Winning and retaining customer loyalty isn’t easy in a crowded marketplace. But selling something unique has its own drawbacks.
When you offer something truly unheard of, your target audience may have no idea what you’re talking about. So, take the opportunity to educate them. From securing your first sale to creating a seamless customer experience (CX), give your customers the information they need at every step.
In this episode of Often Imitated, host Ben Wilson explores the concept of customer education—first through the story of trailblazing aviator Jacqueline Cochran and then in a discussion with Art AI co-founder and CMO Ben Kovalis.
Listen to the episode or read the transcript below:
Ben Wilson, Host: The world around her was speeding by. The plane engine roared, and she could hear the air whipping past, even through the cockpit. Then things got quiet. All she heard was her own breathing and the slight shuffling of papers. The exhilarating flight turned eerily smooth and calm. And then, boom.
She had just crossed an important threshold. Jacqueline had just become the first woman to break the sound barrier.
That was in 1953, and Jacqueline’s successful aviation career was already well under way. She was known in the industry as a force to be reckoned with, and always had been.
Jacqueline first saw an airplane on a Sunday in 1932...her first time flying solo was the following Monday. Initially, she used flying as a means to sell her makeup brand directly to distributors and customers. By the time World War II rolled around, Jacqueline was an experienced pilot. And she was disturbed by the astronomically high death rate of US pilots in the war. As she looked into it, she discovered something even more shocking:
More American pilots died on US soil than in combat. Throughout WWII, over 52,000 airplane accidents happened in the United States, and almost 15,000 pilots and crew members died.
It wasn’t hard to see why. The education and training of the pilots was abysmal. With some only having an hour of training on the plane, they had to fly into combat. One colonel even told pilots that they could learn to fly the planes on the way to their target.
This was at a time when the majority of Americans had never even been on an airplane. It was the epitome of a new technology that people didn’t understand and didn’t know how to use—and the consequences were disastrous.
But this gave Jacqueline an idea. It involved some important user education. And with it, she was able to save countless lives.
So tighten your seatbelt, put your seat back in the upright position, and stow your tray tables because we’re about to learn how user education can save lives, and save your CX.
This episode is all about educating your customers, how Jacqueline Cochran trained women pilots during WWII, and how you can educate your users today. In this episode, we’ll hear from Ben Kovalis, co-founder and CMO of Art AI, about how they’re working to educate their customers on what AI-generated art is. But first, a word from our sponsors.
Often Imitated is brought to you by the generous support of our friends at Oracle. Make every interaction matter with Oracle Advertising and CX. Connect all your data and empower your entire business to deliver exceptional customer experiences from acquisition to retention and everything in between.
From the beginning, Jacqueline knew she had to be prepared and convincing to get her program off the ground, so to speak. She wrote a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt that she wanted to put together an all-women aviation school.
Her proposition was that the Air Force needed more men for flying into combat, and she had figured out a solution. There were a variety of non-combat tasks that were being done by plane in the US, and Jacqueline figured if she could educate women to become pilots, then those men would be able to join combat missions. It took some bureaucratic maneuvering, but soon the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP, organization was formed.
The women who were recruited to join were required to do the same basic training as their male counterparts. But more women went into specialized flight training. They’d know aircraft mechanics, Morse code, meteorology, physics, navigation, and whatever else came up. They’d be training for 12 hours a day, day in and day out, their minds solely focused on learning anything and everything about the planes they would soon be flying.
When WASP pilots graduated, they’d have 560 hours of ground school and then 210 hours of flight training—compared to the men who’d only have 65 flying hours and 75 hours of training. Jacqueline educated her pilots to be the best because they needed to be.
WASP pilots were placed at 122 air bases throughout the US. They’d ferry planes from factories to airbases, move cargo, and also tow targets for troops to practice shooting at. You can imagine how dicey that got. Some soldiers who hit the plane claimed that they thought they were supposed to be shooting the plane and not the massive target that it was pulling...we’ll let the historians figure that one out.
When it came to ferrying planes, they ensured that their pilots were trained to fly any planes that were asked of them. They ended up ferrying over 12,000 planes and over 78 different types of planes. Meanwhile, the men who were suffering so many accidents and injuries were usually only trained in one type of plane and were often given responsibilities outside of their training when they were deployed.
