Cyborg-ism and what it means for media

Moon Ribas has an implant in her foot that responds to seismic activity. Why should media professionals care about that?

Moon Ribas is a self-described “elective cyborg”. The Spanish artist has a device implanted in her foot that vibrates in tandem with a worldwide network of seismographs. This tremor sense is just one of a series of experiments Ribas has done to augment her senses with technology—choices that she says have made her more human, rather than less.

In this video, Campaign speaks with Ribas about her experience, and how certain people react to it. We also hear from Chris Stephenson, PHD’s regional head of strategy, who argues that creatives and media professionals can’t afford to ignore the small but growing trend toward cyborg-isation.

Source: campaignasia.com; 21 Nov 2017

Facebook says ‘sky is the limit’ for Messenger as it brings customer service tools to brand websites

Facebook is hoping to make it easier for brands to use Messenger for customer service as it looks to provide a more efficient alternative to call centres.

Facebook is making a major push on its Messenger service as it looks to provide marketers with a “more efficient” customer service alternative to call centres.

Facebook is introducing a money transfer tool for the UK market and a new chat plugin, which will allow brands to embed a customer service chatbot directly onto their website. The new services are part of the rollout of Facebook Messenger 2.2 and also include the ability for brands to start sending people sponsored messages.

There will be additional metrics for tracking Messenger performance, while Facebook is opening up its business development tools to new languages including French, Portuguese and German.

Speaking at Web Summit in Lisbon today (7 November), Facebook’s head of Messenger products Stan Chudnovsky said the “sky was the limit” in terms of the chat platform’s transition into a customer service tool. He believes consumers have grown tired of the traditional ways of dealing with a complaint or product query and are looking for a better way to talk to brands.

Chudnovsky explained: “At the moment, you have to call someone up then press ‘one’, then press ‘three’, then press ‘four’ while being put on and off hold. It’s a pain for millions of people.

“The phone model isn’t efficient enough anymore and it’s a lot more efficient for them to be on Facebook Messenger. The sky really is the limit in terms of how big this can become.”

Brands including Argos, Aviva and Air France are already signed up to Messenger and offer a customer service chatbot. But Chudnovsky said one of the key challenges is to make it clear when users are actually talking to humans.

“We have to be transparent and make sure people know whether it’s a bot or a human answering them. The separation has to be very clear,” he added.

Where Messenger can shine is in providing context, he claimed. Rather than having to log onto multiple websites or check emails, Chudnovsky said Messenger can provide a “permanent context” so users are always in the same session and can easily look at records of communication.

He also answered a question on whether Facebook tailors advertising by listening into people’s conversations through the microphones on their devices amid accusations it is doing just that. Chudnovsky dismissed them, concluding: “The human brain is biased to jump to the simplest explanation.

“The reality is people are using Messenger so much nowadays that the possibility of something they talk about then appearing as advertising in their browser is a lot higher. We’re not using anybody’s microphone or listening into conversations to target advertising, I can promise you.”

Source: marketingweek.com; 7 Nov 2017

Chatbots and the rise of conversational marketing

In an ideal world, every brand would be able to dedicate enough resources to give each customer the time and attention they need. Nothing can be as annoying for a customer as a bad or lacklustre customer service experience, where they feel that they were not being given the attention they deserved.

If a brand gives too many of their customers this kind of experience, they may find that they don’t have as many customers after a while.

In a survey of Fortune 500 marketing professionals carried out by LiveWorld, 52% of respondents thought that advances in technology would allow them to engage in meaningful two-way conversations with their customers. Social media, messaging apps and, in particular, chatbots are seen as effective tools to usher in ‘conversational marketing’.

“Conversational marketing is disrupting the brand playbook as consumers spend more time in messaging apps,” said Peter Friedman, Chairman and CEO, LiveWorld.

“Marketers must employ two-way dialogue tactics to boost consumer engagement, be in the moment, and foster lasting customer relationships.”

Conversational marketing is the shift away from brands trying to dictate to customers how to think and feel about products and services. Instead, through the use of chatbots, auto-responders and tech that integrates live agents, brands can actually converse with their customers in real-time, leading to personalised experiences and lots of lovely data on consumer intentions and behaviours.

