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Idea: How the Amazon Echo Reveals the Next Wave of Marketing With Content

By Rex Hammock

Perhaps it was the “Hello, Computer” voice-interface on “Star Trek.” Or maybe it was the 1987 Apple concept video about a futuristic device called the Knowledge Navigator in which a user and agent had a conversation via a tablet-like device.

At some point in the mid-1980s, I decided I prefer talking to a computer rather than typing on one. Unfortunately, that desire led to a few decades of disappointment and money wasted on clunky software. It turns out, developing voice recognition and artificial intelligence technology that actually work is a challenge just short of creating a beam-me-up-Scotty transporter. But that future is (almost) now.

While it was Siri that introduced most of us to the concept now being called a “virtual assistant,” it is Amazon’s Echo and its virtual assistant, Alexa, that will convince you the “Star Trek” future is closer than you thought.

Amazon Echo provides an experience that’s 100 percent audio—no screen or keyboard, just a nondescript round unit packed with microphones, speakers and Wi-Fi. You plug it in, put it on a bookshelf and occasionally use an app to fine-tune the web services or smart devices like home security and climate control networks.

Unlike Apple’s Siri, the Amazon Echo (like Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s voice-activated technology) has provided third-party developers with the ability to build the equivalent of apps or extensions for its platform. This means users of Alexa will be able to perform various functions with simple questions such as, “Alexa, where are my keys?” “Alexa, how many orders did we receive yesterday?” “Alexa, how do you spell (…)?” and “Alexa, add the following to my shopping list.”

And all of this interaction comes with no banner ads or pop-ups. But for savvy companies, app modules full of helpful information can be sitting there, always ready to virtually assist the customers they serve.

What does this mean for marketers? All virtual assistants—with the exception of Apple’s Siri—have opened up their platforms for third-party apps. This means you’ll be able to order anything you want by voice, and not just from Amazon. In the future, apps that help your customers use your products via artificial intelligence and voice recognition technology will be as common as the supercomputers that already fit in our pockets. In the future, content marketing rises to the top to provide information that people seek when they want to solve a problem, fill in a gap of knowledge or find help. In the future, this will be the type of content that can cement a relationship for eons.

Photo: Amazon.com