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Every company wants to find ways to be more relevant in their customers’ lives, whether that means making their online shopping experience more personalized or providing exceptional service. When Domino’s Pizza introduced Amazon Echo ordering capabilities, it addressed a tangible consumer benefit: the ability to order their favorite pie without lifting a finger.
Domino’s is just one example of how companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) to drive consumer engagement and awareness by offering a discrete utility to customers. While AI might feel like a fringe — and perhaps somewhat futuristic — marketing tactic, home devices like Amazon Echo (now in 8 million homes) and Google Home are bringing these types of experiences to the mainstream.
With more consumers springing for home assistant products, forward-thinking companies are identifying new and novel ways to fit into their consumers’ lives. The benefit for brands is that these types of experiences are centered on streamlining or simplifying everyday tasks, and therefore represent a golden opportunity for marketers to engage audiences via branded utility plays.
Sure, devices like Echo are ripe for novel party tricks — “Alexa! Play ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen. Volume 8!” — but more importantly, they facilitate hands-free computing that makes people’s lives easier. Simple tasks such as answering the phone, entering a calendar event, or tracking to-dos are made more complex when one has to physically type commands into a computer. When companies remove that friction via AI voice assistants, they effectively incorporate their brand into consumers’ everyday lives in an authentic (and welcome) fashion.
Exchanging utility for marketing benefit
AI voice assistants present an incredible opportunity to attach your brand to something of value. Done right, AI can both achieve marketing objectives and provide tangible consumer benefit: a true win-win. For example, Uber and Lyft have built tools that allow their customers to call for a ride via their Echo devices by simply calling out a command. The brand wins by becoming more ingrained into the consumer experience. Consumers win by experiencing a more direct pathway to calling for a ride.
Ford has taken things a step further, announcing a formal partnership that provides in-car Alexa capabilities to its customers. Not a bad bet, if you subscribe to recent predictions that estimate a quarter billion vehicles will be fully connected by 2020. Capital One is also getting ahead of online banking trends, allowing customers to track their weekly spending with a simple command: “Alexa, how much did I spend last week?”
During a point in time where brands are vying for diminishing consumer attention via interruptive ad experiences, the ability to inject your brand in a way that benefits (and doesn’t disrupt) consumers’ everyday lives represents a huge shift in the way companies are approaching marketing on the whole. Branded utility plays, like skills built atop AI voice assistants, represent a promising opportunity for companies — and they’re more attainable than you might think.
Building an AI-powered branded utility
The skillsets involved with creating voice-powered apps (or “Alexa Skills,” as they’re called in the world of the Amazon Echo) are similar to those required to build other types of apps. The coding languages and frameworks for planning are the same. Moreover, planning the dialogue or conversation associated with an AI voice assistant is similar to the planning that is required for a text-based chat bot. The only difference is that chatbots require a keyboard for typing, while voice AI requires voice commands.
Skills can take as little as two to four weeks to develop, test, and roll out, depending on their complexity. The first step in the process is to script the dialogue for the AI assistant. From there, you’ll need to determine the required integrations with other third-party technologies or APIs. Once the scope of the skill is outlined, the next step is to start the development and testing.
There are nuances to natural language processing, and you’ll find that as you test the commands out, certain conversation flows need to be adjusted to sound more natural. Regardless of how smart you train your assistant to be, remember that the conversation should begin with the value you intend to offer to your customers; consider whether AI voice assistants are an appropriate avenue for that utility. Prove that point before doing anything else.
If you think AI voice assistants are something you can plan to do later on, think again. As Google’s Jaja Liao recently wrote here in VentureBeat, only 40 percent of U.S. households had radio in 1930. Ten years later, that percentage had doubled, as radio penetrated more than 80 percent of American living rooms.
Voice-assisted bots like Amazon Echo and Google Home sit squarely within the category of emerging technologies today, but they will quickly become more natural and more intuitive for consumers in the years ahead. The time to plan for the AI voice revolution is now, not later.
Bobby Gill is cofounder and CTO of Blue Label Labs, a New York City based app development company.
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