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Hearing an Echo in the Voice AI Wilderness

This post originally appeared on Amplified Growth.


How did you find out what the weather would be like today? Did you ask the air? Did it answer back?

Chances are good that if you didn’t ask a voice-assisted device about the weather this morning, you will be soon.

recent report from stated that 67 million voice-assisted devices will be in use in the U.S. by 2019. That got me thinking about how much has changed in the relatively short amount of time that I’ve had Amazon’s Echo in my own home.

a shell (or maybe an earlier voice-assisted device)? Listening to a shell (or maybe an earlier voice-assisted device)?

Would Amazon Echo meet our expectations? We didn’t know in the beginning.

If you aren’t aware (and I doubt anyone reading this isn’t), Amazon Echo is a smart speaker that uses “Alexa,” which works as a sort of personal assistant. You can wake up the device with your voice by saying, “Alexa” (or “Echo,” “Amazon,” or “Computer”) and then adding your command or request. It’s part of what gets people so excited about the promises of the “internet of things” (IoT) and I’m a fan.

Brandchannel reports:

Amazon Echo, and its brain, Alexa, own nearly 70 percent of the smart speaker market and Steve Rabuchin, VP Amazon Alexa said, “Our vision is that customers will be able to access Alexa whenever and wherever they want.”

When Amazon Echo was widely released in the United States on June 23, 2015, we’d already had one in our house for a little while. As Prime members, we’d been invited to pre-order and receive them earlier than the masses. We had no idea at the time how its presence would transform the way we live and the expectations we carry for the word around us.

I won’t lie. Every time I get frustrated when I ask for something out loud and I am met with silence rather than Alexa’s (mostly) reliable response, I am reminded of that scene with Scotty from Star Trek IV when he approaches a computer in the 20th century with a “Hello Computer” which is meant to wake it up. (Sounds eerily familiar to what we can do today, right?)

If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s perfect for where we are in time right now.

At first, we loved the novelty, but recognized its shortcomings.

My brother-in-law and sister received theirs right around the time we did, so we were excited to compare notes. We loved what it could do, but were frustrated by seemingly obvious help it might provide, but couldn’t at the time.

We couldn’t understand why when we asked for when a sports team was playing on TV, Echo couldn’t answer us. It wasn’t as smart as it is now. I was annoyed, for example, Echo couldn’t provide the key ingredients for a simple Manhattan.

My brother-in-law appreciated the shopping list feature. He loved that he could just tell Echo out loud what he needed to add something to the shopping list and then access it via your mobile app when you were at the store later.

Yet we wanted more. Even with all that magic, we wanted more.

And we got it.

Changes came, improvements made weekly. Echo keeps getting smarter.

Amazon’s regular “What’s new with Alexa?” email updates on the new things that Echo can do are impossible to keep up with when they come so frequently. Not that anyone’s complaining. New skills, features, app integrations are all good.

We’re able to control home temperature, security, and lighting just by saying something to the air. It’s empowering.

They’ve even added new variations of the classic Echo tower and welcomed the Echo Dot (which we’ve placed in almost every room of our house) and a whole bunch of other new products I haven’t had a chance to play with yet.

The Echo changes and so do we.

Since the arrival of the Echo (in 2015), my household has changed in ways that are impossible to ignore:

  • Our old alarm clocks sit looking miserable with their “one trick pony” features. It’s so much easier to just tell the Echo when we want to wake up.
  • I cook a lot so I’m always using a timer in the kitchen and now my first choice is the Echo Dot, with the stove and egg timer as second and third choices for different dishes.
  • We can all play DJ in every room (or all the rooms) with our music, playing our preferred playlists from Spotify. The devices can act as one unified speaker system throughout your house if you set it up right.
  • We now have an intercom system for the house.
  • I can listen to my favorite podcasts and Audible books anywhere in the house within earshot of an Echo or Echo Dot.
  • We check the temperature and weather for our area every morning – no need to tap into a keyboard, turn on TV, or anything. We just need to ask.
  • The news of the day is given to us from our preferred sources we select for our Flash briefing.
  • I can even be a fun sister and send messages to my sister’s household through their Amazon Echo just to mess with them.
  • We can check a flight status or call my mom or ask why the sky is blue.

They’ve added the ability to find out when any game is playing and, yes, they’ve even added the recipe for a classic Manhattan.

I still want more.

When I was a kid, I wished I could have my own soundtrack playing as I walked through the world. Just like back then, now I hate it when I realize I can’t ask for my usual information in the ways that I do at home because I’m not…at home.

Sometimes I discover I am in a home of a friend with an Echo and I feel a surge of excitement. I can ask for songs to play that I think they’ll like. I can irritate them by insisting they listen to my latest Association Chat podcast episode. It’s amazing!

But then I’ll run into a new limitation and remind myself that if I keep an eye out for the next, “What’s the latest with Alexa?” email from Amazon, I’ll likely see that irritation erased.

Where is all of this heading?

Good question. We’re American. We’re human. It seems only natural the answer would be, “more.”

Amazon Echo has new friends: Echo Dot, Amazon Tap, Echo Look, Echo Show…and more.

Advertisers are experimenting with how to get in people’s ears when they are using their Amazon Echo devices at home. Producers of audible content are figuring out how to get featured as an option for their audiences.

Questions to ask

  • What kind of audible content might I provide through a voice-assisted device like the Echo that my audience would love to receive?
  • What should I do to prepare for when voice is the primary driver of e-commerce?
  • Now that my audience’s expectations are changing, what will they expect from me?

For the record, I’m asking these questions, too. So far, my Echo hasn’t had an answer for me.

[Author’s Note: This is the second article in the Five Senses of Marketing series on the Amplified Growth blog.]

Photo by Jamison McAndie on Unsplash

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