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It has been touted as an increasingly integral part of many industries, including marketing. But what exactly is artificial intelligence? And, more importantly, what does it means for marketers in the future? 

The uptake of artificial intelligence may have been measured to this point, but there are many who predict a future of robots, computers and intelligence beyond anything we can currently imagine.

In this episode of The CMO Show, Mark and JV delve into the world of AI, marketing culture and the state of digital marketing with Chaminda Ranasinghe, head of digital sales & marketing at ANZ.

“A lot has been made out of AI and the future of marketing,” says Ranasinghe. “In my view, the reason it is hitting the market in such a big way is because of three things – the power of computing, the neutral networks available and the data the machines are able to consume.”

Ranasinghe also sheds light on ANZ’s latest rebrand and the role of customer experience in navigating that change. “The old days of mass communication when one message was thought to  fit everybody are long gone,” he says. “It’s not just about simplifying the language and turning it from bank-speak to customer-speak, but it’s also about making sure you get out of the way of that conversation.”

Tune in to learn more about the role of culture in marketing and the rise of artificial intelligence.

Listen to the podcast below and subscribe on iTunes and SoundCloud.



The CMO Show production team

Producer – Megan Wright

Audio Engineer – Jonny McNee

Design Manager – Daniel Marr

Graphic Designer – Mitchell Marr 

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Jeanne-Vida Douglas (JVD)
Mark Jones (MJ)
Chaminda Ranasinghe (CR)

Mark:             Our guest today is Chaminda Ranasinghe, Head of Digital Sales and Marketing at ANZ.  Thanks for joining us.

Chaminda:     Pleasure.

JV:                 Welcome to the CMO Show, Chaminda.  

Mark:             I understand that you’re a bit of a fan of artificial intelligence.

It’s actually an interesting thing to think about because there are many definitions of artificial intelligence. What do you understand artificial intelligence to be?

Chaminda:     I mean, it’s quite simple and I think there’s been a lot made out of AI and the future of marketing in terms of AI. The reason why it’s hitting the market in such a big way is because of three things, in my view.  The first thing is the power of the computing that’s at our fingertips, so the processes that are in every machine that we have, it’s just so much more powerful than it’s ever been.  The second thing is the neural networks, the way that the technology is connected and the positioning can be made at a much faster, you know, faster way and the third thing is the data that’s available for those machines to then consume.  So the data, the neural networks and the better computer, the faster processing, together is what’s making AI so powerful.

AI is only ever as good as the data that you allow it to consume and the problems you ask it to solve for you.  So again, for us, from my personal viewpoint, what we’re looking to try and do is get some of the more challenging questions that we have answered using AI and allowing it to consume all the data that we’ve got. So the real outcome here is to provide a better customer experience.

So for example, with all the data that we have about a single customer using AI, we should be able to work out what the next-best conversation we should be having with an individual.  

Mark:             What are the other impacts on marketing that you can see happening, and one that I’ve been aware of, of course, are these – I don’t know what you call them but the automated assistance, not unlike Siri but they sort of pop up on the web screen and they answer your questions.  You can speak to them as you would a human customer service person.

Can you see other things, particularly as it relates to the, if you like, the broad trends in digital marketing?

Chaminda:     Absolutely. I can see a future where the device that I’m holding, so my phone, my computer, will have the AI built into it.  So almost like a virtual private assistant or a personal assistant that then makes the choice for you based on your previous behaviours and the history and so forth.  So for example, you talk about Siri, my phone would have all the information about my needs, my wants, my behaviours and it will then make up the mind on my behalf for things that are put in front of it.  So for example, rather than a display ad being presented to me, I can see how a message will be sent to my VPA and that will then say, “Well, this is the right thing for Chaminda” and I might even never see that.  So it might be the fact that for example I run out of milk and my VPA knows that I’ve run out of milk because of the fridge talking to my phone, for argument’s sake but then a publisher on behalf of another milk company might send a message through to my phone and knows my behaviours and my wants and likes and they might say, “Well, it’s time to switch” because of all the data inputs it understands about me, and I might never get to see that.  So one day I walk in and I’ll open my fridge, I’ll have a different milk carton because my VPA has chosen that.  

Mark:             I read a really interesting research paper on this which in part talked about artificial superintelligence.  We’re talking about really super-smart highly-intelligent computers which almost achieve a level of awareness from a human perspective which is quite scary so, you know, this could go in one of two ways.  Really incredible servants that really make our lives glorious…

JV:                 Or I, Robot. [Laughs]

Mark:             Yeah.  Or…

Chaminda:     [Laughs]

Mark:             Yeah.  Or all the bad things.

