White Paper:
Intelligent Assistants. Smarter Marketing.

HAL 9000. The computer from Star Trek. KITT. Jarvis. The polite, helpful talking computer looms large in our imaginations. And with good reason, the history of Intelligent Assistants is nearly as long as the history of computers themselves. Today, we’re finally in striking distance of that dream.

The implications are huge, both for the way we live our daily lives and the way we go about our jobs as marketers. With millions of intelligent assistants being integrated into speakers, phones and even appliances, we’re witnessing the birth of a new channel of communication. For marketers, it’s crucial that we not only understand the technology and how people are using it, but also begin to develop the best practices that will allow our clients to be ahead of the curve in this rapidly evolving space.

The Connected HomeEnter Google Assistant, Alexa, and Siri. They’re the intelligent assistants powered by tech giants Google, Amazon and Apple. They’re extremely popular and now available on a device near or on you.

But first, a quick aside regarding what an Intelligent Assistant (IA) actually is. Simply put, they’re software agents that can perform tasks or services for an individual. They often use natural language processing to match user text or voice input to executable commands. IAs and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are two sides of the same coin, separated only by the way humans engage with either technology. AI machines mimic humans while IA machines assist humans.

So now that we’ve defined what these babbling bots aim to do, let’s talk about what they’re actually doing.

If you’ve used one, then you know there’s an irony at work here: Intelligent Assistants still feel kind of stupid. The way consumers are using them reflects the limitations of today’s IAs.

Some sobering stats

  • 69% of the 7,000-plus Alexa “skills” (aka voice apps) have zero or one customer review, signaling low usage.
  • When people do enable a voice app, there’s only a 3% chance, on average, that the person will be an active user by week 2.
  • Android and iOS apps have average retention rates of 13 percent and 11 percent, respectively, one week after first use.

However, the ubiquity of them is undeniable. Thanks to The Cloud, the proliferation of smart phones and cheap hardware like the Echo Dot, IA’s are spreading like wildfire among consumers.

  • It’s predicted that 24.5 million voice gadgets like the Echo and Home will be shipped in 2017, up from an estimated 6.5 million last year.
  • A surprisingly broad range of people are adopting these speakers – it’s not just for the young and tech savvy 
  • Audio and music is the number one activity
  • They also provide frictionless at-home shopping

Given this explosive growth, it’s no surprise major brands are starting to show interest. Given the general cultural interest in the device, brands have good reason to make sure they’re part of the conversation going on around these devices. A recent episode of Southpark used the ubiquity of these smart speakers to hilarious end by forcing Alexas across the country to create ridiculous shopping lists. This prank was itself, probably inspired by Burger King’s Cannes-winning tv commercial. However, not every brand needs to be mischievous to take advantage of the technology. We’ve seen other integrations that are as utilitarian as Campbell’s and Uber apps being released on Alexa that provide hands-free help to make cooking dinner and hailing an Uber, while still curling your hair, easier.

Generally speaking, the most active brands in the space are those who have a lot to gain from being associated with tech innovations. Whether the app or the integration works well or not at this juncture isn’t really the point.

Brands are also interested for another reason. Just like your web browser and cell phone are tracking your every purchase, site visit, search and even physical move, Intelligent Assistants will now hear your every word. There are obviously incredible privacy implications with theoretically being able to listen to everything happening in a home, but the ability to gather, anonymize, analyze and draw conclusions from this data is going to be next level for advertising opportunities.

Naturally, this leads us to some media implications for savvy marketers:

1. Big data. We can harness the tech behind such devices to listen to questions and inputs and deliver responses unique to each consumer. Similar to current technologies, IAs are learning along the way, perpetually getting smarter and optimizing responses and results. The ability to be constantly analyzing an incredible volume of data creates new, actionable insights surrounding consumer preference and emerging trends that can help with everything from creating relevant offers to future product innovations.

2. Search. It’s still too soon to tell how this potential shift in consumer behavior will change the way our trusty Google search results appear. But we can assume that without a screen, it won’t matter unless you’re first.

3. First to Market. Where it makes sense, we need to be integrating our client’s brand into these types of technologies early on. Just because we can’t own the phrase “toilet paper”, doesn’t mean we can’t have consumers training their devices to know that a specific brand of toiler paper, like White Cloud, is the brand they want to order when they request that their device “order more toilet paper.”

4. Deeper connections. The end goal for this type of technology is a lengthy conversation between human and AI. Unlike human interactions, these intelligent assistants will be built to remember your habits and complete interaction history and be able to use that information for future context and conversations. This is an opportunity for a next level content strategy. Perhaps a consumer has recently stocked up on Champion protein powder, but we know from other past interactions that they’re a runner. Perhaps our brand can be there to provide a list of upcoming local races and go beyond just trying to sell our end product.

5. One Point of Access. Eventually, consumers won’t want to navigate between multiple apps. In fact, data today shows that most people only really use about 4-5 at the most on any given day. Intelligent assistants are only going to further remove that friction. What would previously take the opening and closing of multiple apps becomes a seamless phrase you might have yelled out to a family member or roommate anyways. That’s a bit of an oversimplification but the point is that a shift is coming, not unlike the somewhat recent move from creating a different website for every device to creating just one responsive site.

It’s important that in conjunction with all of the above, we must remain mindful of our target consumer. Are they using this technology? If so, how? Which platforms and devices? Who in the household is using it?

There are creative implications as well.

1. Sonic Identity. This concept is defined by the aural cues that are associated with your brand. This means creative considerations, that may have become an afterthought in the age of television, are once again getting new prominence. Jingles, pneumonics, and the literal voice of your brand will take on greater importance and serve as the primary identification with listeners. A brand’s goal should be to develop a unique sonic signature that provides immediate recognition, like Intel’s pneumonic does for them.

2. Theatre of the mind. All this means is how do we conjure vivid imagery in our audiences' minds through sound alone. This will be an increasingly important concept because it gives agency to the listener.

These days we’re looking to podcasts to see how techniques are being used and can be adapted for our brands. How are podcasts like Serial and Nightvale engaging their listeners?

3. Experiment. Because formats are very fluid right now there’s a lot of room for experimentation. So imagine an Alexa or Google app that lets people take a tour through SXSW. They can listen to different bands, drop in on panels, or even just hear from people from all across the world. It’s an audio tour that the listener controls.

We’ll leave you with a few key takeaways:

  • We are in the infancy of an important paradigm shift in technology. We aren’t even in the metaphorical wild west phase of this technology yet. Expect as many dead ends as huge advancements in the next five years. We’re not convinced that apps are the model that will power the way Intelligent assistants work, but smart brands are testing them already to get as much learning as they can so they can be better equipped to figure out what the right path is. Big data is about to get even bigger.
  • Interesting creative will come from brave clients willing to experiment. Marketers need to start thinking of creative differently. However, turnkey solutions aren’t here yet so if you want to do something you’ll be doing so from the ground up, with a developer and no work to use as an example.
  • Start using your Intelligent Assistant. Your phone probably already has one. Have Siri set an alarm. Buy a Google Home. Buy an Alexa. They’re only getting smarter and more useful each day.
Posted Tue, Oct 17, 2017 by Tom Endo, Katy Goodman, Nicole Parker in White Papers