Conversing with customers

55% of the LiveWorld respondents wanted to deploy messaging apps for the purpose of delivering better customer service. However, currently less than a third are using the technology to try have a positive impact on customer experience. 43% have deployed messaging apps in order to further marketing campaign goals.

Chatbots are the tool that most marketers anticipate allowing them to talk more with their customers. 40% anticipated that their company would begin to use more chatbots in the coming year.

“Chatbots are altering the future of brand marketing campaigns with conversations between brands and the always-on consumer,” says Friedman.

“Early adoption of messaging platforms enables natural and authentic engagement with customers and provides brand marketers with a competitive advantage.”

Source: marketingtechnews.net; 14 Nov 2017

Hear What Voice Means for Brands

If a picture paints 1,000 words, how long will it take for Alexa to reel off my flight search results? Is that better than seeing them on my screen? To understand what a technology means for society, business and brands, it’s vital that we understand its limitations as well as its profound new possibilities. Voice is a naturally fast and sometimes magical way to input information, but as it currently stands it’s not always the best means to getting valuable outcomes.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped us from embracing voice. While many now avoid talking on the phone like it’s the plague in favour of exclusively texting, we are at the same time excitedly talking into smart machines at every chance we get. Regardless of the logic, voice now seems to be a natural and desirable way for consumers to navigate information, so we must ask: What does it mean for brands?

I think we need to take both a short- and long-term look at voice technologies. Amara’s Law declares that the short-term effects of technology are often overstated, while its long-term impact is often underestimated. It is in this important long-term context that I believe the world of voice has a lot of promise.

Short-term Disillusionment

The current obsession with voice changing everything is a little naive. It shows a degree of familiarity with technology, but only a passing understanding of humanity.

Quite honestly, I just don’t buy the predictions. Gartner thinks that by 2020, 30% of searches will be done without a screen (Gartner, October 2016). Activate predicts that the connected speaker will be the fastest adopted product ever, reaching 50% of U.S. households in the next three years (Activate, October 2017). Well, I’ve used and loved multiple voice-activated devices for two years, and I still just don’t buy it.

As Executive Vice President and Head of Innovation at Zenith USA innovation is literally in my job title, but watching me use voice is a bit like watching my parents use a mouse for the first time — you can see a degree of wonder, but also that I’m using all sorts of brain muscles differently, and for the first time. The reality is that, for most people trained in the old way, voice is hard and the payoff not great.

Most articles about voice commerce seem to be written by those who have never used it. Buying things from a device is not easy. It’s not a faster way to get a pizza or a better way to procure shampoo; it’s a long and uncertain journey filled with concerns and friction. If all we ever knew was voice technology, the invention of the website would be our saviour. There are great use cases — the weather, alarm clocks, the news, music (if you are not picky or can actually remember songs names) and a few more, but most of the time, commerce simply isn’t it.

In the next three years or so, I just don’t see life changing much thanks to voice technologies, despite the fact that millions of households may have bought them. Some people will of course continue to shout out demands for Alexa to order laundry detergent off Amazon, and others will dabble with ordering an Uber while they get dressed — just to see what it’s like. Perhaps a tiny percentage of households, for a tiny percentage of their purchases, will order this way, but to say that it’s the entire future of commerce or branding shows a lack of understanding.

Long-term Potential

If we take whole swathes of industries today, from hailing taxis to paying energy bills, ordering food to buying clothes, finding flights to booking hotels, the reality is that seeing is better than hearing. Voice is great for micro transactions and a magical way to check your credit card bill, find out the remaining data on your monthly phone plan, or pay off bills quickly, but in its current state, it simply isn’t the future of retail.

Combined with other emerging technologies, however, I see where the long-term potential of voice will come into play. A bigger disrupter to the overall retail industry is subscription shopping, the ultimate frictionless experience: The idea that you won’t ever need to engage anyone or anything because you merely have items arriving automatically each month or week. The magical piece to this — awareness — is where voice can truly come into play.

This is ultimately the same quandary faced by all brands: First, making sure the product is top of mind and that awareness is high; second, that the brand is liked and understood, and finally, that the products are good enough to be sure people want to use them time and time again.

As emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence begin to reach their true potential, it will power a whole new world of voice. In the long-term, these technologies will become a new operating system, a new gateway and glue to all of the devices that we own. We will see screens operate around us, with TV ads that ask us to speak to our Alexa, and then allow us to ask for maps to stores and locations to update magically in our cars.

In the future, the next generation will have grown ups using voice as the primary way to interact with devices, and therefore people will build business models and products based on this construct. General AI will make voice devices feel human and rich and, above all else, smart. We will trust our devices, and therefore automation will remove many of our brand choices. But even in this crazy new world, we still need to know that a W Hotel is trendy, that a Cadillac is a great car, that Domino’s makes great pizza. The importance of branding won’t change. The importance of advertising and marketing remain. Like with all new ad technologies, we will just need to find that added layer of humanity to reach through these new devices to the consumer.

Tom Goodwin is the Executive Vice President and Head of Innovation at Zenith in the U.S. His role is to understand new technology, behaviours and platforms, and ideate and implement solutions for clients that take advantage of the new opportunities these make possible.

Source: mediavillage.com; 13 Nov 2017

Why Amazon is investing so heavily in voice

All computer interfaces up to today have been unnatural, inhuman and discriminatory, the company’s chief technology officer says.

If you think about it, all computer interfaces have been designed for communication with the computer, not with humans, Amazon’s chief technology officer Werner Vogels said at Web Summit.

These are unnatural and inhuman interfaces, and they are discriminatory, Vogels told the conference in Lisbon Thursday.

“Let’s take the International Rice Research Institute in Manila as an example. They know everything about rice and they work with farmers in the region to improve crop yields. They have built a digital webpage with all this crucial information but no one was using it because the farmers don’t own computers. So, they put a voice interface over it so farmers could call in and describe their patch of land. It has helped greatly improve crop yields,” Vogels said.

People who have bought Amazon Echo devices love them, their reviews say so, he continued. “They use them for every mundane task possible because it’s effortless.”

One customer who has dementia wrote that Alexa had given him his memory back. That he could ask it for the date 20 times a day and it would give him the correct answer 20 times, without getting angry.

But Amazon doesn’t want the world to confine itself to its Echo devices. “The device itself isn’t that smart. All of that lives in the cloud. Alexa is a voice service based on a platform that does all the work,” Vogels said.

Brands and developers could even forego Amazon’s skills kit and use Amazon Polly, its life-like speech service.

“Polly converts text to life-like speech. It can be fully managed, it has 47 voices and speaks 24 languages. Duolingo, the language learning app is based on Polly,” he said.

Polly allows control over the tone, volume, context and different pronunciations, Vogels demonstrated. “It can be used to build voice chatbots, not just Alexa.”

Amazon is investing in developing all this because it believes that the future lies in a human interface to our digital systems.

“I truly believe a voice interface to digital systems will completely revolutionise the way we build these systems and it will open these systems to everyone in the world and not just digital natives,” Vogels concluded.

Source: campaignasia.com; 10 Nov 2017

Artificial intelligence in action: 5 brands brilliantly executing AI

You’ve heard all the forecasts: Robots are going to take away our jobs (possibly even within five years, according to new PricewaterhouseCoopers research) as artificial intelligence turns the world on its head. But of course, AI isn’t really the “next big thing” because it’s already here.

Earlier this year, The Economist surveyed 200 executives and found that 75% of them plan to implement AI in their businesses within the next three years. Google and Microsoft have also both announced shifts from mobile-first to AI-first this year and the skillset of Amazon’s Alexa has tripled over two quarters.

AI will obviously play a huge role in the future, but one thing the technology offers marketers today is a way to offer superior customer experiences. Looking beyond the tech giants, here are five consumer brands utilizing AI in innovative and interesting ways.

1. Sephora

An early adopter of AI, Sephora had a chatbot dispensing beauty advice on Kik a year and a half ago. Choosing cosmetics can be overwhelming—searching “red lipstick” on Sephora.com brings up nearly 200 results—and the chatbot made things easier, starting with a quiz about consumers’ product preferences. The chatbot shared both content and product suggestions, making the sales tactic seem less aggressive. The brand gained some valuable insights, such as the idea that bots aren’t as complicated as they seem and work best with a single objective, and saw enough engagement from that experiment that it’s since launched more chatbots on Messenger.

