Google Rolls Out Olympics Update Across Search, Assistant

Google has launched Olympics-themed features across Search, Assistant, YouTube, and more in a bid to engage users worldwide during the event — as well as aiming to make Google the go-to source for Olympics news over its competitors.

When users search for “Winter Olympics,” they’ll see the latest events and winners automatically at the top of search results. Google will pull in content like medals won by country, as well as suggesting a “daily recap video” from YouTube right at the top of the page.

Finally, Google Assistant is now prepped to answer questions about the PyeongChang games, allowing enthusiasts to ask everything from names of medal winners to event air times.

“No matter how you’re asking — on your phone, speaker, TV or other enabled device — the Google Assistant can keep up with all the important Olympic details,” Google said in a blog post.

And while this update is primarily aimed at keeping people engaged and in the know during the Olympics, the way Google is pulling in content from YouTube and other platforms — and moreover, displaying information in the knowledge card at the top of search results — underscores the way that search has evolved from a list of blue links to a platform for delivering structured answers such that searchers don’t need to click through to a webpage at all.

If businesses fail to present their information accurately, broadly and comprehensively such that they show up in the knowledge graph, they risk missing out on customers and sales — after all, approximately 80 percent of customers prefer to turn to a search engine when it comes time to look up information about local businesses.

For marketers who may not know where to start: Read more here about ranking in the knowledge graph and about featured snippets and why they matter to marketers.

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Yelp’s Chad Richard On The Current State — And Near Future — Of Voice Activation

For the past several years, local digital guide Yelp has been working to move beyond being perceived as a “reviews site” to a platform that help make transactions between consumers and businesses.

For example, its Request-A-Quote feature, which lets Yelp users get the price of services before making a purchase via the guide platform, saw volume rise almost 30 percent over the past year.

Before that, Yelp expanded its restaurant services beyond its SeatMe and Yelp Now reservations tools with the purchase of former partner Nowait, a mobile platform that lets consumers virtually hold their place in line at casual dining establishments.

Yelp’s transaction business also was rounded out with last year’s $20 million purchase of location-based loyalty and retargeting platform, Turnstyle, which runs an in-store platform that then connects marketing services to consumers’ phones at 3,500 business places.

In a conversation at November’s Yext’s Onward 2017 conference with Yext President and Chief Revenue Officer Jim Steele,  Yelp COO Jed Nachman discussed  how the role of Connected Intelligence systems that power voice activated assistants and chatbots dovetails perfectly with the trajectory the 14-year-old company has taken.

“For voice and chat, you have to have the data to handle real-world interaction,” Nachman said of the company’s Yelp Knowledge, a tool that analyzes businesses’ reviews to help  understand the experience at specific locations.

To elaborate on how Yelp sees the rise of voice activation, we caught up with Chad Richard, Yelp’s SVP, Business and Corporate Development. Richard joined Yelp in 2015.

Before that, he spent six years at Apple as senior director of Worldwide Product Marketing focused on the Cupertino company’s operating systems and internet services, which included acquiring and building up the first mass market voice-enabled assistant, Siri.

GeoMarketing: What’s the state of voice activation and what does it mean for Yelp?

Chad Richard: Voice activation is a rapidly evolving paradigm of human-computer interaction that I’m pretty excited about. The utility of voice assistants and voice activation is especially high when people are on the go, and high quality local content is obviously a vital component to those mobile moments, so Yelp has a big role and opportunity here.

How does the Yelp Fusion API program reflect the influence of voice activation?

Yelp Fusion is a set of APIs and customized feeds for partners and independent developers who want to integrate Yelp content into their apps, websites, and services. Voice-activated devices and virtual assistants is a very popular Yelp Fusion use case and we’re already seeing some cool applications with our data.

How does Yelp work with other voice-activated platforms?

Yelp has partnered with Apple and been integrated into Siri since its launch in 2011. We also supply local data and content to Amazon for Alexa. So, products like Echo and Fire TV products are enabled with Yelp content. We work with Microsoft on Cortana and also collaborate with companies like Hound, both in their Hound products as well as Houndify, their platform where developers can develop their own voice activated applications that are Yelp enabled.

