Richard Boyd 

Last week’s CES showcased the importance of technology and beauty, especially regarding the role AI will play in future products. AI moved to the front burner at the show in the forms of everything from smart makeup mirrors to apps allowing users to learn what beauty products someone is wearing in a photo.

Furthermore, this week’s National Retail Federation Big Show cemented the fact that AI is lending a personalization factor to retailing.

The ideas are flowing, but much is still to be learned about AI and how to use it. The industry is on a mission to understand what AI modes are impactful versus just a cool factor. Here author, cofounder and chief executive officer of Tanjo Inc. Richard Boyd gives his view on how AI is disrupting the beauty industry. Tanjo is an artificial intelligence and machine-learning company.

WWD: How is AI disrupting the beauty industry? How can brands and retailers benefit?

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Richard Boyd: Billions of dollars a year are spent on beauty marketing include advertising, market research and influencer marketing. These tactics have created a degree of success, and are somewhat effective, but they are also costly and time-consuming. In a highly competitive marketplace, brands will do just about anything to find the right formula for success and the costs are a necessity of business. But what if they didn’t have to? Artificial Intelligence, especially machine-learning, could very well make the methods for testing, market research and other forms of marketing obsolete or at the very least, less necessary. AI ultimately helps connect brands to consumers in ways that were never before possible.

An example is our platform that allows brands and retailers to incorporate an AI automation platform called TAPS (Tanjo Animated Personas). It uses machine-learning and 3-D simulation to create a virtual world for beauty brands where the community size and feedback is endless. Powered by a machine-learning “brain,” the personas absorb information to reflect changing market behaviors because data is pulled in real-time from multiple sources — customer data, social media, news, U.S. Census information, etc. The animated personas act as members of a virtual society where every participant is a synthetic customer profile that allows you to test their reaction with greater accuracy and speed — a world where your participants can’t lie or misrepresent their opinions. Unlike human research subjects, the virtual personas are not susceptible to bias from group members or other external factors, which gives marketers more accurate results. Want to find out what lipstick color will sell out or test a packaging concept before you invest considerable time and money? It is possible. Retailers can learn which products will sell best on an impulse, and test advertising concepts and display locations before spending a dime. Adding 3-D simulation to these capabilities enhances the opportunity. E-commerce could evolve to more closely resemble brick-and-mortar stores. Offering “in-store” advertising and prime positioning throughout their virtual store as customer sims shop. The customer could create their own avatar and with VR goggles, enjoy a fully immersive shopping experience.

WWD: What can consumers expect to come from AI driven marketing models? How will their experience with brands or products evolve as AI becomes more prevalent?

R.B.: With the ability to create unbiased human-based models, we are able to provide more accurate data and reporting, which means less guesswork and more answers. For the brands, this level of customer engagement and feedback is unparalleled. Before dumping thousands, if not millions, into a product launch or on research and development, AI platforms give them a chance to more accurately predict success and offer a more customer-tailored solution at a lowered cost and at greater speed. For consumers, it means brands will better serve their needs with more on-demand products. If R&D is backed by accurate data, the consumer also benefits in the end.

WWD: What are the limitations or considerations for AI? Can indie beauty brands benefit or is it reserved for big-data multinationals? And, how do you mitigate concerns about any barriers?

R.B.: There are infinite possibilities in artificial intelligence and virtual worlds. We are a data-driven society and the data brands’ need will only increase as they grow. AI can easily be tailored to the growing needs of a company and is completely scalable.

I’d also argue companies that aren’t incorporating AI or machine-learning into their business will have a hard time staying competitive five years from now. It really isn’t so much about if a company can afford it, because soon, no company will be able to survive without it.

With regard to ethics and safety of incorporating AI, there’s no question that like all technology, this can and will be, and has been, used for unethical purposes. Our platforms are built within the customer firewall and stay there in perpetuity. They are also representative models, not tied to specific individuals. There is no risk or fear of the information being removed or shared. In addition, the machine-learning “brain” will only learn from sources it’s told to. You won’t have some robot taking over the system or making decisions on your behalf. It’s more of a superpowered assistant or a 10,000 manned team at your disposal doing the data digging and research you and your other human colleagues don’t want to do.