A friend of mine has spent more than the value of his San Antonio home on Amazon Prime in the last five years. That is precisely why the next big battlefield for marketing and advertising lies with artificially intelligent digital agents like Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, Facebook M, and Cortana.
And it’s why the company that cracks AI-powered agents will be the next trillion-dollar corporation.
Every communications technology that has ever been invented has been seized by brands as a new way to connect with customers. A marketing manager sent the first spam email in 1978. A law firm bought the first text web ad in 1993, and AT&T bought the first banner ad in 1994. Google sold the first search ad in 2000, the same year a Finnish company sent the first SMS ad, and Facebook sold its first social ad in 2004. By 2007, when Apple released the first iPhone, ads were common companions inside apps.
But with each new technological evolution, new players arrive who build attractive, shiny, and helpful platforms that consumers simply can’t not use. When these platforms gain traction, they aggregate access to that technology… and then sell that access to marketers.
The same thing will happen with AI agents.
AOL owned dial-up. Yahoo owned links. Google owns search. Amazon owns retail. Facebook owns social, and is leading in messaging. Each reaped huge financial rewards for its leadership position.
Soon, all of that will change.
All of the above represent activities that we do: surf, search, share, buy, chat, communicate, collaborate. Each of those activities has been harnessed by platform players to aggregate our time and attention and then sell it to advertisers. Advertising pays for the platforms, which means we get huge benefits like entertainment, news, and messaging for free.
Or so it seems. Actually, we pay two prices.
The first price is clutter. When there are too many ads, noise drowns signal and our user experience is so bad that adblocking becomes desirable. Publishers and platforms know that for their own survival, they need to offer fewer ads. The only way to do that is with better targeting: showing me two things I’m interested in, instead of 30 I don’t care about. And so, the second price is privacy. In all our digital environments, we oscillate between paying different degrees of one or the other price.
AI agents challenge this entire landscape, because they change how we buy goods and services, and they also change how we shop.
From simple to complex:
- Alexa: put milk on my shopping list
- Alexa: reorder laundry detergent
- Alexa: buy that book I was looking at
- Alexa: get me dinner reservations at a top-rated Italian restaurant
- Alexa: order whatever groceries the fridge says we need
- Alexa: which 5-seater SUVs have the best ratings?
- Alexa: what’s a good sun-and-sand trip to take in December?
AI agents also change our platforms’ relationship to our purchases.
Currently, we surf, search, or tap to get things done. Each of these tasks was and is a painful, multi-step, self-driven process: Find resources, open one or more apps, type queries or click links, compare, contrast, decide, check other resources … fill out information, complete a process, add it to your calendar.
Agents, however, will allow us to simply state our desires, needs, or goals, and will drive the process for us. We’ll accept this kind offer of assistance. But, to varying degrees, it will remove some of our individual acts of selection between brands, models, offers, and options. And it will place more of that power of choice into those agents’ hands … specifically, into the hands of the platform behind the agent.
In other words: Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and so on. And that entirely changes the economic and financial opportunities for these companies.
Platforms exist primarily for the benefit of their owners. Higher-level platforms that are closer to customers accrue more value than lower-level platforms farther from customers. Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and other AI agent platforms will take a huge amount of complexity out of people’s lives, but they will also aggregate an equally huge amount of their spending.
Perhaps even as much, like my Texas friend, as the value of their homes.
Google current earns somewhere around $10 per user globally, per year, for helping brands connect with consumers. Facebook earns about $50 per user in North America. Imagine what those numbers might look like when 50 percent or 80 percent of our discretionary spending happens via your personal Google.
Or Alexa. Or Siri. Or M. Or Cortana.
If web success led to several companies with valuations in the tens of billions, and search, social, and mobile success each led to multiple companies at hundreds-of-billions valuations, what will AI agent success result in? The companies that create, teach, and unleash AI agents successfully will be our first trillion-dollar companies, and they will own access to consumers that 2010-era Google and Facebook couldn’t even dream of.
Plan your investments wisely.