated customer decision journeys.

Levi’s has implemented AI tools that help people find clothes that fit properly whereas Sephora and Lowe’s use AI to help consumers answer questions about products and services. Vodafone has gone one step further to customize their customer service voice assistant with a ‘Kiwi’ personality. Alibaba, a retail leader in applying advanced technologies, has created smart clothing racks and mirrors to help people see themselves in new styles without ever trying the clothes on.

Companies in the travel industry are also taking advantage, with Kayak, KLM and Best Western using AI to help consumers select and book the best flights and locations, while Hilton and Marriot help guests navigate the hotel and surrounding area once they arrive. Customers can even use Marriott’s in-room voice assistant to order room service or book spa appointments. And in food, Campbell’s Soup and Knorr use AI to help customers customize recipes based on ingredients currently in their home.

Our consumer research indicates that consumers support customer service applications of AI. About 44% of people believe that AI’s ability to get prompt answers to questions would be useful to them, and 59% would feel comfortable with AI providing recommendations on what to purchase. About half of Canadians (48%) say they’d feel comfortable if AI arranged their travel plans and 38% say they’d feel comfortable using AI to book a hotel or car. About 60% of people are comfortable with AI providing them with recommendations on what to eat based on their personal medical history and goals. And many believe that AI has the potential to improve customer service (40%) or provide the same or better customer service than a person (20%).

Privacy and Security

Unforuntately, few consumer brands have made privacy a key competitive advantage. To counteract the lack of visibility in the implementation of privacy and security, companies focus on displyaing company policies on their websites. Companies succeeding in this area use plain language that allows anyone to understand what data is being collected for what purpose (such as Apple and Encircle), learn about changes to those privacy policies (Fitbit), or find out how to withdraw consent for the collection of data (Danske Bank).

The research shows that people are comfortable using AI in the most sensitive aspects of their personal lives including regulating the temperature inside their homes (72%), organizing their schedules (64%), and providing companionship to people who need it (58%). But on the other hand, more than 43% of people worry about the AI on their phone, and a whopping 78% believe AI will decrease their privacy.

It is clear that people understand the benefits of artificial intelligence, and they want brands to build AI products and services that can be used in their personal and work lives. At the same time, people want companies to implement those processes in ways that respect their privacy and maintain their security.


Trust comes from not only providing good quality products and services, but by also actively and intentionally striving to do the right thing. Nike and Under Armor have done so by mapping their AI apps and virtual assistants against their mission statements to create “AI for Good.” They go beyond their products and services to help people lead healthier lives, but are still in the minority. Consumers have clearly shown that companies using AI still need to earn their trust. In fact, 31% of people worry companies might misuse AI to their own advantage, and 41% believe those companies are focused on reducing their costs at the expense of people.

Through chatbots, voice assistants, and AI enhanced processes, innovative brands are using AI to offer their customers more relevant products and services, speedier answers to questions, and faster bookings and sales. But based on our research with Canadians, it’s clear that consumers remain skeptical of brands incorporating AI in their processes. However, by implementing this kind of framework from building useful products and services that incorporate privacy, security, and trust, brands can improve their chances of achieving long-term growth and success.

Marina Laven is managing director at strategic consultancy Sklar Wilton & Associates.