Digital Assistants and the Future Role of Brands: Digital Twins (2/3)
The first article elaborated on the historical perspective of user interfaces. It defined the term ‘conversation’ and highlighted some developments which led us to be where we currently are: on the verge of technology being constantly accessible and assisting in everything we do. Be it finding a new pair of shoes, booking a flight or monitoring our health. What if this technology will actually become the new status quo? This second part elaborates on this idea.
Emotionally connected digital assistants & digital twins
I believe that in order to understand a concept thoroughly, one must empathise with the idea of this concept being a reality. That is why I want to set a hypothesis which will form the basis of everything we will further discuss in this article. A hypothesis which we touched upon in the last article.
In the future, consumers will be emotionally connected to one single digital assistant rather than multiple ones for different realms of needs. Let us think about this for a moment. From the moment a person wakes up in the morning, just right on time because of the assistant’s predictions about sleep, traffic and morning routine, to the moment this person goes to sleep, when the lights will automatically turn off and a lullaby-like sound will play, the personal digital assistant will be the guiding element in this person’s life. This assistant is not necessarily restricted on the user’s smartphone. It is omnipresent: in kitchen equipment, cars, speaker-like devices around the house or even in the user’s body in the form of an implant. This assistant thinks and acts with the user, assisting in every way possible.
In order to reach this level of symbiosis between humans and technology, a structure must be in place which Kevin Kelly describes as the Mesh: the third big phase of the internet, linking everything in the world virtually together. From cars and buildings to computers and shoes. It is the network in which self-driving cars can navigate through and where turbines can detect failures themselves with offering a solution in an instant. Following this train of thought, its effects become extremely personal as well:
Every human being will own a digital twin: a virtual copy of one’s self. It is the entity which represents you in this virtual world — your feelings, your behaviour and most importantly: your decisions.
Even though we are decades away from having such intelligence work for us accurately, we can already see Amazon trying to become the platform of choice by integrating its Alexa software in a range of devices. The company has announced that the software will be integrated in the AmazonBasics Microwave, as well as Echo Auto, a hardware setup for which users can apply for in Toyota, Lexus and Audi models from 2019 onwards. SmartPlugs, as well as EchoLink, a device designed to connect to an amplifier or receiver at home, lets you control your music effortlessly. Also, Qualcomm is now releasing a reference design that makes it easier for headphone manufacturers to integrate Alexa into their hardware, alongside Amazon opening up to all Bluetooth headphone makers.
This entire range of hardware helps Amazon predominate this market. Interesting is that as an e-commerce pioneer, the company determinedly explores those automated shopping experiences with a strong vision that aligns with a possible objective of positioning Alexa as the omnipresent digital assistant, home of your digital twin.
Having digital assistants make purchasing decisions for its user is game-changing. In theory, this means that consumers will realise a need for a specific product or service and simply ask their hyper-intelligent assistants for it. The output will be the product or service they wanted, the product or service they would have chosen if they would have gone and searched for it themselves. It is a ‘want, ask, get’ economy in which purchasing decisions are primarily on the assistant’s side: both search and selection.
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The end of online advertising
Such a reality has the power to disrupt many business models. Suddenly, a market develops online, which is not driven by reprogramming, banner ads and search rather than purpose, business value and relevance towards one’s customers at every given point of time. In other words: a market defined by pulling, instead of pushing customers towards a brand. This has destructible effects on the current (online) advertising industry, whose business model is to use virtual and physical space to promote products or services in attention-grabbing ways to drive sales for the client in exchange for big sums of money: pushing customers, sometimes aggressively, towards products.
Let us think about this for a minute. In 1994, HotWired sold a banner advertising space to AT&T. It was the first online banner in the history of humankind. However, it wasn’t anything new. In fact, it was a form of advertising that has been around for decades already. That is, because it was merely the copy of the physical banner into an online format. We are now standing in-front of another shift. The shift towards an internet based on conversation. However it seems that this time, there is no space for the adaption of current advertising formats into this new way of using the internet. Indeed there have been publications that discuss a paid voice search alike Google’s Adwords platform, but this did not materialise just yet.
What we are left with is that conversational user interfaces are the new advertising format rather than the host of old advertising formats adapted to this new medium.
With this in mind, I would like to substitute the word ‘advertising’ with ‘recommendations’, given that the touchpoints that advertisers will be left with are the intersections between brand relevance and the user’s need at a specific point of time in the customer’s life, leading to recommendations from their personal digital assistants. Those recommendations will be the nodes for brands and customers to build a relationship, the single touchpoint for brands to show their value. But there are hurdles to overcome:
Technically, the challenge remains to develop the intelligence that is accurate enough in predicting the user’s needs at certain points in time. Nonetheless, we can already observe efforts pointing into this direction. Siri, for instance. iOS 12 made Siri gain traction in assisting their users more usefully by Apple introducing Shortcuts and Siri Suggestions. By analysing the user’s behaviour and learning about patterns that repeatedly occur, Siri can proactively prompt a recommendation when the predicted moment occurs to deliver this specific action. For example, if you order Indian curry through Uber Eats, every day around the same time, Siri will learn this behaviour and adjust to you by prompting this order. This makes it convenient for you to order and have your lunch. In other words, Siri just assisted you in stilling your hunger by recommending the brand that you already have a relationship with.
The following picture shows Siri’s feedback after asking for the location, or address, of the user’s hotel.
Take another look on the phrasing. “KAYAK says: ‘Your hotel is at… .’” Siri personifies the brand. What might seems like a simple decision on phrasing, actually carries big implications on the future of brands. In this particular example, KAYAK suddenly becomes a brand that talks back to its customers, addressing them in direct form, assisting them directly through the conversational interface of Apple’s iPhone. As mentioned in the last article: we are at the start of the symbiosis between humans and machines unified by the interface of conversation — and this is just the glimpse of the iceberg.
In the next part of this series, I will try to establish an understanding of how crucial it is for brands to build a relationship with customers. Also, we will explore ways of thinking that brands must embrace in order to facilitate their existence in a pull-driven market environment.
Feedback is appreciated. Please reach out to discuss or think together.