We work with Nuance, which has been part of the roots of all this, from the actual NLP standpoint to understand what people are actually saying. We’re also working with Samsung Voice, in coordination with Viv, a startup launched by the creators of Siri after they left Apple. Samsung bought Viv and it now powers Samsung’s personal assistant, “Bixby.”

So, even at this early stage, Yelp is virtually omnipresent in all the voice ecosystems. We’re powering voice experiences that are really great when you’re on-the-go, making queries to your smartphone, and even on your Echo when you are hanging out at home. You’re already using Yelp when talking to Bixby or Siri on your Android or iPhone.

The other place we’re seeing voice activation starting to grow is in the car. And that’s not just through Apple’s CarPlay, where you’re using Siri. It’s also native in dashboard experiences. So we’re already working with a lot of auto manufacturers via the Yelp Fusion API, and as those interfaces evolve to offer voice, Yelp will help to deliver our great local content as well.

Yelp’s always been pretty successful at getting our content integrated into car dashes, from BMW, Mercedes, Volvo, Lexus, Toyota, Honda, just to name a few automakers. Most of the auto manufacturers are working with us one way or another, either directly or through integrates like Harmon, or others selling into the auto space. In addition to finding great restaurants on-the-go, drivers can also reserve a table via Yelp Reservations so that there’s a table waiting for them when they arrive. Lastly, we’ve made it possible for drivers to “get in line” remotely at a restaurant through our acquisition of Nowait, which is now a part of Yelp Reservations.

How does Yelp serve as the bridge between brands and voice-activated devices?

When you are using voice enabled experience you want answers as opposed to a traditional search experience where you have a high tolerance for scanning various search results to find what you were really looking for. Yelp is a trusted source for high intent searches because we are able to deliver accurate information that’s highly relevant. This serves brands and businesses well by connecting them directly with the consumers via voice services.

How do you perceive the challenges for brands when it comes to using voice-activation?

One of the tough things about voice activation is for the assistant to really understand what consumers are really asking for. It means having as much content about the user as possible — such as identity, location and preferences – to having speech pattern technologies that can break down the query into specific nouns. If someone says  “Hong Kong café,” are they talking about a café in Hong Kong? Or are they talking about the Hong Kong Café down the street?

There are a million examples of how disambiguation becomes extremely important for these assistants to be smart and efficient for users.

There is the natural language processing and identity extraction side of all of this but its further complicated by the fact that these assistants are built with a broad range of data sources and therefore don’t just rely on Yelp data. We work closely with partners to help ensure they know when a question is best answered by Yelp.

How do you expect voice activation to shape marketing at the local level?

For us, voice represents an incredibly exciting human-to-computer interaction capability where local data is highly relevant. If you think about what Yelp’s been focused on for 14 years now — we’ve been connecting people with great local businesses.

But over the last few years, we have been really focused on getting transactional with it. And what’s cool about voice and Yelp’s role in this trend is the evolution from helping you find great restaurants and places to get a haircut, to actually being able to book a table or order pickup or delivery at that restaurant. Or go ahead and schedule that appointment at the hair salon. Yelp not only powers the discovery process, but it can power the purchase actions that follow.

From a marketing perspective, is the use of voice as opposed to text that different?

It’s not just about discovery with voice. Whereas text is offering a series of options for clicking, voice is about driving transactions. The consumer has this very clear intent that we can actually activate.

We’re seeing two types of voice platforms. You have voice platforms like Siri and Bixby, where you use voice to do the query, but then you get a visual response. And then you can “tap, tap, tap: book” or “tap, tap: buy.” That’s cool, but it’s also great in those moments when tapping isn’t an option – when you’re driving your car or using an Echo. You’re able to simply find — and get — that specific thing you want. And because it’s not a “tap-centric” environment, being able to conduct that transaction via voice is powerful.

