Why It’s Now Vital for Marketers to Connect with Virtual Assistants


The 2017 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas was dominated by Virtual Assistants (and Amazon’s Alexa in particular).

As ComputerWorld reported:

Amazon’s virtual assistant, which first appeared more than two years ago on Amazon’s Echo smart speaker, seemed to be popping up everywhere at the annual International CES trade show in Las Vegas this week.

Amazon opened Alexa to third-party hardware developers in the summer of 2015. Now, a year and a half later, the number of devices that support Alexa are dizzying. (We also learned this week that Alexa now offers more than 7,000 “skills,” which is what Amazon calls apps or third-party capabilities.)

Appliance maker Whirlpool, for example, announced this week a new line of home appliances available in “early 2017” that respond to Alexa commands. They’ll let you change the temperature of your Whirlpool refrigerator by telling Alexa. And the virtual assistant will be able to tell you if your Whirlpool washer and dryer is running and how much time is left before the clothes are done.

Dish Network’s Hopper DVR boxes are getting Alexa control. As with Apple TV, you’ll be able to use voice commands and conversation to find shows and change the channel.

ADT Pulse also got Alexa support this week. After February, users will be able to arm and disarm their home alarm security systems and deadbolts by talking to Alexa. Access to the security system is granted when you speak a four-digit PIN code. Of course, when you speak a PIN code, others can hear it, then later use it from outside the house (if they yell loud enough) to disable the security system. Users should be careful with this one.

When virtual assistants are everywhere and always listening

Let’s be clear about what’s happening with virtual assistants. Within a few years, you will almost never be out of virtual assistant range. When you talk, they will hear you. You won’t even have to think about which device is serving you. Just ask a question and a voice will answer.

There are three ways to achieve this: The Apple way, the Amazon way and the Google way.

The Apple way is to serve up its Siri virtual assistant primarily as a feature on mobile devices like the iPhone and the Apple Watch (two exceptions are the stationary Apple TV and iMac). By choosing “Allow ‘Hey Siri’ ” in the settings of an iPhone, your phone is always listening for the “Hey Siri” command. Everywhere you go, Siri is listening, as long as you bring your iPhone.

The Amazon way is to offer Alexa Echo appliances for every room in the house and also open its virtual assistant to hardware developers so Amazon is built into every appliance, vehicle and object in the home and office.

The Google way, meanwhile, is to do both at the same time — get a virtual assistant into every phone, on every computer and also open to third parties.

Oh, and Microsoft has Cortana, which operates similarly.

So What’s the Big Deal for Marketers?

Consider this: if you aren’t the first choice of the AI behind the assistants, you may never be suggested when Echo, Siri, Cortana or Google Assistant is asked for a product or service in your category.

When your refrigerator runs out of milk and you’ve set it up to re-order all by itself, will it choose Anchor, Meadow Fresh, a house brand or what?

When you’re out of town and ask Google Assistant for a nearby restaurant, how many choices will it give you?

More importantly (from a marketer’s perspective), how will you introduce your product or service to this new breed of virtual gatekeepers? If they don’t know you, you simply won’t be suggested as an option.

Making a good impression with your new robot overlords never became so important.

[PS It’s probably a bit early to write a course about Making Virtual Friends and Influencing Virtual People, but if you’d be interested in such a course, email us and let us know.]