AI, Voice Search, and Virtual Assistants: The Future of Marketing

12 Nov 2019

Yes, 2019 might be barely over, digital marketing pundits are always looking forward. One of the trends that have already begun to dominate both the digital marketing and technology industries — artificial intelligence — is poised to have an even bigger impact as we head into the backstretch towards 2020.

virtual-assistants Credit: Casey Chin

On a personal level, it’s fun to have an Amazon Echo around to brief us on the day’s news and weather or cue up the latest viral video, but make no mistake; these high-tech toys and the technology that powers them are evolving— and emerging as absolutely integral to individual marketing efforts.

From a brand perspective, if you haven’t yet begun to jump onto the AI bandwagon, you’re falling behind. Let’s take a look at some of the ways humans and technology are collaborating.

Chatbots and Conversational AI

Robots that can carry on a conversation are one of the oldest, most steadfast science-fiction tropes around. They’ve taken many forms, from the Jetsons’ robotic maid Rosie and that iconic droid duo of C-3PO and R2-D2, to Bender the boozing ‘bot of Futurama fame and even a sentient Trans-Am (KITT from Knight Rider).

Although these memorable characters are all just that — fictional characters dreamt up by the creators of our favorite TV shows and movies — technology has never really fulfilled the promise of robots that can truly think, reason, and react. Until recently, that is.

Now, smooth-voiced virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa as well as customer-service chatbots that are indistinguishable from the real thing are becoming smarter and more responsive with every interaction. The computers that power our everyday actions are getting increasingly savvy about using signals based on location, previous searches, your personal preferences, and the contributions of other users. They crunch this data to predict what you want and to deliver it as accurately and promptly as possible — and then ferret it away for improving future interactions.

How Voice Affects Search and Vice Versa?

A few years back, ComScore famously predicted that by 2020, voice search would account for fully half of all queries. With just a few months left to go before that milestone, how does the prediction shake out? As a matter of fact, it’s not far off base, at least when it comes to consumers who want to discover local businesses.

The Voice of Assistance is one of the top consumer technology innovations.

There’s one aspect that distinguishes voice search from the traditional type, however. The pendulum has swung from the stunted short-tail search terms that characterized early SEO efforts, back when “google” was only just beginning to be used as a verb. Now that we’re dictating searches into our phones or voice assistants, we don’t bother translating into search speak. Instead of typing “best enchiladas Austin” into a browser, we might ask Cortana “where I can find the best enchiladas in Austin according to Yelp” or “Who serves good chicken enchiladas near me” for more specific results — or so we hope.

Of course, it’s the companies whose digital marketing gurus have optimized for voice search as well as the local and location-based search that still top the SERPs, regardless of what underrated Tex-Mex hole-in-the-wall boasts an Abuelita who makes the best from-scratch chile gravy and fresh corn tortillas.

So people who say their search out loud rather than keying it into their iPhones are not necessarily getting more accurate results. Yet the fact that so many more people are now speaking to search means that companies and brands that want more customers and better sales have to adapt. It’s essential for them, therefore, to incorporate natural-language and long-tail configurations into their search strategies.

But that’s not enough. A few years ago, sure — jotting down some long-tail keyword strings and sending them to the SEO team might have done the trick, along with local optimization, claiming your business on various directories, and making certain that your website was responsive and up-to-date.

Using artificial intelligence to up your marketing game is no longer just an interesting academic argument. It’s quickly reaching the point at which algorithms, machine learning, and predictive analysis are just as crucial to your digital marketing strategy as content creation, social media management, and PPC advertising were 10 years ago.

The Relationship Between Data and Content

Does that mean that content — long hailed as king in the world of digital marketing and tech worlds — has been dethroned? Not by a long shot!

There are more tools than ever before to tell us everything we need to know about our customers. Creating customer personas is one fairly simple way to put data to work for your brand. Then tailor content, using machine learning and AI, to each of those personas, fine-tuning as you go.

So data isn’t replacing content. Neither is machine learning or predictive analysis. Instead, all of these are valuable resources that will be most effective when used in tandem, collaboratively. Integrative digital marketing understands that no skill set, data point, technology, trend, or talent is an island.

For example, look at the way data has informed the evolution of content. Not long ago, “content” carried the connotation of written collateral: a blog post, a monthly newsletter, even a social media status. These days, it’s just as likely, if not more so, to be a video, a still visual image, or even an example of virtual or augmented reality — like a Snapchat filter.

Are You Ready to Rock 2020?

This stuff can make your head spin, so if you’re not quite ready to enter the fray of voice search, let alone artificial intelligence, there’s no shame in saying so. But it will behoove your brand to get in gear and start making plans to budget for these technologies as you look forward to 2020.


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