2. Starbucks

Starbucks is one of many apps integrated into Amazon’s Echo, allowing users to place and pay for their orders with Alexa. The coffee giant also has its own voice assistant, My Starbucks Barista, built into its mobile app.

My Starbucks Barista, which rolled out in beta in January, has all the skills of a human barista, such as taking and modifying orders, and confirming pick-up locations. And since you have to register for Starbucks’ app, its digital assistant will probably even spell your name right.

3. Lloyds Bank

According to March Equifax research, 56% of UK consumers consider biometrics more secure than traditional passwords for online banking. We recognize the irony there, but the fact remains that people want more security around their finances.

Partnering with Microsoft, Lloyds Banking Group customers will be authenticated not by passwords, but by their devices, through Windows Hello, which is designed to recognize faces (not images) and fingerprints. The partnership, the first of its kind in the UK, will begin testing later this year for Lloyds Bank, Halifax and Bank of Scotland customers.

4. Lowe’s

A trip to Lowe’s—the average store is slightly bigger than two football fields, at 116,000 square feet—can be great for your Fitbit score, but difficult if you’re looking to get in and out quickly. Last year, the innovative home improvement retailer introduced the “LoweBot” to select stores in San Francisco. In addition to helping customers find things and answering customer service questions, the rolling kiosk also monitors inventory in real-time as it cruises the aisles, providing Lowe’s with invaluable data about shopping trends.

5. Disney

Disney, a brand that’s already using AI to organize product SKUs, is training artificial neural networks, computing systems modelled after animal brains, to mimic human brains and recognize what makes a story appealing. Using data from Q+A site Quora, Disney researchers used the site’s upvotes and downvotes to train the neural networks to determine what makes some stories more popular than others. At some point in the not-too-distant future, look out for a Mickey Mouse doll that can tell your kids a better bedtime story than you can.

So what does this all mean?

Though AI sounds like a futuristic concept, brands like Sephora and Disney, not to mention Amazon and Google, show that it’s already the new normal. And while it may mean that robots will pour our coffee down the line, they’re already ordering it for us.

AI is crucial for marketers to master simply because it’s become one of many tools to delivering great customer experiences. As the technology becomes more widespread, it will undoubtedly be utilized in even more ways in an even greater variety of fields.

Source: clickz.com; 17 Oct 2017

Amazon teaches Alexa to speak Hinglish. Apple’s Siri is next

Amazon has worked with third-party developers who have built more than 10,000 extensions for Alexa -- from summoning cabs through Ola to recommending Deepika Padukone movies to finding the perfect recipe for Hyderabad biryani.

Amazon has worked with third-party developers who have built more than 10,000 extensions for Alexa — from summoning cabs through Ola to recommending Deepika Padukone movies to finding the perfect recipe for Hyderabad biryani.

The US e-commerce company is beginning to ship Echo speakers in India this week, about a year after bringing them to foreign markets like the UK and Germany. In that time, teams of linguists, speech scientists, developers and engineers have given a decidedly local makeover to the Alexa virtual assistant that powers the speakers.

This Alexa uses a blend of Hindi and English and speaks with an unmistakably Indian accent. She knows Independence Day is August 15th, not July 4th, and wishes listeners “Happy Diwali and a prosperous New Year!” She also refers to the living room as ‘drawing room’ and can add jeera (cumin), haldi (turmeric) and atta (flour) to your shopping list. Then there are her cricket jokes. (Don’t ask.)

“We wanted our devices to talk, walk and feel Indian,” said Parag Gupta, head of product management for Amazon Devices in India. “Alexa is not a visiting American, she has a very Indian personality.”

Amazon isn’t alone. Technology giants from Apple Inc to Google are targeting this nation of 1.3 billion people by training virtual assistants in the heterogeneity of its languages and subcultures. Though many people understand American or British English, they’re more comfortable with assistants who sound more like them.

Hinglish borrows parts of both languages, including the grammar. In some cases words are fused together to mean something different. The key is for the digital assistant to understand a sentence using a mixture of both, yet grasp what they mean and their context.

Source: economictimes.indiatimes.com; 31 Oct 2017

Voice assistants, search and the future of advertising

Over the past few years, voice activated search has come a long way.

