Alexa is listening: Why adland needs to learn how to market to robots

The rise of voice controlled smart assistants mean marketers must start preparing for the era of hyper-responsive, always-listening, artificially intelligent machines. Tom Geekie, Jaywing's managing director, explains how to market to a robot.

Google is making a big marketing push with its Google Home device, and the implications for brands wanting to reach consumers are significant.

In order for Google Home to respond to your every whim, it spends its time listening to everything you say, even from quite far away, waiting for you to engage it with the “OK Google” command.

Wynn hotels announced last December that it was placing an Amazon Echo in every hotel bedroom in Las Vegas. Unsurprisingly, this sparked some privacy concerns and there are plenty of articles and commentators raising concerns about the rise of the machines and the impact artificial intelligence may have.

There was also the now infamous story of Alexa hearing a news anchor recounting the tale of a girl from Texas commanding Alexa to order her a doll house and doll houses supposedly turning up at people’s doors throughout California (they didn’t, purchases weren’t confirmed – but it makes for a good story).

Even though these products still seem pretty futuristic right now, they will easily slot into people’s routines and daily life and while they’re doing so, they’re learning all of the time from a huge amount of input that is training the artificial intelligence.  If you ask Google Home a question it can’t answer, sometimes it will tell you that it doesn’t know how to help you yet but that it is learning all of the time.

While Alexa can order things from Amazon via the Echo right now in the UK and US, Google Home is currently focusing on the connected home and an extension of the OK Google assistant on your phone.

But this is where it is starting, not where it will end. Selling the $200 Google Home isn’t about making a margin on a piece of tech. What Google, and the like, really want is your data to become an indispensable part of life and to make commercial gain as a consequence. By the way, this isn’t a criticism – it’s how the world works.

Personal assistants such as these pose many questions for marketers – Amazon Echo allows you to order stuff from Amazon, Google returns a handful of local results when you ask it where you can get pizza. So how do you make sure you get heard? How do you market to a machine?

In the world of search, you’re already marketing to a machine, either by ensuring you’re very relevant and guiding the machine through SEO or by paying to appear through PPC. And if you’re good at it, you’ll appear in the first few results but consumers have loads more they can look at.

What changes is the level of information the machine has to match people with the right results given the amount of output it can reasonably provide.

When the machine knows your likes and dislikes, what you watch on TV, what information you like to find out, how you like your news, when you eat and sleep, your mood, how many voices are in your house and when, your brand preferences, and plenty more besides, it can make decisions on your behalf to provide you with things that suit you completely.

This fundamentally changes how you do marketing. Everything is hyper-personalised and hyper-responsive, marketing opportunities appear in places they didn’t previously, commercial models are different, brand becomes more important than ever, but not in the same way as before, as niche overtakes mass in terms of both marketing and product. Brand and performance have to work hand-in-hand in an ever more complex network.

While it’s still reasonably early days, and for all of the talk that NBN is a dud rendering the smart home useless, make no mistake: it’s not just coming, it’s here.

Marketers need to imagine and prepare for a world where AI will talk to other AI with the purpose of enriching the lives of humans.

From ordering exactly the breakfast you want on your way to work to recommending movies – it’s all about marketing you can’t see and won’t even notice. Are you ready for the AI revolution?

Tom Geekie is managing director at Jaywing.


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