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Is Alexa Your BFF? Will She Be?
By: Danny Flamberg
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Will Alexa Be Your BFF??
Who will be the voice of your future? On Star Trek, Captain Kirk and the crew vocalize commands to access an omnipotent computer. Alexa, Cortana, Siri, Bixby and their peers offer a similar promise to regular folks as their inventors and investors integrate discrete voice-activated devices into our lives that enable multi-tasking and instant gratification.  
Initial response and uptake has been strong. ComScore found one in eight US Wi-Fi households has a smart speaker, and 25% of those homes have multiple devices. An estimated 2.8 million million Americans have and use Alexa while 41 million have and use Siri according to Verto Analytics. Kantar World Panel predicts that those ranks are expected to grow to 55% of US households by 2020, a contributor to the 2.4 billion Internet of Things (IoT) devices that BI Intelligence expects to be in use by 2020.
Not too surprising, older, better educated and wealthier households are the early adapters. ComScore found that middle aged adults 35-50 over index along with households with kids and incomes of $150,000+. Smart speaker penetration outstrips wearables and comfortability with voice commands on smartphones (think Siri) sets the stage for purchases of smart speakers like Amazon Echo, Google Home or Apple’s Homepod which divert time spent from smartphones and radio.
And while all these devices are scrambling to provide meaningful functionality, the top uses, according to Statistica, are playing music, checking the weather, Google searches, appointment reminders, reading email or voice mail and checking traffic reports. There is growing evidence that use changes based on time of day. The Edison Research and NPR Report found traffic and weather checks early in the morning, followed by a significant dip in use during business hours, restaurant and business searches pick up from 5-7p and games dominate prime time. Users close out the day by turning out the lights and controlling smart home devices.
In order for voice-driven assistants to become genuinely valuable and ubiquitous three connections are necessary. First is the need to connect Alexa, Cortana, Siri, Viv, and Samsung’s Bixby into our daily routines by enabling multi-tasking, the primary driver of adoption. This starts with feeling comfortable speaking to inanimate objects.
Accenture found that longevity breads familiarity. The longer you own a device, the easier it is to migrate tasks previously accomplished by typing or swiping. One in eight adults surveyed feel self-conscious using voice commands in front of others. And most users have yet to make a purchase using Alexa or others for fear of incorrect orders or misinterpretations. But greater utility and voice-driven commerce are clearly on the Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon agendas. They offer discounts for voice-activated ordering, are enabling voice-to-text messaging and through Super Bowl ads and social media are aggressively touting voice-activated capabilities, even if the benefits are doubtful.
Second is the connection between these devices and our homes. By implanting Alexa throughout the home, we become more comfortable with her and dependent on her. She is linked already to Nest thermostats and Sonos music systems. At this year’s CES, Alexa’s connections to Acer, HP and Lenovo PCs, Whirlpool ovens, First Alert fire alarms, LG OLED TVs, Kohler’s Verdera Voice-Activate bathroom mirror and Jabra Elite headphones were revealed. Connecting to an expanded array of smart appliances increases reliance and repeated use; a crucial next step for Amazon and its competitors.
And third, embedding these tools into cars and offices will cement relationships and build perpetual reliance. Toyota and Lexus have already announced plans to integrate Alexa into selected models with their Entune 3.0 system. Viv, a system using Siri, promises to connect homes with cars. Soon voice-activated assistants will be embedded in enterprise software, interacting with people in the office, accessing files, scheduling meetings and handling 24-hour data crunching. The goal is to build a relationship with Alexa or Siri or Google Assistant that follows you everywhere and is deeply embedded in every aspect your life. 
Assuming consistent improvements in connectivity and interoperability, improved voice recognition and big data computing power, the big tech firms will deliver on The Star Trek promise using increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) embedded in chatbots and smart devices. Soon, Alexa will talk directly with Siri, Cortana and Google’s unnamed assistant challenging vying for attention on the basis of expanded or unique capabilities.
Consumers, mostly without too many privacy concerns, will once again trade personal information and endless amounts of data for faux intimacy and convenience. The immediate challenge is establishing primary relationships and cementing brand or device loyalty for the long term. Who will be the voice at your command? 


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About the Author
Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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