LAS VEGAS -- We are all now indisputably part of a connected world. Everything we desire — from entertainment to news to instant social interaction — is literally right at our fingertips. This pervasive connectivity is thanks in large part to the rise of mobile ubiquity. A mobile phone is not just a third screen; it is akin to a third hand, indispensably and obsessively attached to our bodies. A July 2016 dscout study showed that the average person touches his or her mobile phone over 2,600 times per day (inclusive of each type, swipe, tap or click).
Depending on the specific demographic and region, people are spending crazy amounts of time across screens looking down versus up — almost half of their time in some countries in Asia. In reality, this screen obsession is really a connection obsession: at all costs, people want to be in the know. This all-consuming desire to be “always on” powers not just what people do, but also how and what they buy.
Those of us in marketing circles are also keenly aware that, beyond people, connectivity now extends to “things.” Devices and appliances from auto to home and more are connecting at a rapid pace. The Internet of Things extends beyond connected home and car — to the sensors and cloud computing that will eventually allow for everything, everywhere to be connected, smart and efficient. Nowhere will this be more evident than here at CES in Las Vegas this week. The IOT and the connectivity it allows will be the backdrop to much of what we see.
With the proliferation of device interconnectivity, we start to see how device interaction will begin to intermediate human interaction. Soon it will be the norm for the alarm clock to wake you up at 6 a.m. and signal the coffee maker to start the coffee. When the coffee runs low, the coffee machine will signal the home assistant to order more, which will be delivered by another machine, perhaps a drone. Every interaction in this process will happen automatically — without a human clicking, calling or tapping on any device. We’re not there yet, but we will be.
The more connected devices are able to service people’s needs, the less “people steps” will be taken, which is particularly interesting for marketers who have grown accustomed to assessing the steps to purchase and how to affect change along the way. We know that the purchase funnel has been obliterated and replaced by the consumer journey. But our new connectivity demands analysis of questions we’ve never had to ask before: “What/who is a consumer? How human does a consumer have to be? Will Amazon’s Alexa become more human as she is fed and learns from human interaction every day?” While AI is still in the early stages and can’t yet fully divine intent, technological advances and machine learning that are evolving daily will lead to blurrier lines between human and device. Amazon’s Echo is already being tapped to help investigate a homicide in Arkansas. Because the Echo allegedly “heard” conversations that preceded the homicide, it has been seized as evidence. In the not-too-distant future, Alexa could be on the witness stand answering questions from prosecuting attorneys.
To be sure, devices are already listening to us, and that listening provides us with vast amounts of data on human conversations, interests and preferences. Data from the Echo and devices like it will be able to tell us about what movies people want to see, music they want to hear and products they want to buy.
So if listening is the new key to data gathering, what do we as marketers take away from that? The core lesson, as we consider connectivity and the rise of AI, is that we must learn to become much better listeners ourselves. We have spent years focused on clicks, views and viewability. While this data clearly remains relevant today, when consumers use only their voice, marketers must know how to listen. Consumers’ questions, preferences and ultimately purchases executed via the AI devices of today, such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home, provide a wealth of information to inform marketing decision making. As voice technology grows, so will the ability for brands to learn even more from what AI devices can tell us as they listen and interact with people. Mining that data (which is assuredly no small task and one we must undertake) will help guide marketers to consumer understanding on a new and different level.
As human interaction throughout the consumer journey begins to fade over time, we must start listening now and learning about the new journey taken — a journey that starts not with a click of the mouse, but with “OK Google.”