Hey Google, Do You Understand What I Am Saying? Mindshare@SXSW

By Koby Leung, Manager, Digital Investments, Mindshare Canada

How we interact with computers has evolved a great deal and with the growth of Voice, it’s only gotten easier for the consumer to get what they want from their devices. Today, you can interact with a smart speaker as naturally as having a conversation with your own personal robo-butler.

The keynote I attended was a fascinating look at what’s happening with digital assistants, particularly from the back-end, conducted by Brad Abrams at Google. These assistants are built with language algorithms, designed to understand people to facilitate ease of use. Users benefit from the convenience of speaking naturally as opposed to stringing together a combination of rigid keywords to conduct a search, while knowing that they’ll still get results.

The goal is to make getting help from a digital assistant just as simple as asking your own experts, without the need to actually sound like an expert first.

And, as consumers open up to these devices with more questions or requests, the result is a wealth of data used to make better targeted recommendations that are highly personalized to the individual, such as their preferences or habits.

Hearing Brad explain the technical background made me realize how this opens up a new way that all brands and developers will need to optimize their work. You’ll need to tie site-design and UX more closely together with the flow and complexity of the conversation to ensure that the assistant’s responses remain highly relevant, particularly because users will ask for things in different ways. Optimizations analogous to SEO will become more challenging as voice commands become broader and assistants need to factor in other pieces of information (e.g. time of day, weather, conversation topic, specific dates, etc.) to infer intent. Brands can no longer rely on just strong keyword relevancy as users will speak with broader terms and expect brands and services to pick up on the context.

In addition, much like a relationship forming and learning more about a person as you converse, audience behavioral data will come to the forefront to ensure preferences or user-specific needs are reflected in the responses given. This personalization further supports the drive to provide users the best results catered to them.

There are major implications for brands in all industries as they need to proactively think of the micro-moments where they can be assistive rather than just having their message blasted hoping to find someone who needs them. As companies actively engage consumers with a tangible, literal voice, brands will be personified and assessed by people depending on how said brand chooses to act on the information they provide and the data that they leverage. Ultimately for brands, it’s about driving a strong brand perception while actively helping users – that’s what will keep brands top of mind.

It’s still early for the platform and for the time being, there’s no clear roadmap for monetizing digital assistants for advertisers (though obviously there’s been rumors in the press). First and foremost, the design philosophy is to help the user in the best way possible. If the platform were to be recklessly monetized, it could potentially lead to the core assistant product losing its value from the noise of advertising. However, implemented well, it can strike that delicate balance of being helpful, while also offering avenues for advertisers to be timely, relevant, and impactful. For the time being, brands need to look at how they can optimize content for these personalized assistants and integrate into the consumer’s day-to-day life.