Forget About Big Brother – Bring on Alexa

Innovative new applications of Voice Recognition (VR) married with Artificial Intelligence (AI) abounded at this year’s massive gathering of techies, media professionals and entrepreneurs at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  But the pettily packaged digital personal assistant Alexa developed by Amazon’s secret Lab126 stole the show.

Dozens of companies have integrated the Alexa VR and AI system into products from refrigerators that adjust temperatures for optimal food storage to Amazon Restaurants which enable Prime subscribers to order takeout, and Mattel’s new Aristotle that coos fussy toddlers back to sleep with lullabies.  Virtually every home appliance can now be controlled with simple voice commands.  GE and Whirlpool are leading the way as are automakers which see their products as the biggest appliances of all.

VR and AI have been utilized by many brands in customer call centers, but look for this rapidly improving technology to affect everything from product development to marketing message.

Routers are rapidly becoming the central nervous system of American households, and home builders and DYI retailers are monetizing the desire for smart living spaces.  Also paying attention to the wireless explosion are media and advertising execs who see smart TVs providing the ability to deliver tailored adverts to individually addressable homes.  And their interest doesn’t stop with flat screens in the living room as IP addresses allow for monitoring second-screen use while we watch linear programming.  They already know a whopping 75% of the second-screen use is unrelated to what’s on TV, making it a challenge to keep the attention of an ever more ADD population.

In addition to a distracted consumer, marketers must manage an explosion of digital hardware. An estimated 14 billion connected devices in 2016 – two for every person on the planet – is estimated to grow to 35 billion by 2020.  These devices are driving media use up to 12 hours daily, five of which is still traditional television.  But higher media consumption doesn’t equal more eyeballs seeing traditional commercials as ad blocking is expected to be employed by one in three people this year.

That makes immersive, compelling content even more important be it a 90-second digital short or a live three-hour telecast of the NBA Finals.  The creative elements for everything we watch, or choose not to skip past, are vital to engagement.  Audiences are no longer willing to sit passively and uninterrupted.  Quite the contrary as writers, editors and producers look for ways to reach through the pipe or flat screen to pull proverbial heartstrings.  Most recently, Saturday Night Live’s 40th Anniversary did just that by employing a robotic 360-degree camera allowing VR aficionados to experience what it’s like to sit in Studio 8H or people watch the live audience that included Taylor Swift, Derek Jeter and George Lucas.

At CES, the measure of effective content was put thusly “the new currency for content is sharing.” Programmers and marketers alike are competing to inspire us to re-post, like and share their content with our like-demoed community of friends and acquaintances.  With thousands of media outlets from broadcast television to podcasts, the “endorsement” of a friend or business acquaintance makes it much more likely we are going to read, listen to or watch a piece of content.

What we watch and how it is delivered continues to change, too.  User-generated content is favored by younger audiences helping Over the Top (OTT) nets led by YouTube, Netflix and Hulu go mainstream.  Half of the content watched by Millennials is being streamed to mobile devices versus traditional linear delivery to the family room.  It is no surprise ad dollars are shifting to digital and 2017 will mark the first year digital overtakes television as the leading expenditure by marketers.  One in three dollars is following us to mobile.

Yes, with consumers demanding new models for linear TV distribution there is more disruption yet to come.  Mobile usage will continue its upward trek as we lean on social media platforms for news and entertainment.  The average of three hours of content we consume daily on mobile devices is almost exclusively (82%) powered by apps which are becoming mini OTT networks.

How we as brand managers and marketers navigate an ever-more crowded media landscape and an ever-more distracted audience was the paramount question of Chief Marketing Officers at CES. The answer lies at the intersection of extraordinary creative, quality production and segmented delivery to an appreciative audience which shares your story within their personal communities. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?