Interview: Can You Hear Me Now?

Dan Richardson (Director, Invention Studio, Mindshare North America) discusses voice commerce and AI in the below transcript.

In this series, you don’t use the phrase “AI.” Can you explain why?

I think that AI is a part of all the things we talk about in this series. So it’s definitely in the back of our minds, even if we don’t say it outright. I think we are still at the first step if getting AI to work for consumers, in that consumers have to train AI what to think.

For example, Alexa has to know what brand of toilet paper I like before she can even think about autonomously replenishing my supply. In a way, there is this iterative step of getting the technology to understand us as individuals before we can expect it to do anything meaningful for us beyond just making suggestions. There is some learning that is going to happen before we can really get to this place of AI making purchases for us.

As a consumer, what’s most exciting to you about the rise of voice commerce?

Right now, consumers have to make a conscious decision to shop. So, I jokingly say that we either have to open our computers or make the decision to put on respectable clothes and go to the store. Either way, your brain enters this mode where we are deciding to buy things, we are in a shopping mode. With voice commerce, we can theoretically start shopping by saying “Oh man, Alexa, I need toilet paper,” or “Hey Google, buy more of my shampoo”. There is a more spontaneous mindset for consumers, they don’t necessarily have to go into shopping mode to start making purchases, and that’s a difference – which is exciting to see happen.

What advice do you have for marketers to make their products stand out on the “voice shelf”?

I think the first step is really just spend time thinking about your voice shelf, and what your audio profile looks like. We spend so much time and money making our products have visual cues to stand out, but we don’t always think about the audio profile of our brands. To me, it can be a wide range of things. It doesn’t have to be a jingle, though I do love jingles. Orbit gum uses that “ding!” sound to signify a clean mouth. Tic-tac uses the sound of tic-tacs rattling in the case in some of their ads. Or the Microsoft Surface ran ads that focused on the click of a magnetic keyboard as a distinct sound associated with their brand. So I think that’s what brands should do – spend some time thinking about the sounds that accompany their products, and developing their own unique audio profile that leverages those sounds, jingles, and other audio cues that can help signal to consumers what brand we’re talking about. Because, in some instances, they might be listening, they may not be watching something.

Google has an official booth at CES this year – what do you think they’ll be focusing on?

I think from a technology side, Google will be spending a lot of time talking about Lens, which is something they talked about at their developer conference, it’s their visual recognition technology. And then obviously Google Home – their voice assistant. I think that Google and Amazon seem to be battling it out to see whose home assistant device gets mass adoption, and it’s unclear to me right now if one of those will be significantly dominant over the other. I think the will be trying to show how these things tie together into an ecosystem – Google’s take on the smart home – so with their personal assistant device, Nest, their connection to cellphones – how can they start to tie that together into one ecosystem. I’m interested to see if their technology makes it into other smart home devices. Things like refrigerators, washing machines, our cars. So, as a consumer, what do we think will be more appealing. That Samsung or GE has a new smart fridge, or is it more appealing to me that a GE fridge is now powered by Google Home technology, and the opportunities that might unlock for easier shopping. It’s not clear which direction it’ll go, but it will be an interesting thing to keep our eye on.