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Alexa’s latest update could give brands a new “in” with users.

If you have visited this blog before you will have been left in no doubt that I am a “Smart-Speaker evangelist”. I’m both passionate about the technology and how it can be harnessed as a marketing tool and excited about its future.

On occasion, however, that positivity is tempered by a frustration. I see clearly the potential of the likes of Alexa and Google Home, and for me, it can’t be realised soon enough. The limitations of the (reasonably) fledgeling technology still prevent the platform from delivering what I believe, it is capable of delivering. Thankfully that is changing quickly.

The speed at which the technology moves and updates is frightening, with the likes of Amazon working tirelessly behind the scenes, adding countless updates every week. Allowing the platform to take steps forward…. and in the case of Alexa, it’s about to take a giant leap.

Amazon have just announced plans to improve the Alexa platform to allow it to recall information that you’ve directed at “her” and also indulge in more natural conversations (removing the necessity to begin each sentence with your wake word). This is a massive step forward in this technology becoming a key part of everyday life. For Voice-Assistants to become really useful, they must offer a frictionless user journey; Their ability to communicate must be as human as possible (you can read my thoughts on that here) and these updates will be a big move in that direction.

Maybe more importantly, there will also be an update that will allow Alexa to launch Skills in response to specific commands and questions from the user WITHOUT the explicit instruction to do so. For example, if you ask Alexa to order a taxi she may now automatically turn to the Uber “Skill” rather than you having to use the rather unnatural, chain of command “Alexa, ask Uber to order me a Taxi”.

The news was announced last week in a keynote speech at the World Wide Web Conference from Ruhi Sarikaya (head of Alexa Brain group), who claims that the updates will make its virtual assistant smarter, more engaging and importantly provide an experience more bespoke to each individual user. Also suggesting that Alexa’s newfound abilities would make it much easier for users to discover some of the platforms 40,000 Skills (which helps solve Alexa’s issues with “Discovery”, an area in which Google has been leading the march).

The ability to ‘enable’ a skill in response to a question also creates an interesting option for a revenue model for Amazon: Tell Alexa you are hungry and she could now offer to order you a Domino’s pizza. Ask Alexa how to get red wine out of a carpet and she could now invoke the Vanish Skill (I have no idea if this exists – it should). Skills that maybe you’d be unlikely to actively seek out in the Alexa Skill Store, but that could prove useful at a given time.

It would be easy for Amazon to monetise these search results in a form of SEO delivering paid results before organic ones. But (for the time being at least) brands can take advantage of this opportunity and improved discovery to become the consumers prefered/default option.

As is always key it requires marketers to think about the problem they can solve for a customer or what type of branded content can best deliver their message. For some brands that is simple (Domino’s can cure your hunger, Vanish can offer stain removal) and for others it may require a little more creativity – but the opportunities are there for everyone!

Alexa is a long way off being the finished product, as is the case with Voice First technology and Voice Assistants on the whole but it’s clear to see that there is a concerted effort by Amazon, Google and co to improve the system and make it a better experience for users and brands alike.

We are only just scratching the surface of what Smart-Speakers and Voice Assistants can do and I remain excited about their future.

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