How IoT and AI Devices are Changing Search

The rise of Amazon Alexa and Google Home introduce a new competitor for search engines -- IoT home devices with supporting AI. Here's how analytics planning must change to accommodate the new world.

Tech evolves every few years. Yet despite this fact of marketplace nature, many companies that offer tech products and services face the daunting task of making changes that customers may perceive as messing with a very good thing, especially if the offering is wildly successful.

Google is no exception. Having a considerable share of the search engine marketplace against Bing and Yahoo, Google has become the default starting point for queries among many businesses, small and large, and an essential platform for optimizing digital marketing strategies.

But now IoT home devices are rivaling search engines for consumer attention, potentially threatening their dominance in the long run. Clickz reported a BloomReach study that indicates Amazon's emerging position as a consumer starting point for product search and price comparison. The survey of 2,000 US consumers revealed that people are increasingly hitting the Amazon website first, with its share of surveyed respondents reaching 55%, an 11% increase over the previous year's results.

That budding confidence in Amazon opens the door for Amazon's Echo device to be a query tool. Association with niche digital media opens that door further. Kayak, the travel search site, has introduced voice search capability for flight, hotel, and car rental information using Amazon Alexa. As a consequence, that capability extends to the Amazon Echo device.

Experts have long anticipated increasing influence of IoT devices. In 2015 Gartner predicted that the number of connected things in use worldwide would hit 6.4 billion in 2016, up 30% from the 2015 numbers, and would surpass 25 billion by 2020.

The rate of IoT adoption so far has marketers now seeing IoT devices as viable marketing options. eMarketer notes that marketers view IoT devices as a critical emerging technology, an entry into conversational marketing, tactic involving phrases to build brand and to establish customer mindshare.

I've reported on this trend over the years as the search engines have tweaked their algorithms. In an All Analytics post about Amazon I wrote "Online search is still a gold standard tactic in a digital marketing strategy. Since the rise of the search engines...many other ways for consumers to gain online access has cracked open opportunity for large companies to take advantage."

So what does this mean for analytics practitioners? For starters, interpreting search strategy to attract customers is altered in fascinating, unprecedented ways. The query itself is now different. When people use IoT devices for voice query, they usually speak in phrases. This differs significantly from typing a phrase that may have keywords included. Digital media now must match up to these query phrases rather than keyword search patterns to come up in a result.

The arrival of Amazon Echo introduces more than a totally different interface to a customer. It is a different query environment, one in which a customer is not sitting down at a laptop but instead turning to a device as he or she is taking care of daily tasks.

Echo and Alexa also mean that new services must be more innovative than branded keywords to acquire customer mindshare. As customers become accustomed to using Echo they will also begin to become accustomed to using certain services. The voice enabled search of travel service Kayak is a clear example.

That scenario complicates a picture on how to connect to customers. We know customers are mobile, but the knowledge of attribution with respect to branding becomes murky. Experts claim that customers treat channels as invisible means to connect to their brand. How do customers interpret a brand while using their most personal device, the smartphone? How do they think of brands now when they start their research on a service or product? Technology enables activity but disrupts interpretation of its impact on business.

For those imagining an outright rapid revolution in marketing, there are caveats that could slow that revolution. The main caveat is the type of information that can be retrieved currently. For example, the Kayak search feature in Echo returns pricing information but cannot display indicators that let customers book a reservation. This can become a last-mile issue -- being able to present information that is only a portion of the task the person is seeking to complete. Thus search engines still hold the advantage in terms of quality query results. Search engines can provide associated information based on metadata, such as store hours alongside a query result for a business.

Ultimately evolution is the way of both the jungle and technology marketplace. Google introduced Google Home, a consumer IoT device meant to enhance its Al online service, Google Assistant.

And Amazon will continue to draw traffic as it experiments with storefronts -- its Amazon Go, a convenience store that touts no check-out line is a foregone influence on its evolutionary role as a product search engine.


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