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Pandora’s Sonos Integration Opens More Advertisers To The Connected Home

Pandora’s Smart Home strategy has been continuing with a series of steps designed to make the use of the streaming music platform easier for consumers as well as advertisers.

While listening to Pandora has been accessible on Sonos’ speakers for years, the two brands have partnered on new ways for listeners to employ voice-activation controls.

In keeping with Pandora’s philosophy that “voice is the new touch,” listeners can now control Sonos directly through the Pandora mobile app and command Pandora stations with spoken commands via Alexa. The new experience also includes support for Premium, Pandora’s on-demand service launched earlier this year.

In terms of the marketing potential for Pandora, which has an Alexa Skill in the Amazon Echo — as well as a similar presence on Google Home’s voice-activated assistant — this new integration on Sonos will be an opportunity for advertisers to expand their potential audience reach, as its app users have more ways and places to listen.

For Pandora, this expanded alliance with Sonos is another example of what it considers to be a huge opportunity to reach audiences through connected home and voice-activated devices.

“Pandora listeners love the in-home music experience we’ve created with Sonos, having logged over 250 million hours this year alone,” said Chris Phillips, Chief Product Officer, Pandora. “We have made it easier than ever to control your home audio listening experience by adding beautifully designed features inside the Pandora app to control your Sonos.”

More than 50 percent of Sonos owners across the country use Pandora throughout their home, the company said, as Pandora’s platform is available on more than 48 million activations on consumer electronics devices generally.

“Sonos owners have enjoyed their favorite Pandora stations in any room since the service joined the Sonos platform back in 2007,” said Allen Mask, VP of Partnerships at Sonos. “It is now easier for listeners to access and control all of their music from Pandora, whether it’s from the Sonos app, with voice, and now from within the Pandora app – all working together seamlessly.”

The adoption rate of smart speakers with voice assistants grew 140 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to a survey from music streaming service Pandora and Edison Research.

In particular, Pandora usage on these devices grew by a 282 percent year-over-year.

In Pandora’s 2018 Definitive Guide to Audio, which was released last month, the streaming music platform has been attempting to make the case that the latest shift to Connected Intelligence-based devices represents another leap past terrestrial radio. In essence, the rise of voice-activated devices extract all kinds of data from the Knowledge Graph and therefore create even more personalized experiences for consumers.

With that growth in mind, Pandora sought to get a sense of how the rise of devices such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana is opening up new opportunities for marketers to reach multiple household members in contextually relevant ways they couldn’t before.

The research bears out much of what NPR found in its examination of the role of voice-activation and consumers’ media usage this past summer. Roughly 65 percent of people who own an Amazon Echo or Google Home can’t imagine to going back to the days before they had a smart speaker, and 42 percent of that group say the voice-activated devices have quickly become “essential” to their lives, NPR’s research said.

Among the obvious points both NPR and Pandora’s separate studies found: listening to music was the initial reason people sought these devices for. But the use cases of have quickly mushroomed.

In last week’s kick off its first dedicated ad targeting program aimed at voice-activated devices with Nestlé Waters, Eric Hoppe, Director of Product Management at Pandora, told us how Smart Home devices required specific ad formats, as opposed to repurposed ones.

“We see targeting through connected-home devices as an opportunity for both brand building and a way to drive store visits,” said Hoppe. “Audio acts as a powerful tool to establish an emotional connection with audiences, and connected devices offer an even greater level of intimacy, particularly within the home where listeners are more receptive and their environment acts as a contextual trigger. Pandora on connected-devices can drive very specific results and actions through data and technology – advertisers can target more than 2,000 audience segments with the right message at the right time, based on brand objectives.”

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Snapchat Context Cards Open To Advertisers, Starting With Lionsgate’s Wonder

Marketers will now be able to use Snapchat’s place-based information Context Cards to connect image sharing platform’s to a Lens or Filter ad.

Snapchat’s Context Cards debuted last month. The feature helps Snapchat users learn location-related details about what they’re looking at within the app. The information is sourced from third–party app partners such as Foursquare, TripAdvisor, Michelin, and Goop, and represents the clearest way for brands that manage their online listings to get in front of the image sharing platform’s 173 million daily users.