Chaminda:     Very scary.

Mark:             Right.  How do you see this playing out in the future?  

Chaminda:     Yeah.  I’m an eternal optimist. But the reality is from a marketing point, if we bring it back to marketing, I think that the role of marketers will change and there’ll be probably more emphasis on being creative and, you know, things that computers can’t do.  Computers aren’t very creative.  They are good at doing things that we are not, which is becoming more efficient doing repetitive things better than we can.  But thinking outside the box, thinking in a more repetitive sense, you know, understanding someone’s emotional state and responding to it, that’s the sort of stuff that machines don’t do well.  

JV:          Now, Chaminda, you’ve had marketing positions at firms like Ford and Aviva and Energy Australia and IBM way back when [laughs]. When did you come across this notion that culture eats strategy and why does it resonate so deeply with you?

Chaminda:     It’s a great question, JV. I started as a graduate working for Ford and I was really fortunate to work for some senior leaders who sort of showed me that it didn’t matter what subject matter I specialised in, it was about working w ith people and building relationships and ensuring that groups of people sort of believed in what you or your teams were going after.  So that single vision and, you know, belonging to something greater than just an individual focus was important.

So culture from my point of view was, was a simple way of bringing groups of people together and if we sort of banded together and, and worked together on something, you know, there’s a stronger likelihood of success than, than otherwise.  Most people focus on technology and believe that that’s what digital is all about.  I still think digital is about people and how people use the technology.  The more comfortable people are with technology and more literate they are with the technology that is what digital is all about, the more successful you are.  

Mark:             So coming forward to today at ANZ, let’s move on to the rebranding that you’re currently working on.  What are the different elements that you’re drawing together as part of that project and what impact are you looking for it to have on the bank’s customers?

Chaminda:     We talk about bank-speak, you know, we refer to things as if everybody else outside understood what we were talking about and the reality is, particularly in digital, things can be so simple and intuitive and the simpler you make a journey, a product, an experience, the more success that you have and that’s not just from a customer experience point of view but from a business outcome point of view.  So from a rebranding point of view, what we’ve tried to do is make things as simple and intuitive as we can and that’s about making the staff inside the bank and the organisation think more like a what a customer would, and this sounds like it’s fairly simple stuff but even in 2016 we’re still talking about user experience and customer experience. taking sort of, the sort of front rather than business drivers or the strategic drivers that in the past have taken importance.

Mark:             How have you translated your thinking about customer experience into this brand project, the rebranding?

Chaminda:     So we’ve got a strong customer experience team and they are always involved in everything that we do.  But having said that, what we’re now doing is asking our marketing practitioners to think about the customer journey, the customer life cycle, the customer experience before they even think about putting a brief together.  In fact, this year, we’ve actually set up our own internal customer experience lab.  We’ve converted a large space to bring customers in and we can watch customers use different, not just digital assets that we’ve got but other things that we’ve built so we can put products that we build into real-life examples and watch customers use them and we can test things before we put it out to market.  So we’re really putting it front of mind.  That’s the whole point.

JV:                 You mentioned this kind of assumption that marketers fall into, that people outside the organisation understand what it is they’re trying to talk about and understand what it is they’re trying to express.  Is that the main mistake marketing departments are still making when it comes to the programs that they’re putting together or are there other mistakes, especially in this area of customer experience and really bringing the customer into campaign development and into message development from the very beginning?

Chaminda:     I think it’s a combination. I think that the sausage machine which is what a lot of the businesses are, which is, you know, someone puts together a brief which then has to go through a legal team, a risk team, a compliance team.  It might touch, you know, a product team.  It goes through to a channel that actually has to then execute – we touched so many individuals that are putting their flavour on something.  Sometimes the initial concept, you know, you lose that flavour of what the customer is trying to actually get out of what you’re trying to say but not just that, you de-sanitise everything.  You try and simplify to a point where, you know, by trying to simplify it, you’re trying to over-complicate it, if that makes sense.  

The challenge we have is the message doesn’t come across as simply as it could.

It’s not just about simplifying the language and turning it from as I said before, bank-speak to customer-speak but it’s also about making sure that you get out of the way of that conversation.  So you have a one-to-one conversation as, as much as possible and that’s even if it talks about mass media, it’s about trying to make sure you’re having those simple, real-life conversations.

