The evolution of the digital assistant is often compared to the rise of the smartphone. Years ago, it was hard to imagine that the humble flip phone would one day grow up to become a powerful computing device that would revolutionize how we live and work.
Similarly, it is difficult to envision the full potential of the digital assistant today. But as digital assistants come of age, we fully expect consumers will increasingly rely on them to deliver something we all could use: more time.
Indeed, digital assistants have the potential to dramatically organize and streamline our lives by managing our most mundane tasks. We’re already turning to Cortana, Alexa, and Siri to build our shopping lists, control our thermostats, and guide us through rush hour traffic. Soon, they will be restocking our pantries, sending flowers to mom, planning our vacations, and more.
Brands must prepare now for this exciting future, one that also includes digital assistants communicating with one another.
There’s A New Decision-Maker In Town
Until now, consumers have been fully responsible for every stage leading up to their buying decisions. But help has arrived. As digital assistants become smarter and more skilled at synthesizing historical data, learning user preferences, and interpreting context, they are quietly but steadily and proactively recommending solutions, products, and options for the person.
Think of a digital assistant as a moderator between the individual and the digital world. Where once the consumer researched products, digital assistants can replace that step by curating information based on explicit and implicit cues, and then serve up only the most relevant content and recommendations. Or they could bypass the process entirely when we permit them to make purchases on our behalf.
To be sure, consumers are ready and willing to offload many tasks to their digital assistants. In a survey by Canalysis, 87% of respondents said they see great value in digital assistants helping them find deals and refine product choices. They also see digital assistants as helpful for reducing their exposure to unwanted advertising. As a result, only the most relevant, uniquely personalized content will get through to consumers.
Furthermore, in a recent Econsultancy study, 85% of people under 55 said they’d find it useful for their digital assistants to make purchases for them automatically, and 67% are willing to exchange personal data to allow for automated reordering of frequently purchased items. This also underscores how digital assistants are poised to one day revolutionize personal productivity for consumers.
For brands that welcome digital assistants into the fold now, the opportunities in this new era of marketing are many. The more skillfully brands channel resulting data into AI and machine learning, the more they will see an increase in the ability to anticipate their consumers’ needs. That, in turn, will increase their ability to personalize content and offerings, engage with customers in the moment, and achieve greater loyalty through automatic purchasing.
Of course, there are challenges. If you can’t prove relevance, you’ll be invisible. Akin to an executive assistant who safeguards the CEO’s time, a digital assistant will increasingly restrict brands’ access to a consumer, using algorithms and data to block all but the most relevant content. Just think about how that could impact the search engines. So to get your foot in the door of the consumer, your brand must be able to demonstrate deep relevance.
Brands That Innovate Today Will Win Tomorrow
It comes down to this: With voice assistants now in the picture, brands must reimagine how they market. They must shift from advertising to individual-focused marketing. They must get better at providing important product information. And they’ll have to become adept at surfacing deep and broad information to digital assistants. Following are a trio of ways that brands can prepare.
1. Optimize for voice search: Voice is quickly becoming the preferred user interface. Consumers expect brands to have voice skills in areas including customer support, product recommendations, deals and offers—any place that save customers time. Brands must be able to understand and optimize for voice before it becomes the norm.
2. Develop chatbots that talk to digital assistants: Right now, chatbots are designed to communicate with humans. One day, apps will enable them to communicate with each other. Facilitate machine-to-machine communication by building out chatbots and intelligent agents that can engage with consumers—and some day soon, with digital assistants.
3. Build voice skills for digital assistants: Building and promoting voice skills can help you connect with customers through their digital assistants. These skills can help you determine how customers ask for things and how they use the skills, as well as give you insights into the customer journey.
Brands must evolve today to be relevant in the future. Digital assistants will revolutionize how consumers interact with brands and transform the customer decision journey. By embracing voice, AI, intelligent agents, and other disruptive innovations, brands can position themselves to succeed in the coming era of machine-to-machine marketing.