Context Cards also offer connections to ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft, as well as reservation platforms Open Table, Resy, and Bookatable to further make the online/offline link between the app and consumers in the real world.

Coming To A Snapchat Near You

Lionsgate is first marketer to use the Context Cards, which are available to Lens or Filter advertisers with no additional charge.  as their National Lens today will help drive traffic to a movie times site for their film Wonder, starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson and opening on Friday, Nov. 17.

The Context Cards encourages Snapchat users to swipe up and access more details from any friend’s Snap that features a Sponsored Lens or Filter.

Users will see a Context Card, which is a link to a brand’s chosen URL.

If tapped, the user is taken to that website (without leaving Snapchat). In the future, advertisers will be able to deep-link into their app, among other options. Users will see these only when viewing Snaps, not when creating or playing in the camera. Snapchat plans to rollout Context Cards to additional markets in early 2018.

Snapchat’s Context Card, which is attached to a Filter promoting the Lionsgate film Wonder, directs users to ticket sales — without leaving the app.

Snapping The Knowledge Graph

Snap’s creation of Context Cards reflects the broader desire of brands and consumers to assist real world activity with immediate information around Digital Presence, including a business’s or service’s address, hours of operation, reviews, social media profile, contact, and more.

As GeoMarketing’s Lauryn Chamberlain notes, “the Knowledge Graph was popularized by Google, which launched the Google Knowledge Graph back in 2012 in a bid to provide users with structured answers to their queries — not just blue links.”

In other words,  the Knowledge Graph ‘understands’ facts about places, people, and things, and it uses this information to give more relevant information to searchers, Chamberlain writes. This Google Knowledge Graph is usually what people are talking about when they use the term “knowledge graph” to refer to getting structured answers on the web that, through algorithms, become smarter over time.

As for Snap and Snapchat brands, using this kind of broad-based information could help improve engagement and ad performance on its platform. Over the past year, campaigns with a Lens or Filter drove a 16 point lift in ad awareness, 8 point lift in brand awareness, and 5 point lift in action intent on average, according Snapchat In-App polling powered by Nielsen Brand Effect.

In terms of the value of the Context Card itself, the additional real-estate to include info so Snapchatters can access greater detail about a product, business, film, game, item. Plus, it helps solve the problem of mobile’s narrow screen, relative to desktop.

As more users shift to mobile, addressing the space issue on mobile is paramount.

While this feature is not intended as a performance marketing tool (such as Snap Pixel), brands get additional metrics, including impressions on the Context Card and clickthroughs.

Once within the Context Cards for a specific location or venue, a user can then locate the restaurant on Snap Map, another feature introduced in this past summer that lets Snapchatters position themselves on a map of the world while displaying crowd-sourced images and videos shared from specific locations.

So for a retailer running a Lens or Filter ad highlighting a coupon can then employ the Context Card to let a consumer contact restaurant directly or make a reservation (if it’s available) via Open Table, Bookatable, or Resy, and even get an Uber or Lyft to take them there — all without leaving Snapchat.

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Speaking To Search Engines: How Marketers Can Drive Better Results In The Intelligent Future

With search engines shifting from delivering blue links on a page to structured answers and knowledge cards, a quickly growing number of searches result in a user never visiting a web page at all — and this means major changes for marketers who may have dedicated the majority of their time to writing website copy.

If the most important audience isn’t a group of people but search engines themselves, how can marketers make sure that their business is providing the right information when customers need it most? At a panel moderated by GeoMarketing‘s Lauryn Chamberlain at Yext’s ONWARD conference, SEO experts discussed this topic — offering tips to marketers on “how to speak search engine” in the intelligent future.

Below, an edited and condensed version of the panel discussion.

GeoMarketing: Let’s start by talking about the knowledge graph. How can marketers work to make sure their business is represented there — and how is the knowledge graph different from featured snippets?