Jacqueline dedicated her life to being a top-notch pilot, and still is one of the most decorated in history, male or female. She did as much for the world of women’s aviation as Amelia Earhart, but her story has been mainly lost to history. And while the missions that her pilots flew were admittedly less dangerous than the combat training of their male counterparts, their sterling safety record and success rate is a powerful testament to the power of educating users.
We wanted to find an example of great user education today, so we talked to Ben Kovalis, co-founder and CMO at Art AI. Art generated by artificial intelligence (AI) is arguably as new and as poorly understood as aviation in 1942. Ben explained to us what exactly it is that Art AI does.
Ben Kovalis, Guest: Art AI is the world's largest AI-generated art gallery. We are a combination of a deep tech company [that] is also an art gallery and in ecommerce.
We create thousands of different AI-generated artworks that are actually bespoke canvases that people can easily browse and purchase for themselves as original pieces.
We use our technology to create new art completely from scratch, and then present it to everyone at very affordable prices. So we're democratizing the market of original art for the very first time.
Ben Wilson, Host: Why would someone opt for an AI-generated piece of art? As Ben explained, it allows people to own something that is unique at a price that is affordable.
Ben Kovalis, Guest: People really appreciate and love original art, one-of-a-kind art, for many different reasons. The major problem is that not everyone can actually afford such an artwork.
Prices for original art start at several thousands of dollars, and some pieces end up costing hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. That makes even the consideration of owning an original piece something that is off the table for so many people. We’re solving this problem by offering an endless variety of original artworks that almost everyone can afford.
When you see something that’s trendy, that everyone else knows about, you feel like everyone else. There's no sense of accomplishment. There's no added interest to it. There's no unknown. You're basically stepping into something that was created and popularized by someone else.
When you have something that’s unique, especially if it's something that is so new that most people have never heard of it before, it gives you this stage—this opportunity—to introduce something new to other people's lives.
That’s one of the reasons why I think people appreciate uniqueness so much, and it's a major reason why I appreciate uniqueness. It's one of the major points that we want our customers to feel. I want my art not only to be beautiful, but to have an additional function as a conversation piece.
People say a picture is worth a thousand words. I can tell you from experience that when you're speaking about AI-generated art, it could take hours, from the process of creating it, what it means, and the implication of the artwork, both philosophically and ethically.
It's not only that it’s beautiful and grabs attention and makes your space unique. It also gives you something to speak about. It really adds depth. And it is important for us to show to new gallery visitors that one of the functions of the product that we're offering is not just to be beautiful, it’s intellectual.
Ben Wilson, Host: Because AI-generated art is such a new concept, there’s a lot of explaining that needs to be done. And when it comes to customer education, Ben has to overcome something that early aviators knew a lot about: fear.
Ben Kovalis, Guest: We were prepared for that since the beginning. We were expecting some of the potential audience to be afraid of it, or to have negative feelings towards it because of it being so new.
And I can't blame everyone because when you’re so in tune with the new developments in our world about technology, and you read about AI and you know what AI is and what new all networks are, you have a strong understanding of what the future is going to look like. When you have knowledge—when you understand something—you're not afraid of it.
But not everyone is into AI, and everyone is very different. When you go from hearing about self-driving cars to an algorithm that creates art from scratch—especially as art is seen as the final frontier for professions that strictly belong to humans—that idea scares them.
“No, it's not time yet. It was not supposed to happen yet.” That’s the response to replacing one of most human things we can think of with something that a machine can do.
We were prepared for that and we're not blaming anyone. We're trying to do our best to explain what we're actually doing, and how this isn’t coming to replace art. Even if we wanted to—which we don't—we simply can’t. Art has existed ever since humanity has existed, since people were doing it on caves.
New genres and styles of art are discovered all the time. AI-generated art is not going to be the last type of art that’s discovered and used. I believe, and we're trying to make sure that everyone understands, that it simply means that the art of the future is going to be more versatile than what we’ve known up until this point.
AI-generated art is not here to replace existing art. It’s going to be used by the artists of today and tomorrow to make more complex artworks that combine a human artist's creativity with a very interesting tool that they can use to create even more unusual designs.
Ben Wilson, Host: Beyond overcoming fear, AI-generated art is something that many people simply don’t understand, which is why it’s so important for the team at Art AI to educate their customers and the market on what exactly the product is.
Ben Kovalis, Guest: In the beginning, it was quite difficult for people to wrap their heads around it because it didn't make a lot of sense. This should not be possible. There must be a reason why this thing doesn't exist already. So even the simple act of explaining to people, basically that this is real and this is what you're going to get, was a challenge. People had a lot of doubts.