When Apple first integrated its voice assistant, Siri, into the iPhone 4S in 2011, it was considered more of a gimmick than anything else. Six years on, and a report by ClickZ and Marin Software reveals that 7% of marketers now mark voice search and digital assistants as top priorities in their marketing plans.

Interestingly, 4% of marketers reviewed in the same report also stated that they would be prioritising ‘smart hubs’ in 2017.

Since the launch of Amazon’s Alexa, so called ‘smart hubs’ have grown in popularity with consumers. Even more so, there is now a demand from consumers to have these as part of their ‘connected’ homes.

As AI technology gets smarter and smarter, it’s evident that we are shifting into a voice led revolution. ComScore said that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice searches and Google’s recent statistics show that 83% of people surveyed agreed that voice search will make it easier to search for things anytime they want.

Speaking to a machine may have felt unnatural and futuristic only a few years ago, but consumers are now embracing the revolution. Smart hubs have championed the growing possibilities of search, and they have now become genuine channels for daily activities, as consumers are excited and impressed by the speed and efficiency with which these devices can help them complete day-to-day tasks.

With this in mind, it’s clear that there is potential for advertisers and brand marketers to make use of voice assistants.

The opportunity for marketers and advertisers

In terms of search functionality, marketers need to be aware of the varying capabilities of each smart hub on the market, as each one works slightly differently and is powered by a different search engine. With each brand’s product portfolio continuously growing, this becomes even more of a challenge.

Amazon’s Echo, which has been on the market the longest, operates with Bing, whereas Google Home relies on Google to answer questions. Apple’s highly anticipated HomePod, due out in December, will have Siri integrated into the device.

The efficiencies of each search engine vary, and for marketers, these characteristics are crucial in deciding how their brands can attract the right attention.

Understandably, we need to remember that marketers are still testing the waters on how smart hubs can be implemented in marketing plans in the most seamless way. After all, as these voice assistants become part of a consumer’s connected home – and at the centre of the family – it’s natural that consumers may be slightly reticent when it comes to inviting advertisers and brands into this personal space.

This was certainly the case for Google, who was immediately hit with criticism after playing what sounded like an advert for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast film, during Google Home’s ‘What’s My Day Like?’ feature.

Similarly, there was disdain after Amazon introduced sponsored audio messages before and after conversations with Alexa. It’s inevitable that there will eventually be paid opportunities on voice assistants, but they need to be able to integrate these messages in a way that doesn’t interfere with the user experience.

How brands and marketers are tapping in

Voice assistants are now part of the omnichannel consumer experience. If used correctly, they are an effective – and natural – conduit between consumer and brand.

Although Burger King’s ‘Whopper’ TV advert caused a stir by hijacking Google Home devices by prompting the speaker to search for the definition of the Whopper burger, it won a Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Lions, and also helped the brand win overall Creative Marketer of the Year.

This nifty hack was hailed ‘the best abuse of technology’ for generating a direct response between consumer and company, and sparked conversation and awareness around the brand and campaign.

This was clearly a stunt ad, and not a long-term use of the voice activated technology. However, its success highlights the opportunities available to advertisers – and interest from consumers – in engaging with this technology.

Could this be a sign that the future of advertising and marketing is heading in the direction of voice search?

So, what could the future look like? At mporium, we know that many marketers have mastered search-based advertising, and are reaping the rewards. Soon, we could see brands bidding for the top spots on voice-activated results.

We may even see brands collaborating with the technology companies to integrate special offers that would be delivered via voice assistants, or suggest alternative solutions to specific queries.

What the future holds remains to be seen. However, it’s clear that as the technology behind voice activated search undeniably progresses, marketers will find a way to adapt to this new search reality that presents itself in the form of voice assistants.

Source: marketingtechnews.net; 4 Sep 2017

The Next Generation of Emoji Will Be Based on Your Facial Expressions

There’s no faking your feelings with these social icons.

An app called Polygram uses AI to automatically capture your responses to friends’ photos and videos.

A new app is trying to make it simpler to help you react to photos and videos that your friends post online—it’s using AI to capture your facial expressions and automatically translate them into a range of emoji faces.

Polygram, which is free and available only for the iPhone for now, is a social app that lets you share things like photos, videos, and messages. Unlike on, say, Facebook, though, where you have a small range of pre-set reactions to choose from beyond clicking a little thumbs-up icon, Polygram uses a neural network that runs locally on the phone to figure out if you’re smiling, frowning, bored, embarrassed, surprised, and more.

