I vividly remember the scene in Star Trek IV, The Voyage Home, when Scotty sits down at the computer and says in his thick Scottish accent “Computer, Computer,” gets no response and then tries speaking into the mouse, again with no success. He finally resorts to using the keyboard and remarks how quaint it is to use the keyboard. While I laughed at the scene, I knew that one day in my lifetime we would be giving verbal instructions to computers and other devices.
That future state from Scotty in Star Trek is here and the game for owning that voice on the other end of that computer request is on. First a bit of prolog:
In the last five years, we have witnessed rapid artificial intelligence assistant and voice-recognition software improvements, probably most notably for the general population, starting with Siri — a company and app that Apple bought in April 2010. The Siri iOS app disappeared from the App Store and when it reappeared, it was a feature in the iPhone. The moment Siri became a “feature” of the iPhone may be the moment the AI assistant and voice-recognition race really got started outside Silicon Valley.
Google may have made the first move in the space with their acquisition of Aardvark in February of that same year but Apple was first to the market with a fully functioning voice recognition feature in a device when it launched the iPhone 4 in 2011. Two years later, Amazon introduced us to the Echo featuring Alexa, their answer to Siri. These devices, particularly Alexa, also brought the world of connected devices into the home and more so into the mainstream as it was a room device that was always connected and ready, just like a TV or coffee maker. Some of you may recall Amazon’s 2014 Super Bowl spot with Alec Baldwin highlighting Alexa’s capabilities to his party guests. The voice recognition and IoT (Internet of Things) device race were forever changed.
If you were one of the millions of people trying to buy an Echo or Google Home device this past holiday season, you know they were sold out well before Christmas. Amazon.com was sold out by mid-December, having sold over six million devices. While Google Home devices were hard to find, they were available and a good back-up. It’s fair to say that these IoT devices and their AI voice assistants have reached a critical mass. Just remember, it took Apple 74 days to sell their millionth iPhone back in 2007. Noticeably missing in all this is Apple’s AI assistant Siri. I think Apple was caught off guard and has no product strategy to bring Siri out of the constraints of the family room. The Echo and Google Home have invaded homes and with nearly limitless ways to help vs. Siri, which is tethered to AppleTV and a single room.
My point about these IoT devices invading the home is twofold. First, as happens many times, the first mover in the space tends to be passed by more innovative players. Second, Amazon and Google have found ways to outmaneuver the competition and put their AI assistants into higher utility devices in daily home life for millions. What marketer wouldn’t want to be an indispensable daily part of consumers’ lives? These devices have opened the door to a big part of Apple’s iTunes, and AppleTV media business.
As marketers, we are challenged to create marketing strategies that help launch new products and win market share. And many of us have worked on “challenger brands” that have the deck stacked against beating the leader. While it’s tough to call Amazon or Google “challenger brands,” they both have been exactly that to Apple’s growing and entrenched media and entertainment business. These big brands are on a path to win big by leveraging strong parts of their business (platform power) to support their growth business and add immediate scale. What plays from Amazon and Google playbooks will you use as inspiration to put move your brand from challenger to market leader in 2017?
One thing I’m certain of, entertainment marketers should be looking at how they can leverage IoT-connected devices and AI assistants to add value for their consumers throughout the day. What combination of AI, IoT, plus your specific platform can you combine or recombine into a winning marketing strategy?