For years, designers and marketing strategists have been proclaiming “mobile first” as our rallying cry for UX and content strategy. We’ve been prioritizing mobile user experience for most websites and ad campaigns (if we’re smart, always considering context), and we’ve been right to do so. At this point, our phones are so ubiquitous that it’s not a question of going online to complete a task—we’re constantly online. We read and send and check and buy and share everything on our mobile devices.
Now that we’ve become so heavily dependent on our phones, we’re starting to expect the same level of convenience, accessibility, and immediacy in everything we do. This is where the internet of things comes in: smart houses, watches, refrigerators, etc.; and voice command personal assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant found in Amazon’s Echo and Google Home (voice-first devices). We’re going hands-free and screen-free, but by no means internet-free.
According to the 2017 Voice Report, 6.5 million voice-first devices were shipped in 2016. They’re predicting that 24.5 million voice-first devices will ship in 2017. And it looks like these devices have gone mainstream, too. Echo sales surged over the 2016 holiday season, when women purchased as many of these devices as men. And Gen Xers, Boomers, and Millennials make up close to equal share of Echo purchasers.
Voice command is growing rapidly, but it’s still in its infancy. Every maker of AI Assistants is still zeroing in on specialization, and people are still trying to figure out how we’d like to use these devices. Here’s what the Voice Report has to say about what consumers can expect from various AI Assistant software:
AI Assistants have started to specialize, and this will become more pronounced in 2017.
- Google is going to excel at mining the web and providing intelligent responses to general knowledge questions.
- Amazon is going to excel at commerce.
- Google and Microsoft should excel at email, contacts, and calendar.
- Microsoft has a huge opportunity to excel at gaming.
- Google and Amazon are going to battle for hands-free TV and home automation.
- Apple is betting on AirPods for on-the-go use cases, and should have an Apple TV voice strategy.
- All players will battle to become the go-to controller of the kitchen, living room, and bedroom.
Specialization is important because consumers do not buy hardware, they buy delightful experiences.
As we watch Amazon specialize in commerce, it opens up opportunities for third-parties to build commerce-related applications, like predictive and on-demand meal delivery. Likewise, as Google specializes in search, it allows third-parties to build new knowledge applications, like extending search capabilities into relevant specialized verticals. Watch for third-parties to gravitate to the platform that best supports their bold ideas.
While each AI Assistant will have unique capabilities, the third-party ecosystem greatly accelerates innovation. In essence, third-party applications are the innovation arm for these platforms.
These specializations are just the ones we can foresee right now, and most of them aren’t very well defined. So far, we’ve determined people are using AI and voice command for music and entertainment, e-commerce, and general knowledge questions. Most of the categories in the list above are still wide open for development.
And those third-parties? That’s you, Jane and John Business Owner. If you don’t think there’s a place for you in a voice-first world, think again. This is the wild west of AI, and anyone can be a pioneer.
Here are just a few reasons every business and marketer should be paying attention to AI and voice command:
Content Marketing and Publisher Visibility
Above-the-fold organic results, featured snippets, knowledge graph, and top stories are what matter most in desktop and mobile searches. But when it comes to voice results, Google is going to choose either a) the single-most relevant result or b) the resource a user chooses in their settings. For example, a search on “who is Frederick Douglas” gives me the following organic results on desktop:
But if I ask my Google assistant, she’ll just tell me, “according to Wikipedia, Frederick Douglass was an African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman.” I’m only getting the answer that’s at the top of the knowledge graph (the section on the right of my screen, where Google has compiled all sorts of relevant info), nothing from the Atlantic, NBC News, History.com, or the others featured in organic results. If I ask when Frederick Douglass was alive, she cites Biography.com, and if I ask when he died, she just tells me, “February 20, 1895,” with no mention of a source.
This puts a lot more value in appearing in the knowledge graph, and while it’s unlikely that any sites (especially small ones) will dethrone Wikipedia for big head search terms, niche sites appear more frequently in organic and voice results for specific, long-tail terms. Proving, once again, that targeting long-tail queries is a smart search strategy.
If I ask Google Assistant for the news, by default, I’ll hear short daily summaries from NPR and Fox News. But I can customize my news to come from any one of dozens of publications on general news, technology, business, politics, sports, arts, and more. In this way, partnerships with Google and app integrations will become more and more important, as people will be choosing less from a list of articles, and getting their news from one or two curated sources instead.
I just asked my Google Home what are the best restaurants in Fountain Square. She told me there are a few places: Kuma’s Corner, La Margarita, and Santorini Greek Kitchen. No surprise, these are also the first three location-based results that show up in a Google search on desktop and mobile for “best restaurants in Fountain Square”. Except with Google Assistant, I’m only getting the top three results. So showing up at the top of the pack is more important than ever for voice.
Seamless Customer Journey
So you’re Kuma’s Corner and you did something right. You’re the number one result for “best restaurants in Fountain Square.” Google Home’s not there yet, but Google Assistant on Pixel is able to turn your search results directly into dinner reservations. All you have to do is ask. Our carpel tunnel days are coming to a close, because there won’t be much more swiping and tapping back and forth between apps. Just talking: real human to real super-computer.
Loads of Integrations
Alexa already integrates with a staggering 8,000 apps. There are app integrations for podcasts and music, ride-sharing, news, home security, thermostats, shopping, productivity, gaming, health, fitness, and more. There’s a huge opportunity for app developers to create integrations for voice devices, and for pioneers in B2C verticals to do the same. I could see myself getting a lot of use out of an app that gives me a cocktail recipe based on what book I’m reading. #tequilamockingbird
Just Take All My Money
These things can literally spend your money. At least Alexa can. No cumbersome checkout. No credit card entry. No logging in. Just “reorder catnip”, wait a couple of days, and everybody’s happy. Right now, Amazon owns this space. But all signs point to Google incorporating in-app payments in the future, and it’s likely that more online retailers besides Amazon will be get in on voice command sooner than later.
Just like mobile, AI/voice command is here to stay. So if you were the guy who didn’t get a mobile site until 2014, don’t miss the boat on this one, too.