Adam Edwards, head of SEO, US, Reprise: When we talk about featured snippets or featured answers, the best content wins. This really has little to do with structured data; it is controlled by Google programmatically, and it [simply] pulls for the content that answers the search query. If you are structuring your content in a way that conversationally makes sense [on your site], Google is going to serve that to the user as the best answer.

When we talk about the knowledge graph, that is completely structured data driven.  So we [need] to mark that out: We can mark up our logos, we can mark the hours, we can mark up the site.

And Google has evolved this considerably over just the last year: Now we can actually go in and respond to customer questions directly from the knowledge graph. That’s fantastic — especially if you’re a local business — to be able to have that evolution in the knowledge panel, which is a way for you to push offers out and to respond in real time to actual questions from your customers.

Casey Markee, founder, Media Wyse: [It’s important to note] that feedback is very important on featured answers; Google does make mistakes with featured snippets all the time. For example, about three months ago, if you typed in “who owned the New York Jets?” the featured answer was “Tom Brady.”

That was just one of the funniest examples. But in the event that they do get them wrong, definitely avail yourself of the feedback option.

How do you manage your search marketing such that you’re reaching people who already know what they want — e.g. searching “new Camry” and seeing the knowledge card with prices and configurations — versus those who are making a more general search? Are there “search commandments” today, or does it vary?

Casey Markee: When we talk about search commandments, when we talk about qualifying for position zero, when we talk about marketing to the machine… we have to [talk about] JSON-LD schema. It’s a beautiful language, and it’s very easy to learn. Google loves it, and they’ve updated basically every bit of documentation they have online around structured data to say that JSON-LD is a recommended standard so you should be using that.

Google is never going to come out and say, “Hey, you should do this.” But when they say, “This is our recommended standard,” you tend to want to use that.

Also in regards to the knowledge graph, if you go in and look at the help pages from Google, they’ll tell you how to mark that adequately. Just type “knowledge graph” into Google and look at help pages; I’m always shocked at how many SEOs have never visited those pages. Google tells you what they want you to do, and it’s just a matter of you implementing those examples and filling out that material as much as possible.

Brendan King, CEO, Vendasta: To me, it’s really important that everything is marked up so that Google understands it [and so it addresses] what consumers are looking for.

[But] to me, the real challenge is to get [business owners] to understand that they need to get that structured data there, and then you can use all kinds of of tools to make sure it’s marked up correctly — and then after that you still have to find a way to close the loop. What good is the data if it doesn’t actually result in a conversion where [that business] gets some money?

Casey Markee: Right. And I don’t know if I’d use the word “commandment,” but one of the biggest things that I try to instill into my clients is recognizing that we need to get everyone on the same page. Not everyone needs to know everything about the different schema, but they need to know that this is important.

We can’t talk about the future of intelligent search without touching on the role of voice: 20 percent of searches in the Google app are now by voice, and humans are intuitively built to talk and listen. How is voice transforming search, and, as an extension of that, what role do intelligent assistants like Amazon Alexa now play in how brands need to interact?

Casey Markee: You could almost look at voice search as a no user interface — it’s literally like a blank slate. What I mean is, you don’t even see the screen, and so as marketers, we have to predict what people are going to ask with literally very little feedback and you have to invest in that.

It’s not just about having mark up; it’s about having content that will actually answer these questions that users are asking. I’m sure in the future there will be some artificial intelligence solutions, but right now, answering someone’s question is going to come down to just understanding what people could ask.

Adam Edwards: This is also kind of why schema continues to be important: There is going to be a new schema introduced next year that is currently pending right now. It’s called speakable, and it’s specifically optimized around marking up conversational content. So, the idea is that it will allow everyone  to actually pull out snippets and just mark those up with structured data — so that it’s easier for voice assistants to pull that information programmatically from the page in as clean and easy a way as possible.

Brendan King: Yeah, they call it voice “assistance” because it isn’t really just search anymore. It’s interesting the uses that these devices see, and it [brings about] a whole change in your behavior. At my house, the people that use it most are my grandkids — and they’re turning the lights off, playing music, et cetera. [There are ] just so many use cases here.