Marcin Kmiec, one of Polygram’s cofounders, says the app’s AI works by capturing your face with the front-facing camera on the phone and analysing sequences of images as quickly as possible, rather than just looking at specific points on the face like your pupils and nose. This is done directly on the phone, using the iPhone’s graphics processing unit, he says.

When you look at a post in the app (for now the posts seem to consist of a suspicious amount of luxury vacation spots, fancy cars, and women in tight clothing), you see a small yellow emoji on the bottom of the display, its expression changing along with your real one. There’s a slight delay—20 milliseconds, which is just barely noticeable—between what you’re expressing on your face and what shows up in the app. The app records your response (or responses, if your expression changes a few times) in a little log of emoji on the side of the screen, along with those of others who’ve already looked at the same post.

The app is clearly meant to appeal to those who really care about how they’re perceived on social media: users can see a tally of the emoji reactions to each photo or video they post to the app, as well as details about who looked at the post, how long they looked at it, and where they’re located. This might be helpful for some mega-users, but could turn off those who are more wary about how their activity is tracked, even when it’s anonymized.

And, as many app makers know, it’s hard to succeed in social media; for every Instagram or Snapchat there are countless ones that fail to catch on. (Remember Secret? Or Path? Or Yik Yak? Or Google+?) Polygram’s founders say they’re concentrating on using the technology in their own app for now, but they also think it could be useful in other kinds of apps, like telemedicine, where it could be used to gauge a patient’s reaction to a doctor or nurse, for instance. Eventually, they say, they may release software tools that let other developers come up with their own applications for the technology.

Source: technologyreview.com; 28 August 2017

Here’s What You Need to Know About Voice AI, the Next Frontier of Brand Marketing

67 million voice-assisted devices will be in use in the U.S. by 2019

Soon enough, your breakfast bar could be your search bar. Your lamp could be how you shop for lightbulbs. Your Chevy or Ford might be your vehicle for finding a YouTube video, like the classic SNL skit of Chevy Chase’s send-up of President Gerald Ford, to make a long drive less tedious. And you won’t have to lift a finger—all you’ll need to do is turn toward one of those inanimate objects and say something. Welcome to a future where your voice is the main signal for the elaborate data grid known as your life.

Two decades ago when Amazon and Google were founded, only a seer could have predicted that those companies would eventually start turning the physical world into a vast, voice-activated interface. Artificial intelligence-powered voice is what perhaps makes Amazon and Google the real duopoly to watch (sorry, Facebook), as their smart speakers—2-year-old Amazon Echo and 8-month-old Google Home—are gaining traction. Forty-five million voice-assisted devices are now in use in the U.S., according to eMarketer, and that number will rise to 67 million by 2019. Amazon Echo, which utilizes the ecommerce giant’s voice artificial intelligence called Alexa, owns roughly 70 percent of the smart speaker market, per eMarketer.

“Our vision is that customers will be able to access Alexa whenever and wherever they want,” says Steve Rabuchin, vp of Amazon Alexa. “That means customers may be able to talk to their cars, refrigerators, thermostats, lamps and all kinds of devices in and outside their homes.”
While brand marketers are coming to grips with a consumer landscape where touch points mutate into listening points, search marketing pros are laying important groundwork by focusing on what can be done with Amazon Echo and Google Home (the latter of which employs a voice AI system called Assistant). With voice replacing fingertips, search is ground zero right now when it comes to brands.

But how will paid search figure into it all?

Gummi Hafsteinsson, Google Assistant product lead, says that, for now, the goal is to create a personalized user experience that “can answer questions, manage tasks, help get things done and also have some fun with music and more. We’re starting with creating this experience and haven’t shared details on advertising within the Assistant up to this point.”

While Hafsteinsson declined further comment about ads, agencies are now preparing for them. “In the near term, [organic search] is going to be the way to get your brands represented for Google Home,” says 360i president Jared Belsky, who points to comScore data that forecasts 50 percent of all search will be via voice tech by 2020. “Then ultimately, the ads auction will follow. You’ll be bidding to get your brand at the top of searches. I believe that’s the way it will go. Think about it—it has to.”

