Market Spotlight: Marketing

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It's hard to think of a field more transformed by technology than marketing. It was only a few short years ago that many of us were writing about the importance of a “mobile-first” content strategy, and while mobile devices are still at the heart of most marketing strategies—and are also an important part of bringing speech technologies to the masses—other screenless devices are becoming an increasingly important part of the marketing mix. 

Consumers Embrace Alexa, Siri, and All Their Friends

The numbers are clear: People love their intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs). Search Engine People found that 60.5 million people in the U.S. already use IVAs to conduct searches and place orders; 20% of mobile searches on Google are done using voice; and a whopping 87% of B2C marketers think virtual assistants and chatbots will play an integral role in consumer interaction by 2021. 

The companies behind these digital assistants know that if they are going to continue their growth, they can’t rely on customer buy-in alone. They also need businesses to get behind the technology and create content for users. In February of 2017, Amazon launched an Alexa hub for marketers where brands find a link to the Alexa Skills kit, or an agency to help them. 

Speed Bumps Still Ahead for Digital Assistants

Despite the growing popularity of digital assistants, there may be limitations inherent to the technology. “Virtual personal assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home have become increasingly popular, but their ability to be used as marketing tools is limited,” says Scott Horn, chief marketing officer of [24]7.ai. “Today, Alexa has the problem the Apple app store initially had, where there are a lot of skills to choose from and the things of value are buried. Companies need to find a way to stand out, and they need to provide consistency across different channels. Companies will have to figure out whether these platforms are discovery platforms or browsing platforms. And then, will they only be used for first-party ads, or opened up to media buys?” 

Of course, where money is involved, companies tend to figure these things out. “If it’s the latter,” Horn continues, “they’ll have to determine the value of advertising. For example, if you ask, ‘Is there a great turkey recipe,’ the system could respond, ‘Actually, Whole Foods has a great deal going on right now.’ In the long term, Amazon knows what you’re buying, not just what you’re searching for. I could see Google selling search placements over these types of devices.” 

Beyond Digital Assistants, Back to Basics

But when we talk about speech technologies, it isn’t all about the digital assistants. “Even with the advent of digital channels, voice calls haven’t gone down because voice is the most natural way to communicate,” says Horn. Companies, he says, “are looking for a modern architecture that’s secure and integrates with the rest on their enterprise stack, including marketing.” 

Horn believes that speech technologies will continue to transform based on consumer intents and expectations. He says, “Today 50 percent of the phone calls we handle occur when someone’s been online, so voice agents have a good idea of what the consumer has been trying to do. You will see more applications that combine voice and visual technology so that agents can show offers to consumers if they’re near a screen. The user will be able to click on what they want while chatting with an agent.”

Chatbots Big(ger) in 2019

In 2018, hardly a day went by when we didn’t hear about the increasing popularity of chatbots. These increasingly prevalent tools will be working their way deeper into marketers’ bags of tricks during 2019.

“Chatbots will become more advanced and human than ever before. More retailers will be implementing conversational chatbots in 2019 to solve customer service issues without having to pass customers off to a real-life staffer,” says Patrick Welch, president and CMO of Bigtincan. “They will completely change the online customer experience game, while saving time and money.”

Speech-related technologies are becoming an integral part of the customer journey and the overall digital experience, but that means marketers have to start thinking a bit differently. Optimizing content for a voice-first world is set to become marketers’ biggest challenge in 2019.

Theresa Cramer is the editor of Speech Technology magazine. She can be reached at theresa.cramer@infotoday.com.

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