Asma Shabab, Marketing Leader for Watson Internet of Things at IBM Middle East, Africa and Turkey, is judging the 2018 WARC Prize for MENA Strategy. Here, she talks to Lucy Aitken about how Watson Assistant and machine-to-machine conversations could transform and personalise customer experiences.

Describe what you do at IBM.

I am responsible for creating our marketing and communications strategy for region. This includes creating a localised narrative, selecting the right offerings to market and creating marcom campaigns addressing different cohorts and audiences. I am also responsible for lead generation campaigns and act as a steward to the Watson Internet of Things (WIoT) brand in the region

When I saw you speak at Dubai Lynx you were talking about machine-to-machine conversations. Tell me more about that.

There will soon be 90bn devices connected and talking to each other and that has tremendous potential for brands. Firstly, the data from these connected devices gives us insights to user data and that is a view that we’ve never had before. We can now understand how and when a person actually uses a product. For example, if a company sells a connected washing machine, it can better understand how people interact with the machine and whether they use all the features in the machine or not. Once you understand that point of view, you can do a lot of stuff with the data, such as looking at different design features, understanding how the product is performing and how usage patterns change over time. Secondly, if you are not able to reply or to converse in real time, opportunities are lost. These devices and sensors communicate real time data and brands have the potential to respond in real time thus, constantly learning and engaging the customers, not to mention, having an always-on focus group and keeps you informed on the experience. Marketers can also see what’s impacting a sale – weather, customer reviews, sentiment – and, based on that, they are able to alter their marketing strategies or conceive and deliver new digital services in real time

IBM has just launched Watson Assistant. Please explain how this differs to other virtual assistants on the market.

IBM recently launched the Watson Assistant, it is an enterprise artificial intelligence (AI) assistant that businesses can add to their products and services to help better understand their customers and create rich experiences. This essentially bridges the gap between people and things like never before. Through Watson Assistant, brands can offer lifelike conversation to their customers.

This is a big opportunity for brands. The beauty of this assistant is that it can be tailored to a specific brand experience; your audience won’t see Watson Assistant but they will encounter better experiences from their favourite brands because Watson Assistant is hard at work behind the scenes. For instance, a car company could use it to create their own in-car personalised assistant. It will be branded for that particular company and it is infused with artificial intelligence so it will constantly be learning about the customer. That means brands will be able to have greater engagement with that customer and will be able to create something that’s highly personalised and develop that relationship so it’s helpful in retaining brand equity, giving clients more personalised experience and learning more about your audiences across time.

Another important feature is data. Watson Assistant helps brands control their data. So while you are engaging with customers to drive exceptionally tailored experiences, while you are constantly learning through cognitive insights; your data is private, personalised and secure.

How would you describe the current state of advertising in the MENA region?

I’m in the B2B industry but of course the B2C campaigns have a uniquely emotive appeal that we keep an eye on. One of the most impressive things that I see is the value that advertisers create for customers through their narrative. The region does an excellent job in marketing with a purpose that addresses a community of stakeholders with aims bigger than just the sale of the products. I find that exciting. The advertising industry does that really well. We still have a long way to go in terms of the digital evolution but that’s the dynamic of the region; we are at a stage where we need to balance the non-digital things with digital. We know social media is hugely influential so how do we create a streamline experience between digital and physical? What we really need to see is how people are using data to create more personalised engaging experiences – this is one of the areas where we’ll see people focusing.

What would you like to see in papers that are entered into this year’s WARC Prize for MENA Strategy?

Some of the previous winners were phenomenal. For me, of course the foundational things are results, effectiveness and innovation. But, more than that, I’d like to see how the entrants are not just designing the content but also designing the execution to offer more value to the customer. By this, I mean how personalised and engaging are you making the campaign? Is it helpful for the person at the end of the day? Is it saving them time? That would include more data. I’d also be interested to see what content and impact they’re making in their overall community – I personally believe that content has the most impact when it addresses a communal need as well as a commercial one.

Asma is a judge for the 2018 WARC Prize for MENA Strategy. Entry is free and there’s a prize fund for winning entries. Deadline for entries: 5 April 2018. Details here.