That changed once we started selling the art and receiving reviews, as soon as people started seeing the reviews and understanding that these pieces are the real thing. They are actual, original pieces that were created by a computer algorithm. They are sparking these conversations, and they are delivering the value that I hoped they would. That definitely made everything easier.
But at the beginning, just explaining what this regular canvas, which is not regular, is and making people believe that this is what they’re going to get was probably the most challenging part.
Ben Wilson, Host: So how do you know exactly where you need to provide education? For Ben and the team at Art AI, it started with having open eyes and open ears, and taking care to look for areas where people were confused. This emphasis on listening allowed them to find and correct some important misunderstandings.
Ben Kovalis, Guest: In the beginning, we just did it the wrong way. We had no idea what we needed to write down—what was clear and what wasn’t. We assumed that not everyone would be tech savvy. Not everyone who’s interested in art is going to know a lot about the technology or be able to assume what's correct or incorrect. So, we wrote down general explanations about what we were doing.
Fortunately, we had, since the beginning, a very active social account. We were getting a lot of responses, even on our sponsored ads, and people raised questions.
For example, we were offering the pieces in several different sizes. That makes perfect sense when you’re buying home décor. You want it in the correct size, the correct frame, and the correct color. But when you’re saying that each item is sold only once, suddenly that doesn't make a lot of sense. How can you sell each piece only once, but I can choose different sizes?
So we understood that we really needed to emphasize that each piece is created only after the order is placed. Basically, we’re creating the art specifically for the customer that orders it. That resolved a lot of confusion that we had no idea was even going to be a problem.
But before we reached that conclusion, we tried several things. We limited each artwork to a single size, which is not necessarily best for revenue, but helped us better explain what the product was. It was easier for customers to wrap their head around it. So, it's kind of a trade-off. You're trading additional margins for a higher conversion rate.
It took some experimenting to figure out the correct way to explain it, so branding and the way that we’re presenting our product still, to this day, plays a very big part in the general operation.
Ben Wilson, Host: So how do you know if you’re really doing customer education well? Ben and the team at Art AI have done something really impressive. Their customers understand the product and how to explain so well, that Art AI often learns more about how to explain the product by listening to their existing customers.
Ben Kovalis, Guest: We have great trust in the visitors of our gallery to be dedicated and careful when they're choosing their artworks and they definitely take part.
More than that, because this is so new, our reach depends on our customers and what they think about the product that they're getting—about the art that they're getting. And we’ve found that often our collectors are doing a much better job explaining what AI-generated art is than we are. I can say that because I try to speak with our collectors as much as I can. Always interesting conversations.
And I learned a lot from their input on what is, I'm not going to say the correct way, but a good and interesting and effective way of explaining this technology to people that have never heard of it before.
Ben Wilson, Host: Educating your customers so thoroughly that they become passionate advocates is a dream come true for any CX leader. Because it’s those anecdotes and personal connections that people derive from experiences that’s going to make them share your product with others.
When it comes to educating your users on something revolutionary, it takes guts and a lot of patience. Jacqueline Cochran tended to only have one of those...but her legacy lives on. And so can yours. Find those hang-ups that your customers might be having and figure out how to teach them, and your CX will take flight.
This is your host, Ben Wilson, Head of Content of Caspian Studios. Thank you for listening to another episode of Often Imitated. If you like what you’re hearing, tell a friend or leave us a five-star rating and review on Apple Podcasts. This podcast was narrated by me, Ben Wilson, and produced by Mackey Wilson and Ezra Bakker Trupiano. You can learn more about our team at caspianstudios.com.
This podcast is brought to you by the generous support of our friends at Oracle. Make every interaction matter with Oracle Advertising and CX. Connect all your data and empower your entire business to deliver exceptional customer experiences from acquisition to retention and everything in between. Learn more at oracle.com/cx.
When it comes to customer education, resist the urge to assume what they will and won’t understand about your product. Instead, use every avenue you have to find those all-important gaps in knowledge.
With Oracle Advertising and CX, you can track how current and prospective customers engage with your business, including what questions they raise with sales teams, service agents, and even chatbots.
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This is a transcript of Often Imitated, episode 30: “Making customer education an art with Ben Kovalis, Co-founder and CMO of Art AI.” It has been edited for clarity.