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Leveraging AI in the Marketing Realm

I love visiting my Grandmother, and over the years I’ve grown to love Waverly, Iowa. But it’s been even more pleasant visiting over the last few years, ever since a little coffee shop moved in less than a mile from her home. Until then, it was nearly impossible to get a latte or any kind of crafted caffeinated beverage during my visits—a pleasure which I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I’ve become accustomed to on a daily basis.
I was reminded of this when I recently interviewed Alex Persky-Stern, the CEO of Waymark, a Detroit-based AI startup. During a call with me on Microsoft Teams, he demonstrated Waymark's AI-powered solution, which is designed to provide marketing capabilities to small businesses.
How small? Let's take a moment and work our way down. For the most recent Super Bowl, which was played in February, a 30-second television ad cost as much as $6.5 million. Obviously, only a handful of businesses are able and willing to meet that price.
Now consider other prominent advertising sources: television networks and major newspapers and magazines with the ability to draw tens or even hundreds of thousands of viewers or readers. Again, for most businesses, advertising at this level isn't financially viable.
Then think about where you live, and your local television and radio stations and community newspapers. Certainly some smaller, local businesses do promote themselves this way, but many still lack not only internal marketing expertise but the financial wherewithal to engage with agencies that produce video or other advertising content.

Filling a Marketing Niche

From its inception a few years ago, Waymark seeks to fill this niche. Initially the company developed a way for clients to self-produce high-quality marketing video. Users could create a profile and then, through simple editing tools and porting capabilities, incorporate this data into their video.
While this solution addressed a real business problem, it wasn't AI. AI, at that point, was still mostly conceptual.
"We began the project before AI was in position to do the things it's doing now. We always had a bit of a done for you element, where we would import your local business data from your web profile and try to populate some of that key information into the video," Perksy-Stern says. "But once GPT-3 launched, it was like, ‘Whoa. Now this actually works.'"
GPT is the language model for OpenAI, a non-profit AI research and deployment company. The most recent version of GPT, GPT-3, which debuted in 2021, is currently in use on hundreds of applications and by tens of thousands of developers worldwide. 
"It's been kind of by happenstance that AI is such a big part of our product," Persky-Stern adds. "We feel pretty lucky to have something that is so well-built for the stuff that is just exploding right now."

Putting AI Tools to the Test

With that as an introduction, Persky-Stern wanted me to see the Waymark solution in action—which leads me back to my initial reflections about Waverly, Iowa. All he needed to get started was the name of a business, any business. Naturally, my thoughts instantly went to that little coffee shop. I won't mention them by name, since they're not actively participating in this article, but it's a regional chain with stores in multiple Midwestern states.
Understandably, most folks have never heard of Waverly, which has a population of just over 10,000. I figured a small business in a small town would be a good test. Like you, I've been reading about AI recently, learning what I can about its enticing potential and still significant limitations. Now I was ready to see just how powerful this particular tool would be.
I provided nothing more than the name and location of the coffee shop, and made up a brief, slogan-y statement about their holiday drinks. (In the marketing business this is known as a tagline.) Within minutes, I was watching a well-crafted video advertisement featuring their holiday menu, their company colors, unique photos, background music, a tagline, and more. I challenged this tool with a little coffee shop in a small Iowa town nobody has heard about, and in minutes, it accepted my challenge and passed with flying colors. I think my Grandma would be impressed, too.

Get Creative With Generative AI 

You can see some other Waymark-produced videos for yourself (here and here), but I just want to reiterate how eye-opening, how cool it was to see this come together. In a manner of moments, with the tool scanning the coffee shop's website and social media for relevant information, a simple snapshot of this business was created. At this point, as Persky-Stern notes, users are able to modify their AI-generated videos by adding and restructuring the images and information that the tool incorporates.
"What we're doing," he adds, "is we're taking these utilities that are extremely powerful, but can also be unwieldy, and applying our specific expertise in and around creative and visual languages and simple editing. It's turning that into something that is very practical and user-friendly for businesses. And that's what's really exciting and fun about all this generative AI.” With this tool, even the smallest businesses can create video at a scale and speed that until very recently was unthinkable. It's opening up possibilities that just weren't there before—and personally, I can’t wait to see what other boundaries AI will continue pushing.