Gabi Zijderveld, CMO, Affectiva
Gabi Zijderveld, CMO, Affectiva

When you develop and market a brand-new technology, how do you make it a “thing”?

That is, how does a product marketing team go about:

  • Coining a term to describe a category,
  • Popularizing that term, and
  • Solidifying its presence in your industry?

This article is about my experience working at Affectiva—and how we became widely regarded by experts, press, analysts (and even competitors!) as the company that defined “Emotion AI.”

First, a bit of background

Until recently, technology was somewhat limited in terms of its ability to sense and adapt to human emotions and reactions. Our apps, devices and advanced AI systems have lots of cognitive intelligence, but no emotional intelligence. As such, transactions between humans and machines are relatively superficial and often ineffective.

But over the last few years, Affectiva created never-before-seen technology: software that identifies complex human emotional and cognitive states, by analyzing people’s faces and voices.

Essentially, we infused AI with EI (emotional intelligence)—allowing for much more productive, persuasive interactions between tech and humans.

This was a brand-new category that hadn’t yet been defined in AI. We coined it “artificial emotional intelligence,” or “Emotion AI.”

As a result, our challenge was to introduce the tech and establish a major footprint for it—as well as our brand—in the AI industry.

#1. Naming your term
TIP: Keep it simple, keep it clear, keep it short.

When Affectiva first developed this tech, we described it in niche terms.

We first referred to it as “automated facial coding,” which was terminology well understood in market research – the first industry we sold into.  However, it didn’t seem to inspire people outside of this market very much. Not to mention, it didn’t speak to our software’s ability to analyze voices in addition to faces.

We mulled over a number of other ideas. Emotion sensing tech. Emotion recognition tech. Emotion detecting tech.

But over time, we realized it was important to describe our tech in a much simpler way.

Then, about two years ago, our CEO was preparing her keynote for an upcoming AI conference in which she referred to “artificial emotional intelligence.” The term was accurate, but saying those three words was such a mouthful! We wanted it to be shorter so people could really connect with it; we—somewhat jokingly—said it should fit within a hashtag.

That’s when we came up with Emotion AI—and indeed, #EmotionAI.

#2. Defining your term
TIP: Create a crisp story that resonates with others and captures their imaginations.

Once we coined the term, it then became very important to figure out exactly how to describe Emotion AI to our target audiences.

And so, we created a “talk track” to guide how we talked about our tech. As we got more and more interest in our technology from press, it became even more critical that we got our story down crisply.  We took a long time to build out a narrative, iterated on it many times, and to this day fine-tune it and add to it. The talk track essentially addressed the following questions:

  • What is it?
  • Why have we built it?
  • Why does it matter?
  • How does it work?
  • Why is it difficult to build this technology?
  • Who’s using it?
  • What value do they get out of using it?
  • Where is this technology going in the future?

Ultimately, we wanted to describe Emotion AI in real terms—in a way that would resonate with others, and speak to people’s imaginations about the new possibilities our tech could create.

#3. Use the term everywhere
TIP: Be nothing short of ubiquitous. Speak it, shout it, socialize it.

Once you’ve named and defined a category, you have to focus on educating and evangelizing.

It wasn’t enough to just refer to Emotion AI in meetings (although that was very important too, to ensure the term became second-nature to our employees).

The good news was that we were onto something that had never been built before. As such, Affectiva was invited to several AI conferences, to provide a fresh and new perspective to the AI dialogue.

And so, once we solidified our talk track/story, we took it on the road. We built it into keynote speeches, used it when speaking on panels, pumped it in our blog and e-newsletters, and shared it on social media.

No matter the channel, we would get our story out there. And we consistently stuck to the story and script—taking pains to use consistent, simple language to describe Emotion AI.

We also educated and evangelized with existing clients and partners— even our market research partners, including an industry-leading media conglomerate, now talk about Emotion AI rather than “automated facial coding.”

As a result, we received a tremendous amount of inbound PR interest. To this day, all the leading media outlets want to cover this cutting-edge AI technology.

Being able to name Emotion AI and describe it in a simple way, we were able to carve out our area and put parameters around it—creating a specific domain within the broader AI arena.

#4. Build and promote proof points
TIP: Create an ecosystem around you.

There is one more key to this success story—and without it, I am not confident we would have properly succeeded.

In addition to the above three steps—and especially when you’re doing something really new—it’s critical to build an ecosystem around you of like-minded people who buy into your vision and help you promote it:

  • Clients
  • Business partners
  • Sponsors and advocates
  • Industry thought leaders
  • Friendly reporters
  • Analysts
  • Academic contacts

At Affectiva, we spent a lot of time working with all these groups to get them up to speed on Emotion AI and why it matters.

We focused on our clients, supporting them in using our tech so they could successfully bring new programs or solutions to market—especially the small companies who were building innovative or even disruptive concepts with Emotion AI. This helped us not only build proof points, but some of our very best advocates—because with their consent, many of our clients’ stories were shared with the press.

As cliché as this might sound, this is all about finding the “win-win” for all involved: Affectiva gets compelling case studies that showcase our tech, and in return we can give our clients and partners great media coverage and a stage presence at events we invite them to join us at.

At the end of the day, it’s all about relationship building.

We knew we had built a great ecosystem when we held the first-ever Emotion AI Summit last September at the beautiful MIT Media Lab: a full-day conference featuring 28 influential speakers, and 300 attendees including 12 analysts and more than two dozen reporters.

When everyone wants to be part of your new tech category, you know you’re doing something right!

Emotion AI is here—and everyone knows it

It’s been two years since Affectiva coined Emotion AI—and even as more players pop up in our field, we are still seen as the leading vendor of this category.

Press, industry analysts like Gartner, and even our competitors are using the term Emotion AI, which reinforces that we’re onto something legitimate and relevant. (When other “like” vendors are using your term in their websites and news releases, it really is a great compliment.)

Indeed, Emotion AI really is a “thing” now—a category on its own, with analysts and press continuing to cover it, and a growing need for this once-unheard-of technology.

Just last week we announced the first-ever automotive in-cabin sensing solution: Affectiva Automotive AI. And again, we are doing all the things I described above!