JV:                 So that’s a very different role for senior marketers.  Traditionally, you’d be defending the brand message and thinking about risk and thinking about all these other elements.  The sort of thing you’re describing there is actually about beating a path through those roadblocks to ensure a more agile message and a more agile response to customers. Does that fairly describe the sort of challenge you’re facing?

Chaminda:     Absolutely.  I mean, if you think about it, the old days of mass production comms as in one message fits everybody, it’s long gone.  You’ve got to tailor the conversation to an individual and what resonates to one person will definitely not to another.  So what we are trying to do is really target and personalise the experience as much as possible.  So in digital more than any other channel, you can do that.  You can observe a customer’s behaviour online.  You can see what works and what doesn’t work and then you can build a message that, that resonates with that individual and if it doesn’t work, you try something else.  So the old days of, you know, I call it the brand police, saying, “No, you can’t do that” doesn’t work because sometimes you could just say, “Well look, that just doesn’t work for this individual.  We’ve got to try something else”. and that’s what it’s moving to.  

JV:                 Tell me too a little bit about your background.  You mentioned that you’d worked in a couple of different countries before.  What sorts of roles were they and was that something that focused you a bit more on culture as well?

Chaminda:   Yes, I’ve been quite lucky.  Born in Sri Lanka, moved to Australia, I worked in the US, worked in Asia, lived in the UK and, and worked again in Europe, from a work point of view automotive, retail, travel. My background, undergraduate in science, postgrad in technology, you know, graduate program at Ford in marketing into, you know, sales.  It’s also just saying, “Have a go.”  I’ve been a project manager in my life, program director, you know, you’ve got to give anything a go and then yeah, keep at it.

JV:                 Well, speaking of giving anything a go, we have a, we have a segment that we’d like to finish off on called 21 Questions.

Chaminda:     [Laughs] Okay.

21 Questions

Chaminda:     Let’s go.  I’m ready for it. [Laughs]

JV:                 What are you grateful for?

Chaminda:     Family.

Mark:             Do you like rain?

Chaminda:     No.

JV:                 In the movie of your life, who would play you?

Chaminda:     Will Smith. [Laughs]

Mark:             What is your greatest career fail?

Chaminda:     I would have to say taking on a role that was all about sales reporting and performance management.  I’m not good at mundane, repetitive tasks.

Mark:             Beach or mountain.

Chaminda:     Definitely beach.

Mark:             Best ever career advice?

Chaminda:     Don’t be afraid to fail.  Have a go at anything.

JV:                 Summer or winter?

Chaminda:     Summer.

Mark:             Who is your hero?

Chaminda:     My parents.

JV:                 If you weren’t a marketer, you’d be a…?

Chaminda:     A digital marketer.

Mark:             [Laughs]

JV:                 [Laughs]

Chaminda:     Is that cheating?  Is that cheating?

Mark:             Slightly, but we’ll let you go.

Chaminda:     [Laughs]

Mark:             Chocolate or strawberry?

Chaminda:     Chocolate.

JV:                 What did you have for breakfast?

Chaminda:     Toast.

Mark:             What would you rather have had?

Chaminda:     Probably champagne and caviar maybe.  I don’t know.

JV:                 Oh, best answer so far. [Laughs]

Chaminda:     [Laughs]

JV:                 What was the, what was the last conversation you’ve had with your parents?

Chaminda:     Bringing up my children, how I should do it differently.

Mark:             [Laughs] Scrunch or fold?

Chaminda:     Fold.

JV:                 If you could change one thing about the marketing industry, what would it be?

Chaminda:     Taking more risks, be more adventurous.

Mark:             Can you ride a bike?

Chaminda:     Yes, I can ride a bike.

JV:                 What’s your greatest frustration?

Chaminda:     I think my greatest frustration is, is watching people being held back., either because of their own fears and inhibitions and, and, you know, their own constraints or others holding people back, whether it’s, you know, a manager holding one of their team back or, or senior leaders and I think there’s a lot of that going around.

Mark:             Now, this is the five primary senses: touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell.  Which one of those would you sacrifice to save the rest?

Chaminda:     Oh, jeepers.  I would go with hear, hearing.

JV:                 Dogs or cats?

Chaminda:     Dogs.  Easy answer.

Mark:             What’s your favourite book?

Chaminda:     To Kill a Mockingbird.

JV:                 If you had to change your first name, what would you change it to?

Chaminda:     Everyone calls me Chami.  Just shorten it and be done with it.

Mark:             [Laughs] That’s great.

Chaminda Ranasinghe, Head of Digital Sales and Marketing at ANZ, it’s been a pleasure to have you on the show.

Chaminda:     Thank you for having me.


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