The Rise of the Digital Assistant


How the growth of Alexa, Siri, Ok Google, Cortana, and Bixby are shaping the future of lead generation.

Back in November I published a post about how I expect emerging voice technology and digital assistants like Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Ok Google to impact how people find and use services in the future. The next month, I presented my findings at CO2, our marketing and technology conference focused on the service industry.

Now it’s February, and the landscape has changed even more. Here’s what I got right (and wrong) in my last post.

First things first, a lot of people got talking Christmas presents last year. Google Home and Amazon Echo were the hot ticket items over the holiday season, with Echo’s sales up 400% compared to the same time in 2015, according to Forbes. The same report, citing research by VoiceLabs, predicts that 25 million units of Google Home and Amazon Echo will ship in 2017, compared to 6.5 million in 2016. In terms of revenue, market research firm Juniper predicts that smart home hardware and services will bring in $83 billion in 2017 and $195 billion by 2021.

So what does that tell us?

Well, for starters, voice technology isn’t a passing fad. In fact, it’s growing faster than we thought even just a few months ago.

Points for me: 1

In my original post, I’d pegged Google, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft as leaders of the pack. However, Juniper has picked Samsung over Microsoft thanks to a recent burst of developments in both their home products and phone and tablet offerings.  

Most notable is Samsung’s 2016 acquisition of Viv, the company that developed Siri. The recent announcement of Bixby, a digital assistant expected to debut later this year with the release of the Galaxy S8, confirms that they’re getting into the game, if a bit late.

Where Samsung really gained ground, particularly in Juniper’s rankings, is the development of their SmartThings line - a hub for smart home products with accompanying accessories to control everything from your thermostat to your morning coffee. It stands to reason that Bixby will be integrated with these products in the near future. Taken as a whole, this should catapult Samsung right into the lead with the other big players.

Points for me: 3 out of 4

What about the other guys? Amazon Echo and Dot sales are through the roof, and they should have a great year based on the consensus of the market research. When I wrote my last post, the most recent data placed Echo at 3 million units sold. By the end of the year and after the Christmas sales spike, that number had grown to 5.1 million units sold. Amazon has a leg up on the competition thanks to being first to market (awareness) and having more supporting features (skills) that already exist for the platform, leaving competitors to play catch-up.

Google Home hasn’t yet released sales data, but indications are that the product has enjoyed a strong debut. Because of Home’s unique access to the Google search engine, reviewer comparisons typically give it the “ask and answer” edge over Echo, which relies on Wikipedia for search. However, it trails Echo in specific skills and lacks Amazon’s biggest competitive advantage: its integration into Amazon’s shopping platform.

Apple is currently working on an “enhanced” version of Siri that they plan on releasing with the next generation of IOS devices, but it remains to be seen whether or not that will roll out with the iPhone 8. According to DigiTimes, Apple acquired the machine learning and AI startup Turi last August, which should help them improve the user experience for Siri and remain competitive in the space.

While their position in the top four may be in flux, Microsoft has been busy developing Cortana’s artificial intelligence capabilities. They’re following the original Apple app store model by inviting app developers and companies to use its technology, among other things. They also continue to improve the integration between Cortana and the popular gaming platform Xbox One, as evidenced by the latest OS release update on MSFT. With 26 million units sold, it makes a lot of sense for Microsoft to continue to strengthen the Cortana-Xbox One integration, as it plays to their strengths.

Points for me: Ah, who cares.

In summary, we’re seeing rapid adoption of this technology across the board, with a ton of activity coming out of the Amazon and Google lanes. It’s a dynamic landscape, but my predictions for the overhaul of search and my original strategies for voice search optimization and pre-positioning your business to get out ahead of this shift are still very much sound.

Short on time? Aren’t we all. Here’s an updated cheat sheet.

  1. Based on how we humans behave (and have behaved in the past), voice search is going to be BIG.
    Update: Maybe even bigger, and faster than we thought just a couple months ago.

  2. Some of the biggest and most valuable companies in the world are investing a lot of time and money in digital assistants, including Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon.
    Update: We can add Samsung to the list. Samsung is getting into the game as well, probably this year, with the release of Bixby in the Galaxy S8. Expect to start seeing this technology in their smart appliances and other home technologies - think: “Bixby, set the oven to 400, please.” Hands-free cooking!

  3. Now is a good time to update your digital marketing strategy to be ready for increased voice search marketshare.
    Now you’re just procrastinating. Get to it!

  4. Write content for your site using more conversational language and who, what, where questions.
    This is an easy one. Imagine your customers are asking questions about your services out loud, and consider what that would sound like. No more “pest control Raleigh.” Think “What’s the best pest control company near me?”

  5. If you don’t already, make sure you have a mobile friendly, responsive website.
    C’mon. It’s 2017.

  6. Make sure your site and brand is optimized for local search. Claim your business listing on Yelp, Google My Business, Apple Maps, and Bing Places.
    Google isn’t the only player in the game. Make sure you’re not neglecting these other valuable search elements.

  7. Create and implement a proactive review generation strategy that can get you leads from Yelp.
    The key here is automation.

  8. Engage on social, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and the like - it is an increasing ranking factor.
    This remains true, and it is an increasing source for people to vet companies. Have you seen the Facebook recommendations feature? If you start a post with “I’m looking for…” you’ll trigger this function, which will solicit recommendations from your Facebook friends. Pretty powerful stuff, and another reason not to ignore social media.

  9. Create a profile on Amazon Home Services and HomeAdvisor.
    With the skyrocketing sales of Amazon’s Echo, this makes more sense than ever.

  10. Pay attention and optimize for Bing - many of the non-Google digital assistants use Bing as their default search engine!
    You want to cover your bases and optimize for as many lead generation channels as possible, so growl you may, but go you must.

If you haven’t started implementing these strategies, what are you waiting for?