It really is the future, and the only way that it works is with that structured data.

Adam Edwards: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s now table stakes to have that data out there.

Brendan King: If people hear or see an ad, they expect that they can go immediately look for that business. If they don’t find that business right away, they’re going to find a competitor.

So I like to say the best place to hide a dead body is on the second page of the Google search results, because nobody goes there.

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How Asahi Premium Beverages Is ‘Localizing’ Facebook And Instagram Campaigns

When it came to local marketing for Asahi Premium Beverages, the Japanese beer and soft drink company, the company typically relied on traditional mediums such as printed signage, umbrellas, and giveaways, says John Kelly, National On Premise Group Business Manager.

But as social media has advanced, Asahi, which markets such brands as Schweppes Ginger Ale, a line of vodka, and Italy’s Peroni beer, among others, found that it needed a clearer path to help direct consumers to local shops and bars where they can find its labels.

So Asahi turned to local social advertising platform Tiger Pistol, a Facebook global marketing partner, to manage its Facebook and Instagram presence.

But to help close the loop between social media users and the locations where Asahi products can be found, Tiger Pistol has struck an integration with Yext this week. (Full disclosure: Yext is GeoMarketing’s parent company. More details on that relationship here)

Tiger Pistol’s platform will allow its clients to use the Yext App Directory to run “thousands” of localized Instagram and Facebook campaigns, leveraging the Yext Knowledge Manager to create and maintain digital information that will let consumers know where and when to shop for Asahi products.

Over time this relationship will allow Tiger Pistol users to leverage additional Yext content and data for automated campaigns linked to menu updates, store events and more.

“The Tiger Pistol integration with Yext opens the opportunity for clients to bring their corporate level advertising strategy to their location network across the country via Local Facebook pages,” says Tiger Pistol CEO Steve Hibberd. “It’s a new ‘game changing’ capability that, to date, is delivering 30-50 percent better outcomes on average compared to national campaigns using simple geo targeting.

In terms of how it works, advertising campaign templates are created by the brand and then customized and distributed for each location imported from Yext, Hibberd says.

“Campaign localization includes customized creative, copy, spend and audiences – the campaign not only geo-targets people in the area, but can leverage local or national custom and lookalike audiences overlaid with local geo-targeting.”

Yext launched its App Directory in June. It allows clients to connect digital knowledge from Yext with software systems across the enterprise. The Yext App Directory integrates digital knowledge seamlessly throughout an organization, creating opportunities for growth and time-saving efficiencies with apps for over 20 leading companies, including HubSpot, Smartling, Domo, Zendesk, with Tiger Pistol being the latest.

“With the Tiger Pistol platform, we can deploy Peroni campaigns through our distribution channels which allows us to deliver more relevant campaigns, track performance, gain valuable audience insights, and maximize share of voice,” Asahi’s Kelly says, noting the natural affinities between social media, mobile, and local business.

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What Do Brands Need To Know About Using Amazon Alexa?

Even as Walmart rolls out voice-activated shopping via Amazon Echo’s Alexa and 40 million Millennials are ready to use Connected Intelligence-powered devices to order holiday gifts, most brands continue to wrestle with the implications of audio.

In a presentation at The LBMA’s Retail Loco in Atlanta last week, Noelle LaCharite, senior technical program manager for Amazon Alexa Machine Learning, offered some clear guidelines for how brands should navigate the use of voice-activation for marketing purposes.

Among her four-point outline for brands, LaCharite’s basic recommendations are:

Avoid Feature Creep. Keep It Simple. “Don’t overwhelm your users with features out of the box. Voice is a new way for users to interact with your product. Keep it simple and grow from there.”

As Natural Conversation As Possible. “Try to make your utterances as natural as they possibly can. Top Tip: Have a real world conversations with one another to create these.”

Core Business Functionality As A Minimum. “It’s important to do the fundamentals right. If you are a news company. Your users will naturally expect you to at least provide the news. Do the extra features later.”

