Posted by Adam Stead | 14-Nov-2017 16:08:31

Christmas approaches: Amazon Echo was Amazon’s most bought product over the 2016 Christmas period, and stakeholders will be watching anxiously to see if they’re still selling as the novelty wears off. Creative Strategies found that 22% of early adopters used their Amazon Echo less over time.[1] But businesses should also watch. Just as screen-based computers and mobiles have changed how they must present themselves, voice, in its infancy, could too. 


Voice search can only return a fraction of the information of a visual search. A question typically yields one result, meaning human attention will become scarcer in the new interface (possibly affecting one of Google’s revenue streams). The blueprint for a single answer to a single question already exists as a feature of visual Google: a ‘featured snippet’ is typically the difference between a 2% and 8% click through rate on display browsing.[2] For this reason, for businesses, perhaps the most important voice search strategy could be via content marketing; in the form of factual answers to specific questions.

Experts in SEO even sometimes suggest that strategists should be incorporating phatic and slang terms into their tagged terms, because people will talk to smart assistants and phones in the way they do humans.[3] But it seems likely that Google will account for this. Some of Google’s algorithms are designed to override SEO tactics which undermine Google’s overall quality, such as ‘keyword stuffing.’[4] But the entire marketplace of buying or selling attention could be upended if there is comparatively little there.

Hyper-adapted brands designed with one end-goal - being read out - may start to appear. A strategy where an answer responds to the kind of direct factual question voice suits, perhaps? Or more audio-based brands generally, like those kitsch local radio jingles from the 1990s where the brand was built around the phone number of the company. Now, "ask your bot to save our number," might be the modern version.



'Brands’ are only important at all because people remember them. One vein of thinking runs that people could be circumvented altogether rending the ‘brand’ irrelevant. The most obvious capacity for voice bots is the execution of direct commands for IoT functions; and the most exciting direct IoT will be, ‘purchase.’

A recent study of smart speaker owners in the US found that 26% use it to ‘add to shopping list’; and a further 10% use it to order items outright.[5] Amazon can order through Prime and a couple of select partners such as Domino’s; Google via Google Express.[6]

The products first likely to be affected by this will be random products from the home; the kind of stuff where a bot can’t go too badly wrong and which somebody might wish to exclaim aloud to add to the weekly shop. Foodstuffs. Kitchen towels. Lightbulbs. The kinds of websites they will order from will be the five or six to which the family credit card details are already saved. It is not a surprise Amazon are keen on voice, therefore.

Just as smartphones have fundamentally changed the way that we think and act, the constant availability of AI bots will too. And the model of thinking surely already exists. There is an entire class of people who have the availability of setting intelligent labour to perform tasks for them. They are called, ‘managers.’

If you manage people, think about how that has changed the way you think and take decisions. The internet already arguably rewired our brains; but the sudden availability of labour, even dumb labour, to perform tasks on people’s behalf may take the same change outward. Managing is about setting the conditions for success in your absence. People may have to become adept at this skillset. 

One analogy for AI intelligence runs as follows: a train might have 6,000 horsepower but hasn’t the flexibility of a horse. It can’t go over as many types of terrain, and it can only go in one direction. Nonetheless, it is far more powerful. Similarly, an AI bot is rather like having 6,000 ‘intern power.’ It can only go in certain directions; but in those directions, it really does thrash the interns.

As per with interns, a list of potential purchases given explained criteria; for the AI to do most of the work and then request signoff; or for the AI to simply suggest things it deems prudent. The duty of the vendors, and of the tech companies, is to flatten the terrain to make sure the AI bot can go in that direction in the first place.

See our list of forthcoming events - register your interest for a dinner about a topic which might be relevant to your business.




[1] ‘Google, Apple, and Amazon sound out customers over smart speakers.’ FT. [Online] Available: https://www.ft.com/content/f8746fd2-aaad-11e7-ab55-27219df83c97

[2] Jones, C., ‘SEO for Featured Snippets Leads to Big Gains’ From Search Engine Land [Online]. Available: http://searchengineland.com/seo-featured-snippets-leads-big-gains-236212 [Accessed 14/11/2017]

[3] Bonelli, S., ‘Essential Voice Strategies for 2017’ [Online] Available: http://searchengineland.com/essential-voice-search-strategies-2017-267054 [Accessed 14/11/2017]

[4] Search Engine Land ‘8 Major Algorithm Updates, Explained’ [Online] Available: https://searchengineland.com/8-major-google-algorithm-updates-explained-282627 [Accessed 14/11/2017]

[5] Edison Research. ‘The Smart Audio Report’ [Online] Available: http://nationalpublicmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/The-Smart-Audio-Report-from-NPR-and-Edison-Research-2017.pdf [Accessed 14/11/2017]

[6] Gartenberg, C., ‘You can now ask your Google Home to buy things.’ The Verge. Available: https://www.theverge.com/circuitbreaker/2017/2/16/14637230/google-home-express-orders-payments-delivery-alexa-echo [Accessed 14/11/2017]

Topics: Thought Leadership

Written by Adam Stead

As Research & Content Producer, Adam finds and publishes up-to-date expertise regarding how disruptive technology will drive change business and life.

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