Jeremy Lockhorn, vp of emerging media at SapientRazorfish, remarks, “The specificity of voice search combined with what any of the platforms are already able to surmise about your specific context [such as current location] should ultimately result in more personalized results—and for advertisers, more narrowly targeted.”

Brands—which are accustomed to being relatively satisfied when showing up in the top five query results on desktops and phones—should brace for a new search reality, Belsky warns, where they may have to worry about being in either the first or second voice slot or else risk not being heard at all. “There’s going to be a battle for shelf space, and each slot should theoretically be more expensive,” he says. “It’s the same amount of interest funnelling into a smaller landscape.”

Scott Linzer, vp of owned media at iCrossing, adds that consumers may not “find it an inviting or valuable-enough experience to listen to two, three or more search results.”

Marketer interest in voice search is downright palpable in some circles. Fresh off a tour of client visits in Miami, Dallas, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis, 360i’s Belsky reports that “every CMO, every vp of marketing and, especially, every ecommerce client is asking about this subject first and foremost. And they have three questions. ‘What should I do to prepare for when voice is the driver of ecommerce?’ The second one is, ‘What content do I have to think about to increase my chances to be the preferred answer with these devices?’ And, ‘Will all my search budget one day migrate onto these devices?’ There’s not obvious answers to any of these questions. Being early to all of this means you get the spoils.”

National Public Radio may not seem like an obvious media brand when it comes to being an early AI adopter, but the 47-year-old news organization has moved quickly in the space. Its news, music and storytelling app, NPR One, is evidently infused with machine learning, offering listeners curated options based on their shown preferences. And the organization extended the reach of NPR One’s content by inking a deal with Amazon Alexa in February. Since then, the phrase, “Alexa, play NPR News Now,” has been regularly heard in 400,000 homes that use the service. Additionally, NPR One has functionalities that its corporate sponsors have appreciated for some time; in particular, letting brands get extended audio mobile messaging when consumers want to hear more.

“They can press a button on the phone to hear more about what [carmaker] Kia is doing around innovation,” says Meg Goldthwaite, NPR’s marketing chief. Is voice-enabled digital advertising—where the listener asks for more Kia content and perhaps even fills out a test-drive form—right around the bend for NPR? “It’s absolutely possible,” she says.

Goldthwaite is probably onto something. Last year, IBM launched Watson Ads, which lets viewers “talk” with a brand’s ad and request additional info. Toyota, Campbell Soup and Unilever have tested the units, often averaging between one and two minutes of engagement, per Big Blue. “We have already begun to see that consumers are spending more time with these cognitive ads than with other digital ads,” says Carrie Seifer, CRO for the IBM Watson content and IoT platform.

Imagine being able to talk to video ads via Amazon Echo Show, a smart screen that comes juiced with Alexa voice functionalities. Costing $230, the device shipped in late June and provides a glimpse into next-gen households of the 2020s with talking screens, holograms, appliances and vehicles that Amazon exec Rabuchin alluded to.

“Voice is a productivity tool,” remarks Linda Boff, CMO of GE. Her company provides an intriguing business-to-business example of how AI-based utilities will soon help enormously expensive products like locomotives, jet engines and turbines sell themselves. For instance, GE has developed a prototype that lets an otherwise insentient locomotive send a voice message to a repair technician describing what needs to be fixed. It’s part of GE’s Digital Twin program, which creates 3-D representations of industrial assets and can process information gathered from individual machines globally to better inform decisions. It’s essentially machine-based crowdsourcing for when trains need to fill up on digital feedback instead of diesel fuel.

“The twin can call you and tell you, ‘I have an issue with my rotor,’” explains Colin Parris, vp, GE Software Research, who reveals that his brand’s voice AI features will roll out widely in 2018. “It can provide basic information that a service rep would want. Like, ‘What was the last journey you took? How many miles did you travel?’”

General Electric’s Digital Twin program has turbines and trains learning how to speak to their customers.

Staples also plans to flip the switch on its b-to-b voice AI initiative early next year. In partnership with IBM Watson, the retailer’s Easy Button—a fixture in its TV spots—will add an intelligent, voice-activated ordering service, which already has been tested in recent months by office managers with enterprise clients.

