They’re in your home. They talk to your kids. They are in your car. We trust them with personal information. They listen. We talk. They sing. Digital assistants are here to stay, and are only making their way further into our lives with constantly increasing functionality and ubiquity. However, with GDPR looming (sets in May 25th) the level of intimacy in our relationship with Alexa and her pals will be in our hands. Will we let them get to know our every preference, and thus be the ultimate form of digital assistant or will we reduce them to computer alternatives?
In the US, Alexa makes up 80% of the digital assistant market, with Google Home trailing behind. Alexa’s success rides on the coattails of Amazon – with such massive infrastructure and pre-existing familiarity to consumers together with an unbelievably affordable price tag ($39.99/£39.99), there’s almost no reason not to have one. This is an incredibly smart move by Amazon, Alexa has infiltrated homes and now will infiltrate lives becoming as indispensable as our phones (if we let her that is).
We are on the brink of a ‘voice’ revolution, and already there are teething problems. Iceland is currently experiencing ‘digital minoritisation’ whereby younger generations are spending so much time in a digital world ruled by English they are losing their Icelandic tongues. Just last week many Alexa users were freaked out by the device’s spontaneous laughter; Amazon has now fixed the issue by making Alexa’s command to laugh more complicated and thus less easily misheard. There have been numerous reports of children accidentally searching for porn, Alexa being triggered by sounds on the TV and accidental purchases that have are known now as ‘Alexa Fails’.
The truth is, Alexa is extremely young. In the next year she’s set to go through a major growth spurt, making her way into all kinds of Amazon and non-Amazon products including cars, smart watches, sunglasses and even kitchen appliances. BMW has announced it plans to fully integrate digital assistants into its dashboards and Amazon announced Alexa for business at the end of last year and vowed to have an Alexa on every office desk in the near future. In a world where brands are vying for our attention, digital assistants present the latest frontier for the battle to take place. As digital assistants break out of the home, their omni-environment presence is key to brands success.
We know already that the impact of ‘voice search’ changes the way we interact with brands. People are using their smartphones less, and digital assistants more for searching and shopping. This means in a world without visuals, brands have to showcase themselves through audio alone. Domino’s is a good example where this has begun to happen. Dominos created a ‘skill’ (the equivalent of an app for Alexa, an actionable command), the skill enables users to order a pizza via the brands AI assistant Dom. Instead of going through the (lengthy and insufferable) process of filling in details (every damn time), you can just say ‘Dom, get my usual’ and under 30 minutes later, there you go. Johnnie Walker is another excellent example, the Whiskey makers skill unlocks guided tastings and can figure out the best label for you based on personal preference. Brands have multiple opportunities here, and lots of room for innovation beyond skills going forward.
One big question is what does a brand sound like? Take a listen to Mc&T here. Thanks to visual advertising we have a pretty good idea what brands look like. Cadburys is a gorilla playing the piano, Nespresso is George Clooney and Dove is wholesome racially diverse women (sometimes misplaced). With voice being the next big thing, brands are starting to figure out how to define themselves with a unique tone and voice is extremely intimate. We learn to speak before we can read, and our emotional connection to sound means brand’s choice of voice could be make or break for consumer affinity towards them.
When GDPR comes into effect on May 25th Alexa faces a real test. Will we trust our smart assistants with our newly controlled personal data on everything from banking to dating? Or will we freeze them out and manage IRL? If we are to allow them to reach their potential in making lives quintillion times easier then the smart move would be letting them in. But do we really want to give our entire mainframes over to the Amazon overlords?