The Gen-AI revolution: how to adapt to changing digital needs 

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

By Duncan Roberts, below, Senior Manager and Futurist at Cognizant Research 

When search engines first became mainstream, they quickly established themselves as the primary gateway to the internet. They simplified the vast web, allowing users to find information with just a few keystrokes. For many, the search bar became the starting point for any online activity. However, indications from industry leaders like Google and Microsoft suggest that the traditional search model is evolving. Now, the focus is shifting towards generative search, where platforms don’t just locate information and present links, but generate conversational responses based on user intent. This change is more than a new feature – it’s a different approach to how we access information online.

For businesses, this impending shift is significant. It challenges long-established strategies in digital marketing, ecommerce, content creation and more. As we move from a ‘search’ model to a ‘request’ model, it’s crucial for businesses to understand the implications and prepare for disruption.

Moving from search to request

The traditional search model may soon move to a more direct request-driven approach. Platforms like ChatGPT are at the forefront of this evolution, where users aren’t just querying, they’re actively requesting information or specific actions.

Take the task of buying event tickets. In the traditional model, a user might type “buy theatre tickets” into a search engine, navigate several websites, compare prices, and finally make a purchase. It’s a fragmented experience. Now, imagine a more integrated, request-driven experience.

A user initiates a conversation with a digital platform. They discuss preferences like seat location, show timings, and budget. However, this is not just a text-based interaction, it’s multi-modal. The user could voice their preferences, upload images of preferred seating areas, or even share past ticket purchase data for better recommendations.

This multi-modality is complemented by a high degree of personalisation. The platform remembers past interactions, preferences, and even feedback. Over time, it learns and tailors its responses even more closely to the user’s tastes. What makes this even more powerful is the platform’s ability to pull in data from multiple sources.

Instead of the user navigating different sites for reviews, prices, or seat availability, the platform aggregates this information. It might pull reviews from one source, pricing data from another, and seat availability from a third, presenting a comprehensive response to the user’s request.

The result is a seamless, efficient experience. Users no longer have to sift through multiple sources of information. They can have a direct, personalised conversation with a platform that understands their preferences and can pull in diverse data to fulfil their requests. Platforms like this have existed for some time, but often with a higher overall price and with significant consumer pushback. However, the demand for these services is set to grow – now we have a new tool to make it happen.

Flipping advertising strategy on its head

As these direct, request-driven platforms become more integrated into our digital routines, we must start questioning the foundational role of websites in a business’s digital presence. Websites, which have traditionally been the digital shop floor for any business, might soon be complemented or even bypassed by conversations with digital assistants.

This shift has profound implications. On the positive side, businesses can engage users in more direct and tailored ways. But there’s a catch. This also means handing over a degree of control to dominant platform holders, potentially creating an over-reliance on these platforms and challenges in sustaining direct customer relationships.

Accuracy and timeliness of data also becomes paramount. If a platform is aggregating real-time information to fulfil user requests, any outdated or incorrect data can divert potential customers. For example, an individual seeking insurance that covers a specific medical procedure might overlook a provider that just expanded its coverage, due to slow data updates and poor integration with new platforms.

These oversights would drive potential clients towards competitors. Even more so than today, where the impact of outdated data on platforms is somewhat mitigated by organic search landing on the business’s website directly.

The advertising sector won’t be untouched either. The age-old methods of placing ads on web pages or between search results will need to evolve. In a conversational environment, the focus might shift towards integrating offerings naturally within digital discussions, ensuring they align with user requests without being obtrusive.

As for Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), the game is changing. Traditional tactics centred around keywords and backlinks will need re-evaluation. Now, it will be vital to make sure that in a sea of requests, it’s your business that stands out as the most relevant and appealing. The challenge lies in understanding and adapting to the intricacies of how these platforms prioritise and respond to requests.

It’s worth noting that many of these emerging challenges and opportunities don’t necessarily demand the direct integration of generative AI into a business’s operations. However, consumers may increasingly rely on generative AI for their interactions and decision-making. Even if a business doesn’t adopt generative AI internally, it will still need to adapt its strategies and approaches to remain relevant and effective in a market where consumers are guided by these advanced platforms.

The future is in the hands of consumers

The transition towards generative AI is not necessarily a choice dictated by businesses, but rather a response to the evolving demands of consumers. As users gravitate from traditional search to more direct requests, enabled by sophisticated AI platforms, the marketplace and digital shop floor itself is transforming. Consumer expectations, behaviours, and decision-making processes are being reshaped by these advancements.

Businesses, whether they choose to incorporate generative AI internally or not, will find themselves needing to adapt. Staying attuned to these shifts and proactively adjusting strategies will be essential for businesses to thrive and even survive.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024