Utilize The Built In Library. “There are hundreds of entities that Alexa can understand using the Built-In library. You can handle this in your skill by simply including them in your interaction model and respond with a useful response.”

GeoMarketing: What should brands know about Alexa’s capabilities as a marketing vehicle? Are you surprised at how much they know or how little they know?

Noelle LaCharite: People are not in a voice-first world yet. So, my goal is to be very aspirational in nature, and just expose the idea of “What would it look like if your brand thought about voice?”

The biggest question is what does your brand even sound like? It’s not something most brands have had to think about. But it’s actually there in some of the most well-known places. For example, most people know what the game show Jeopardy sounds like. You immediately have that tune in your head when the name is mentioned. You don’t have to explain anything. It’s almost common language, but it’s hard to put words around it. And yet, everyone immediately recognizes what it means.

You don’t even have to see Jeopardy. That’s what brands have to achieve now. Most brands haven’t even thought through what ear-cons are, those different sounds, chimes, audio signifiers that identify a brand without additional explanation. That is going to be so important for brands to grasp as consumers shift to a voice-first world.

Amazon Echo Alexa Dot

GeoMarketing’s Lauryn Chamberlain recently spoke to the BirchBox CEO Katia Beauchamp about the way the way Alexa has influenced the way consumers get information. So we’ll pose the same question we did to her: Does the rise of voice-activation call into question the need for a website, or the primacy of a website for brands?

The easiest thing for people to do to be successful is just to look at what are the top 10 things people do on their website. And some of them aren’t going to be top tier ranking. Some of them are going to be three clicks down or 10 clicks down. So find out what those are and make those your first things that you do. We call it the “minimum remarkable product.”

So now, brands are going to have to figure out what’s the most popular thing people are already asking for and make that a top-level indicator of intent in order to get the best interaction.

While Alexa is mostly thought of as powering the Echo in the living room or kitchen, it’s also there on your phone, in the Amazon app. Should brands be thinking of the way Alexa can tie on-the-go and at-home experiences together?

Right, Alexa on the Echo and on your phone within the Amazon shopping app is still the same Alexa.

As an example, one of my Alexa skills is daily affirmation and it’s you can do it while you’re shopping or you can do it sitting on your couch, and it’s the same experience. That’s that contextual experience we’re shooting for. So we want people to be able to say the same thing, the same way, whether they’re standing in front of their washer and dryer, in front of their fridge, or in the aisle of some store.

When we talk to retailers, there’s a lot of interest in using Alexa as a virtual sales assistant to help people while they’re browsing in a brick-and-mortar store. Do you think of those use cases as well?

From an aspirational perspective, absolutely. We’re not actively doing anything like that at the moment, but at the core, the Echo is a customer experience device. So how could you not only delight them in-store, out of store. Because someone already has Alexa on their mobile app, we’re always trying to imagine what could you do to make any brand that you either sell or associated with be more successful.

The challenge, obviously, is, with voice, if you’re in a crowded store, it’s difficult to kind of narrow down what one person is saying. Then you have to think about using voice remotes or a push button. One of the crazy ideas could be to create a phone booth that you step in and close the door.

That’s part of the brainstorming we’re constantly doing. The possibilities really are endless and that’s what’s so exciting about the emergence of voice activation.

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Target Adds Google Voice Assistant Shopping Nationwide

Target is the latest brick-and-mortar brand to sign on to accept requests made by owners of the Google Home through their voice-activated Google Assistant (aka “Okay, Google”) for delivery or pickup via its local online shopping marketplace Google Express.

In essence, the arrangement represents an expansion of Target’s existing use of Google Express.

Starting today, Target shoppers at most of its 1,800 stores in the United States can access items through Google Express and with the Google Assistant (except for Alaska and Hawaii). Target will offer two-day delivery, as well as free shipping for any orders over $35, Google says in a blog post.