The business supplies chain is practically providing a step-by-step tutorial on how to build such an Echo-like device. Teaming with conversational design and software company Layer, Staples first built an AI-anchored chat app and carefully analysed the conversations.

“It helped us narrow down our use cases and create more robust experiences around the core challenges we were trying to solve,” says Ian Goodwin, head of Staples’ applied innovation team. “Once we got a really good idea of what our customers were asking on chat channels, then we built the voice experience with the Easy Button. It was really a gradual ramp-up rather than just going out and doing it.”

Indeed, voice AI probably shouldn’t be rushed to market. One company that understands that is Trunk Club, a Nordstrom-owned men’s clothier that recently rejected an offer from Amazon to be a fashion partner for Echo. Justin Hughes, Trunk Club’s vp of product development, isn’t AI-averse—he’s hoping to use voice activation in the next 18 months to spur his company’s subscriptions-based sales. But the timing with Amazon wasn’t right for his brand.

“If you are going to purchase between $300 and $1,000 of clothes, we don’t want it to be a weird experience—we want it to be something you return to often,” Hughes says. “There is so much imperfection in voice AI right now; it can be clunky.”

The vp also pointed to an elephant in the room—data ownership—when it comes to retailers partnering with Amazon or Google. “We just don’t want to give them all of our talk tracks,” Hughes says.

What’s more, hackers in the future might find a way to siphon off data collected from various “listening points” in homes and offices. Just last spring, Burger King caught considerable heat from privacy advocates after its television spot—which, in spite of the brouhaha, won a Cannes Grand Prix—hacked Google Home devices around the country.

The last thing voice-focused marketers want is Uncle Sam on the case. “As in-home, voice-controlled AI technology becomes even more prevalent and evolves in terms of substance—more capable of offering real answers to real questions—marketers will need to be increasingly careful to properly follow FTC disclosure and advertising guidelines,” notes advertising lawyer Ronald Camhi.

And since voice AI could greatly impact search-driven commerce, it’d probably be wise for Amazon and Google to encourage industry best practices. Then again, they might want to actually form a larger circle that also includes Facebook, Apple, Samsung and Microsoft. Facebook last week purchased AI start up Ozlo and is rumoured to be developing speaker technology of its own. Apple has star power in Siri, and Samsung in late July debuted voice capabilities for its assistant, Bixby. Also, Microsoft will continue to market its AI assistant, Cortana, in hopes of getting a significant piece of voice real estate.

Says Abhisht Arora, general manager of search and AI marketing at Microsoft, “Our focus is to go beyond voice search to create an assistant that has your back.”

A Rube Goldberg apparatus for the marketing history books

What do you get when you jerry-rig six Google Homes, six Alexa Dots, six laptops, six soundproof boxes and four extension cords? You get an apparatus that’d make Back to the Future’s Doc Brown proud.

Along with a bottle of Puerto Rican rum for the technicians, those are all of the ingredients that were poured into 360i’s VSM, or Voice Search Monitor, which is the brainchild of Mike Dobbs, the agency’s long-time vp of SEO. This makeshift system is designed to give clients like Norwegian Cruise Line an edge as smart speakers increasingly influence consumers’ purchase decisions.

VSM asks Google Home and Alexa Dot (Echo’s little sister device) thousands of questions around the clock, and whether the queries are answered automatically gets recorded on an Excel spreadsheet. An early round of testing found that for the travel category, Google answered 72 percent of questions while Amazon responded to 13 percent of the queries. In the second round of testing for finance, Google answered 68 percent of questions while Amazon answered roughly 14 percent.

Dobbs thinks unanswered questions present brands with an opportunity to become the search result with targeted, voice-minded digital content. “That’s one interesting thing that we believe is going to be white space that marketers need to explore,” he says. “They can raise their hands to take conversations on when major systems don’t have the data sources or depths to [provide an answer].”

Right now, his team is focused on speakers. But how long before they have to pivot and figure out how voice-powered refrigerators and other appliances impact clients’ needs?

“I don’t think it’s 2025—I honestly think it will be in the next two to five years,” Dobbs predicts. “Those technologies are not as elegant as they need to be right now. But, yeah, in five years—we’ll be there.”

Source: adweek.com; 6 Aug 2017