I’ll never forget being a young teenager sitting in the backseat of my neighbor’s dad’s car as he tried, one word at a time, to teach his voice-activated assistant to help him navigate by recognizing a few (extremely basic) commands spoken in his thick Texas accent.
Perhaps you’ve been there too. After all, whether you hail from brisk New England—land of the bubblah and Hahvahd Yahd—deep south, or you’re from another continent altogether, there’s a set of nuances to the way you speak. And historically, your voice-activated devices probably had a problem with that.
Technology trends today are moving toward the improvement of these voice-driven tools, with assistants such as Siri and Alexa able to hear your voice, recognize it, and do more than the supercomputers of yesteryear. And now, with Google Pixel in the mix, one thing is certain: this is the beginning of a marketing transformation that’s never going away.
For users, that’s thrilling. For marketers—especially those who’ve waited for the technology to come into its own before considering it in their own content strategies—it’s a bit daunting.
The advent of (actually useful) voice-activated technology has likely left you with a few questions: What statement is Google making with the introduction of Pixel? Does this new development mean I should make considerations for voice in my 2017 strategy and/or budget? What role do voice-activated devices play as marketing tools? As many predict that the future is all in software, parsing through what Google is thinking and what it means for larger technology trends is increasingly important.
Spoiler alert: it all boils down to active listening—or “listening and responding to [your audience in a way] that improves mutual understanding.”
Here’s what I mean.
Perhaps the biggest way that voice-activated AI is revolutionizing technology trends is in the way it interacts with the world around it. In the first big mobile tech revolution, every company scrambled to build an app because apps put your brand in everyone’s pockets and at their fingertips.
Now, whether it’s the AI on Google Pixel or the in-home versions offered by Alexa and many current and imminent competitors, you don’t just have apps in your pockets or at your fingertips—you also have them next to you on the couch or across the room from you.
Today, you can ask Alexa how many ounces are in a cup or tell your Pixel to add an event to your calendar then hit snooze on your alarm—which means we’re no longer slaves to touchscreens and proximity to electrical outlets. This makes the interactive experience with technology more organic and seamless than ever before. You can now call an Uber by saying “get me a ride” or receive a variety of helpful answers from apps and plug-ins—so this matters big time for brands. Building apps that cooperate with the newest technology trends and can prove that they literally listen to customers’ needs is big, but for brands like Google, the whole listening thing is even bigger.
While Google already plays a disproportionately large role in the Android world, with Pixel, it has now delivered a device whose native apps are 100 percent Google products. And it’s also the first and only smartphone to come stock with the full-featured Google Assistant, Google’s answer to Siri, which has been years in the making and integrates with a more global set of apps.
Google Assistant has tons of powerful potential when combined with Pixel—which is undoubtedly a world-class piece of hardware. For example: users can lean Pixel against a surface, then ask it to take a picture without the ridiculous ritual of setting a timer and sprinting. As users get more comfortable and more creative with voice-enabled smart devices, their potential will only continue to grow. Google sees the potential for voice—it won’t stand on the sidelines and keep building great software that other manufacturers get to tout as features on their devices.
As marketers, we’re no strangers to the notion that Google has a remarkable eye for the technology landscape and its evolution into the future. In Google’s eyes, the future lies, among other things, in making tech work for people by meeting them where they already are. But even if that means developing first-rate auditory AI, today’s users have a more immediate need for some sort of device we can delegate secondary tasks too—things like building grocery lists or taking selfies on command. And even if the future is in more seamless, conversational tech, they haven’t quite moved away from using their thumbs and looking at things on handheld screens.
If you’re wondering what the future holds, Google’s investment in voice is proof that this technology’s going to matter in a big way. Brands wondering about the future of marketing transformation in the voice-activated, AI era need look no further than Google’s significant investment in Pixel and Assistant to know that one of tech’s largest players sees voice assistants, connected apps, and the associated hardware as key elements of how we’ll use technology as it progresses. As for what brands can do with that knowledge, that just requires some creative thinking.
Today’s AI-driven devices already understand dozens of languages and countless accents and dialects within those; tomorrow’s devices promise to be even more fluent in their understanding and capabilities. Whether your brand is in the business of developing apps or delivering dinner, customers would love to be able to ask their devices to pull up and access your product through new, more interactive means as they become available.
While Google may use Voice and Assistant to mine massive amounts of data (and make no mistake—it will) and while that data may be very interesting to your brand, the big opportunity here isn’t just in hearing your customers, it’s in active listening—even remotely—and being able to respond in ways that make your brand’s voice part of an immersive experience.
In other words, it’s already time to move beyond the near-rudimentary notion of a smartphone app and start thinking about ways your brand can converse with your customer by extending a listening ear and responding, if not with words, then with services. I’ve seen consumers use Siri, Alexa, Cortana for gimmicky and genuinely useful purposes alike. Just like any other digital space, standing out from the crowd requires presence, consistency, creativity, and authenticity. Now, one of the best ways to tell your brand’s story might be to listen.