Five Ways Amazon Echo Will Change The Face (Er, Voice) Of Marketing

A few weeks ago, Amazon announced its latest product, Echo, a smart-speaker that’s controlled through voice recognition.  Simply say the wake word (not to be confused with safe word) and the device takes your commands -- anything from weather queries to alarm reminders to grocery list additions. This videohighlights the range of potential use cases.

While the device is available by invitation only and has not yet begun to ship, it’s getting good reviews,  with some even hailing it as “the computer of the future.” So what are the implications for marketers?

Here are five ways the Amazon Echo is poised to reverberate through our industry:

1. No more keywords.  Lots of good ink has been spilled over the shift away from keywords as the primary targeting mechanism for ads on search engines and across the Web. As Google Voice Search gains traction and more people use Siri to navigate their Apple devices, it’s clear the trend towards natural language is irreversible.



One of the breakout features of Amazon Echo appears to be far-field voice recognition, which allows it to hear you from across the room. Pair this (literally) with an always-on state and the Echo becomes your most accessible device in the home. Just say “Alexa” -- and, no matter what you’re doing or what you’re holding, you can speak in a normal language and get a response. That’s something that I can’t even do with my kids!

With the keyword (and Google) losing its monopoly on the information retrieval process, it’s incumbent upon marketers to create data structures that can be retrieved through multiple formats. Get comfortable with data feeds and APIs. And think more about putting context into context when it comes to driving customer engagement through your marketing programs. 

2. Many more moments of truth.  When news broke that Amazon was developing a new ad placement platform, I characterized it as a race to the zero moment of truth, a term not-so-ironically coined by Google to describe the moment when consumer intent is expressed and buying decisions are made.

Amazon has already staked its claim to the first moment of truth ­ by creating one of the world’s largest retail marketplaces.

Now it’s clear Amazon is going after all moments of truth. You can’t go any further upstream than the ether. The Echo creates a way for Amazon to pre-empt search. Even if the Echo doesn’t catch on, this functionality will.

For marketers, it’s no longer enough to optimize your assets to appear on search engines or commerce platforms or even in-store. You need to make sure you’re in the considered set when devices like Echo are responding to commercial queries.

“Alexa, add batteries to the shopping list.”

“Do you need AA, AAA, C, or D?”


“You can get 15% off Energizer, should I buy those for you now?”


3. Actions, not links. The corollary to a keyword-less world is a link-less future. Rather than returning links, or even one-box answers, for queries as we’re used to with today’s search engines, Amazon Echo instead executes actions like buying your batteries.

This represents a major shift in the way brands, publishers, and platforms need to think about the utility that can be provided through marketing. Our job is no longer to provide answers or content or experiences. Our job is to provide actions. Our job is to help consumers go from need to fulfillment in as few steps as possible.  

A worthwhile exercise for every marketer is to take your map of the customer journey -- you do have that, right?  -- and then see how many steps you can eliminate. From there, seek out partners that can help you achieve your volume and efficiency goals without adding back any of the extra layers.

4. More devices. Fewer devices.  It’s hard enough creating effective marketing campaigns and consistent customer experiences across phones, tablets, and computers. Now we have smart watches, glasses, TVs, cars, cameras, thermostats, and headsets that are all Web-connected and ripe for brand interruption -- er, enhancement.

Indeed, the Splinternet of Things is now a thing -- I’m calling shotgun on that phrase, by the way ­-- and the implications of when all these devices start communicating with each other is both fascinating and scary for consumers and marketers alike.

Does the Echo represent yet another device we’ll have to consider? Is it an overlay that can serve as the connection point between smart devices? Will it replace any of the aforementioned things? We’ll have to consult a smart magic 8-ball on these questions, but I suspect we’ll see more consolidation.

The iPhone combined a phone, camera, and portable music player, rendering the latter two devices obsolete. And it now has hands-free functionality that can be activated with a quick, “Hey Siri,” but that only works when plugged in. So the question is whether there’s room in the home (and budget) for a stand-alone Siri.

Whether it’s Siri, Echo, or some other virtual assistant waiting in the wings, the key for marketers is to closely track adoption and invest in building for the devices that show the right blend of potential innovation and staying power.

5. Individual (not household) targeting. One final consideration when speculating about the impact of Echo is the ability to decipher the person behind the commands and customize the response accordingly. For the most part, marketers are used to delivering ads to devices or households, not individual people. That is, we don’t know who’s watching the TV when we show our commercial or who’s using the laptop when we display our banners.

Of course, this is changing thanks to first-party log-in data -- “people-based marketing” using Facebook data is the whole premise behind the new Atlas -- and other methods like voice recognition could be a gateway to better and more scalable targeting. Let’s just hope these devices don’t develop attitudes!

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