Coming In 2018

Most of the capabilities of shopping through Google Express won’t be available until 2018. For example, after the new year, Target customers will also be able to use their Target loyalty membership through REDcard to get 5 percent off most Target purchases and free shipping when using Google Express. In addition, in 2018, Target shoppers will be able to link their and Google accounts, so the service will remember all their favorite items.

“We’re teaming up with Google to create innovative digital experiences using voice and other cutting-edge technologies to elevate Target’s strength in style areas such as home, apparel and beauty,” Target says. “Work is underway for Google and Target teams to bring this all to life.”

In August, Walmart unveiled plans to rollout a similar voice-activated shopping via Google Express and Google Home tools for its 4,700 U.S. stores and its fulfillment network “to create customer experiences that don’t currently exist within voice shopping anywhere else,” including choosing to pick up an order in store (often for a discount) or using voice shopping to purchase fresh groceries across the country.

These partnership on voice-activation comes roughly a year after Google Home debuted as a Connected Home product to augment Google Assistant.

“Shopping isn’t always as easy as it should be,” Sridhar Ramaswamy, SVP for Ads and Commerce, said in a blog post at the time of the Walmart deal’s announcement “When was the last time you needed to pick up something from the store but didn’t have the time to make the trip? Or you went to the store only to realize they didn’t have the brand you wanted? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get what you want, however you want, from the stores where you already shop? We launched Google Express and shopping on the Google Assistant to do just that: make it faster and easier for you to shop your stores like Costco, Target and  Walmart.”

Okay, Google, Target shoppers are ready to talk.

Target’s Many Omnichannel Steps

For Target, the expanded Google partnership follows a series of steps designed to tackle one of the primary challenges facing its omnichannel strategy by rivals like Amazon. In August, for example, Target acquired transportation tech company Grand Junction to promise same-day delivery to customers to match one of key appeals of Amazon’s discount shopping subscription program, Prime.

It’s the latest salvo store brand has taken to meet consumers’ demands in the age of Amazon and e-commerce. Those demands include personalized recommendation and satisfying customers’ purchasing preferences, such as online shopping/in-store pickup.

But as Amazon has expanded its discounts and two-day shipping with its Prime membership option, and has just heralded its Instant Pickup option, retailers have turned to one advantage they still possess — at least for the moment — in relation to Amazon: proximity to their customers and known inventory, which makes it possible to offer the ultimate convenience of letting someone click “buy” and then having it brought to them within a few hours.

The Rise Of Connected Intelligence, The Knowledge Graph

In general, the adoption of voice-activation and on-demand delivery/pickup follows the wider capabilities stemming from the rise of Connected Intelligence and the Knowledge Graph, which have propelled personalized, one-to-one connections between brands and digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s Bixby as they enter the mainstream of consumer behavior.

While Amazon’s Alexa has assumed an early position as a leading voice-activated assistant, Google has stepped up its push into the space as its aligns its services to brick-and-mortar brands such as Panera Bread, which became one of the first national restaurant chains to begin offering voice-activated ordering and payment through Google Assistant.

The voice-activated ordering is currently available in Panera’s hometown of St. Louis and at its six locations in the Silicon Valley area. A full rollout of voice ordering is expected to come to all of Panera’s 2,000-plus U.S. locations by the end of the year, the company has said.

Other national brands that have formally aligned with Google’s voice-activated virtual assistant to accept spoken orders via the delivery marketplace Google Express, including Costco, Guitar Center, Kohl’s, L’Occitane, Payless, PetSmart, Road Runner Sports, Sur La Table, Ulta, Walgreens, and Amazon’s Whole Foods.

In the case of Target, the retailer has been aggressively — and at times, fitfully — revising its omnichannel strategy. For example, earlier this year, it decided to abandon its sub rosa e-commerce program called Goldfish, which was dubbed as the “store of the future.”

Before that, in August 2015, Target started a beacon program with Estimote to round out its in-store sales assistance. It’s unclear how vital the beacon program has been — or even whether Target has continued to use it —  since the company has not discussed those efforts publicly. Along the way, Target’s experiments with interactivity has included retail pop-ups and a showcase IoT-based connected home store in San Francisco.

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