AI assistants are quite literally everywhere, and with the recent launch of new devices like the Echo Auto, they continue to become more and more prevalent in our daily lives. As I sit down to write, I ask Alexa to play some music and, she knows the perfect music to put me in a writing mood. First launched in 2015, analysts estimate based on earnings releases that Amazon has already sold more than 20 million Echo devices, through which people can access their virtual assistant, Alexa. Google Assistant, launched in 2016, is already accessible on 400 million devices and will reportedly be embedded within TVs in 2019. Companies like Apple, Samsung and Microsoft have jumped in with both feet as well.
Like search engines before them, assistants are changing the way consumers find the products and services they need. A virtual assistant can efficiently navigate an ever increasing and overwhelming number of choices, sorting dozens or hundreds of options to find what best matches a consumer’s preferences. We all know shopping for a new handbag may be fun, but picking the right deodorant or laundry detergent – not-so-much.
AI platforms are quickly transforming the marketing landscape – and making brands jobs a little bit harder. Over the next decade, virtual assistants will fundamentally change how brands interact with potential customers online. They have the potential to become the primary channel through which people get information, purchase goods, and choose services. A new front in the ongoing battle for consumers attention has opened, and brands must accordingly adjust how they think about their digital marketing and overall marketing presence to account for this new reality.
Revolutionary technologies change the way consumers interact with a marketplace and force companies to evolve. Television gave the nascent brands of its era the opportunity to become the major national and international marquees we know so well today. The internet, and more specifically the search engines that organized it, gave consumers more choice and a massive advantage to those companies who were fleet of foot. Similarly, brands that want to succeed in this brave new world of voice search need to move quickly. And with each evolution, comes new challenges to measuring the effectiveness of our marketing efforts.
Don’t end up like the dodo
Evolution tends to reward those who can adapt. The same holds true as we move into this new ecosystem.
Tips for those who want to survive: invest in understanding the algorithms that power these platforms and their decision-making processes. Previously, the goal was a high ranking on page one of a search results page; today it’s important to think about how to be the first recommendation a virtual assistant suggests.
AI will take into consideration a consumer’s prior purchases and choices, so brand loyalty is still essential, leading to the second tip: companies must focus more than ever on how to build loyalty and affinity. Perhaps a loyalty or rewards program makes sense, or maybe there is an opportunity to create a “subscription” to your products. There is enormous power in becoming the default choice. Having the ability to measure your brand affinity and customer loyalty impact on sales will become increasingly important in this world of virtual assistants.
This is a unique time, especially for disruptive brands, to capture new customers and influence AI’s decision making for years to come. Alexa, for example, when asked to buy laundry detergent will ask, if you want to buy the same brand as last time, based on your past purchases. The overwhelming majority of consumers will say “yes.” This behavior reinforces the choice for the AI. Over time, and with the inevitable introduction of a smart laundry detergent container, the AI might stop asking and automatically order detergent on your behalf.
Finally, while most purchases — currently about 90 percent of global retail sales — still occur in brick-and-mortar stores, many purchase journeys start with an online search. Shoppers search digitally to explore their options and find good deals, even if they choose to travel to a store to buy. More and more often, that initial digital touchpoint might be via voice. As that trend continues, brands must amend how they measure digital performance to take voice search into account and understand the impact of voice search. Learning lessons today, when the stakes are relatively low, and figuring out what are the key drivers of success, will pay off for years to come.
Voice search is another step toward empowering and educating consumers. Powered by new AI, these connected tools will increasingly understand the entire customer journey. They’ll see the same advertising messages as their users and gain deeper insight into what drives their purchasing decisions. In fact, over time, they will increasingly curate both the content and advertising to create a bespoke entertainment and information environment tailored to each individual in a household. This is the height of persona-based marketing. Marketing professionals need to leverage the same powerful AI to create an omnichannel approach for each potential customer.
If you are still using an older or siloed approach to measuring your marketing impacts, such as Marketing Mix Models (MMM) or Multi-Touch Attribution (MTA), you might be frustrated as you try to get a complete picture of the ideal customer journey. Learning more about unified measurement is critical, as experts consider it the best practice for achieving marketing efficiency and making a greater impact in the marketplace.