Brands think about products, rather than consumers, with virtual personal assistants – Travis Johnson

Voice-activated marketing could soon become a feature of everyday life as the technology behind personal assistants becomes embedded in everyday items through the Internet of Things, Ansible’s Travis Johnson has said.

Both Google and Alexa are artificial intelligent-enabled voice services intended to enable customers to interact with their accompanying hardware devices, such as Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa.

But, although the tech giants’ range of voice-powered hardware devices are becoming popular globally, their real growth is more likely to come from embedding the software into cars and household objects – the global president of IPG Mediabrands’ mobile marketing agency claimed.

Johnson: Brands need to think about user utility

Speaking in Singapore this week as Ansible announced plans to open a base here, Johnson said: “There seems to be a bit of a landgrab between [Amazon] and Google to build into this [voice-controlled search] space.

“Apple’s Siri, Google Home and Amazon Alexa are all building their way into devices; they’re not standalone objects anymore. Eventually I may be asking Amazon Echo what’s the weather like by talking to my microwave that has that same functionality built in.

“The question is though, which household appliance will be the one that answers you. Will it be the dishwasher for example? That will be the interesting challenge.”

However, looking more broadly at VPA-enabled marketing, Johnson said some brands were struggling to use the technology effectively when it came to the user experience of consumers.

He explained to Mumbrella Asia: “Amazon Alexa has many apps, what it calls Skills, such as Uber and and food delivery companies, but many of them are not that good.

“There are brands playing in that space but, instead of thinking about their utility to the consumer, they’re just thinking about it as an audio feature to their website. And that’s just not interesting.

“One was a fuel company that would basically just talk to you for five minutes about different types of fuel. And who wants to listen to a diatribe about fuel for five minutes? Whereas if that fuel brand could instead work with your car – so say help you understand what fuel works best for that car – then it’s much more useful.”

Amazon’s Alex Echo

He added: “Brands at the moment are still thinking too much about being product-first, rather than consumer first, but it’s the latter that will bring better utility and get the consumers engaged.”

Looking at trends in Asia, Johnson added that the Japanese messaging app Line, which revealed its own virtual assistant Clova at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, could become a major rival to Google and Amazon.

He said: “Line’s [Clova] looks similar to an Amazon Echo, but they’re taking it to the next level by putting a screen on it and tying it into the messaging service.

Line’s soon-to-be-launched Clova

“So I could start a conversation about looking for a great restaurant tonight. Line can make some suggestions and send it through to the device, and then carry the conversation on through the messaging platform to give me directions and help me find out more.

“Meanwhile, at the moment, Google and Apple are just great experiences. Even if I talk to Google Home or have a request, it’s not reflected in my search results or mapping activities. [Line] has actually tied it together better than others. That is in my opinion where things are leading to here.”

Google Home’s device recently courted controversy when a commercial for Burger King included a command to wake up viewers’ voice-activated devices. The ad triggered criticism among users concerned about the invasion of their privacy.

Google deactivating the prompt spoken in the commercial just a few hours after the launch.

Speaking about the ad, Johnson said: “It was an idea we thought of a long time ago. We were looking to do it with Amazon Alexa, but decided not to in case it would go wrong. We didn’t want the possible backlash and to jeopardise our relationship with Amazon knowing we were doing the wrong thing.”


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