At CES this week, marketers were buzzing about the potential of virtual assistants.
“Marketing is much more about providing a great experience or a product that makes a consumer’s life easier and one of the most interesting developments for our business is the virtual assistant,” said Kristin Lemkau, CMO of J.P. Morgan Chase.
Most of the attention at CES was on Alexa, the voice-activated assistant for Amazon’s Echo. Alexa is being described as a potential operating system for the Internet of Things, in competition with Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri. LG announced a smart fridge partnership with Alexa that will let consumers buy groceries via voice. A flurry of Alexa-enabled applications are on the way, with one pundit predicting a launch of 700 new applications in the next week alone.
This new virtual assistant ecosystem creates tremendous potential for brands. Commerce is at the heart of the virtual assistant. A 6-year old in Dallas had a conversation with Alexa over the holidays that resulted in a delivery of a $170 doll house and 4 pounds of cookies. Amazon is reportedly considering push notifications for Alexa, so Alexa could soon start speaking before being prompted. And with all of the data available from the Internet of Things, Amazon will soon know a lot more about individual consumers than previously possible.
From a marketing perspective, this can create more relevant engagement than ever. But from a consumer perspective, this has the potential to be really creepy.
The Wynn Las Vegas recently announced that it’s adding Alexa to all 4,748 hotel rooms as a virtual assistant that can turn on lights, change the temperature, or close the shades. Virtual assistants are always listening. Particularly in a city built on the premise that “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” it will be interesting to see how well consumers accept a little surveillance in return for convenience.
There will be friction in how virtual assistants evolve to balance utility with commerce over time. As brands experiment with the potential, I think it’s really important to emphasis utility first. Marketers should first question how brands can use this technology to be more useful to people, rather than simply how to sell more.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Here are a few more cartoons I’ve drawn on this theme over the years.