Marketing to machines: Firms face new gatekeeper to consumer

Amrita Nair Ghaswalla Mumbai | Updated on January 09, 2018

The promise of digital assistants is to make consumers life simpler and easier

Marketers have to face a new challenge in 2018: learn how to market not to the consumer, but to the machine.

With more than 700 million people globally using some form of digital assistant, be it Siri on their mobile phone, or Amazon’s Alexa via a home device, the usage of digital assistants is set to soar globally to almost two billion by 2021.

And therein lies the challenge. As Rajan Anandan, Chairman, The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and Managing Director, Google India, said at a recent event, “Regardless of which industry you are in, digital transformation is absolutely critical and very important to understand how your consumers are evolving, how their behaviours are changing, how their purchasing journeys are changing and then evolve your products and services to be able to delight the consumers."

Different avatars

Digital assistants come in a variety of forms, says Vivek Bhargava, CEO, DAN Performance Group.

“Assistants can be integrated inside a smartphone operating system (Apple Siri), smartphone apps (Google app for iPhone), desktop computer systems (Cortana for Windows 10), or smart home hubs (Amazon Echo)," an official at digital agency iProspect says, adding that while home hubs have been generating a lot of buzz recently, they represent the smallest opportunity compared to native smartphone assistants such as Siri.

The official adds that within the next five years, most of the developed world will be using a digital assistant in one form or another to automate and manage many aspects of their daily lives.

For instance, Samsung recently announced that digital assistant Bixby will be available with voice capabilities in India to help consumers interact better with their smartphones. Bixby has been optimised to understand Indian accents.

Similarly, Amazon's versatile digital assistant Alexa, which arrived in India three years after its global debut, is not merely working with Indian accents. It also rounds up a whole bunch of India-specific apps that make it a compelling proposition.

Amazon can also tap into more than 20 years’ worth of shopper data, collected across millions of shoppers and billions of interactions on its sites. Even Facebook’s dataset is said to be rich, given the many insights the company has been collecting across its own platforms for the past decade.

Chatbots craze

Gartner predicted that by 2020, 85 per cent of customer interactions will be managed without human intervention. Chatbots are already the craze, managing customer service queries and making intelligent purchase recommendations.

Incidentally, HDFC Bank's chatbot Eva, which stands for Electronic Virtual Assistant, has reportedly already answered more than five million user queries with over 85 per cent accuracy on the bank's website.

Built by Senseforth AI Research, which now works with Google Assistant in Indian English, the latest voice integration is set to enable HDFC Bank customers to interact with Eva through their smartphones.

Even State Bank of India (SBI), the largest public sector bank, launched its own chatbot to handle customer queries and guide them through its range of retail products and services.

SBI Intelligent Assistant or SIA is a chat assistant said to be capable of handling nearly 10,000 enquiries per second or 864 million in a day: nearly 25 per cent of the queries processed by Google every day.

Future focus

Revealing how consumers are turning more of their daily decisions over to digital assistants, which will, in turn, transform how information is accessed and channelled, iProspect in a whitepaper called 'Future Focus' said that digital assistants will increasingly control what information a consumer does or does not receive, effectively becoming the gatekeeper to the consumer.

“The promise of digital assistant is to make a consumer’s life quicker, simpler and easier, delivering the exact, most relevant piece of information or service on demand. Thus, as consumer interaction shifts increasingly to digital assistants, consumer relevance becomes ever more critical to brands," adds the report.

Stating that the overall volume of advertising is set to naturally decrease in a world of digital assistants, the report adds that for the brands that get it right, the actual power of that advertising is set to increase.

Published on December 29, 2017

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