With the unveiling of Apple’s HomePod and surge in sales for Amazon Echo and Google Home, voice assistants have garnered a lot of attention.
But is it right for brands to partner with platforms like Amazon and Google? Both have a history of displacing partners.
The growth of these platforms has emerged as an exciting channel for marketers looking for ways to cut through the noise. The thought of simply saying, “Alexa, order me some shampoo?” opens up an awful lot of doors.
As voice assistants continue to see broader adoption, it’s important to be aware of the risks they pose for your brand and customer relationships.
Already, behemoths such as Google and Amazon are trying to gain a monopoly on voice for ecommerce — to control not just the brand choice but the entire customer experience.
Handing off control of your customer relationship
Voice assistants will be the “first point of contact,” a gateway to fulfill user requests by accessing third-party services.
This goes beyond smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home. It will eventually include TVs and other voice-powered devices. While this approach poses a simplification for users, it also represents an inherent challenge for businesses that offer apps and services on these devices, and potentially diminishes them into the role of content provider.
One implication is that you lose the ability to have one-on-one interactions with your users — there’s someone, very powerful, in the middle. This hijacks your customer relationship, drawing users away from using your apps and websites and making it impossible to customize the experience, trigger recommendations and message users.
The leverage brands have with retailers doesn’t exist with Amazon and others — they simply don’t care — or, what’s worse, they’re likely to just attempt to displace you entirely, as Google did with Google Flights, which ate into the business of long-time customers such as Priceline and Expedia.
Losing visibility into usage trends and metrics
Another challenge is that you lose direct control over the instrumentation of your customer interactions. Compared to the incredible maturity of the analytics tooling in place today across web and mobile, we’re starting from scratch with voice assistants. While basic tooling has emerged, the data available today is limited. So, your understanding of your customers’ experience is limited too.
Instead, Google and Amazon hold that data captive. This is a critical piece of the puzzle for businesses that want to provide a differentiated experience with their own brand, front and center.
Bias is inevitable and not unfair
Lastly, in certain cases, there is a clear risk for bias. Take online retail, for example, where Amazon is the leader. What incentive does Amazon have to make Alexa a freely competitive market for online shopping? None.
In fact, Amazon offers different results today when you use Alexa search on the Echo versus the Amazon app or website. It’s not necessarily unfair for Amazon to take advantage of this opportunity, as the Echo was developed in part to make shopping on Amazon a more convenient and delightful experience, but does it make sense for brands to give up even more control?
On the other hand, Google’s Knowledge Graph, which enhances its search engine’s results with semantic-search information, is arguably the best in the business, so it’s only natural that Google Home will field search requests leveraging their own proprietary service, not someone else’s.
Consequently, Apple’s closed ecosystem approach to entertainment content with Siri is likely to remain the norm. This is evidenced in the recent unveiling of the HomePod, which Apple has positioned as a high-end speaker first and a Siri interface second.
The jury is out as to how these positions can be sustained, as consumers are increasingly given more options for more open ecosystems. But it’s important for brands to be aware of these developments (and tensions) as voice becomes a more prominent way of doing business.