There’s another digital evolution creeping up in consumer technology that is in the process of turning marketers on their heads – once again. Right now, AI is blossoming, big time. So much so that it is changing the way consumers interact with their devices. Which, by extension, means the way digital marketers interact with their target audience will have to evolve as well.
We are looking at a not so distant future in which the touchless conversational interface has become the norm. Just look at Apple’s new iPhoneX. No more pin codes or touch ID. iPhoneX users only have to look at their smartphone to turn it on. The less we use our screens, the more we’ll start to see them disappear as technology, by nature, always moves towards greater convenience and less clutter.
And then there are the smart home hubs like Alexa, which can take a simple command to launch a personalized routine, such as, “Alexa good morning,” to turn on the lights, adjust the temperature, brew your coffee and start playing the morning news. And Microsoft’s Cortana, who, just like any assistant, has a notebook, a virtual one, to keep track of what she knows about you to better do her job – organizing your life and helping you access the information you need online.
Less action on the part of humans, more independence on the part of machines. We’ve got Siri, Google Assistant, Tay, Cortana, Alexa and the next generation gaining more autonomy in order to make our lives easier.
Voice assistants and chat are phase one. Mind-reading AI assistants in a few years? We’re not far off. With machine learning, Siri and her friends are getting smarter, learning to anticipate our needs and wants.
In 2016, Google claimed that 20 percent of mobile queries were voice search. By 2020, it is predicted that half of all searches won’t require a screen.
The important question at this critical touch/voice juncture is, how are conversational UIs changing the user experience? Where will customer expectations be in the near future thanks to the growth of voice activated searches and how can marketers meet these expectations? Adjusting to this new wave is about more than just creating voice-friendly keywords. This is about shifting the perspective on UX.
From UI to CI
A user interface, or UI, includes all of the visual elements that we interact with when communicating with a device – buttons, icons, pictures. Conversational user interfaces, or CI for short, refer to those interfaces that respond to human conversational language. Instead of communicating with a device via keyboard commands or clicking icons, we interact as if we were speaking to another human being. They include chatboxes, which involve typed communication, and voice assistants, which are the screenless, touchless variety that consumers are falling in love with.
Conversational interfaces can work with any device, from clunky desktops to sleek smartwatches. They can even connect enabled electronics like home security systems, lighting, the television. And, they can connect with any app or social media platform.
Jiaqi Pan, CEO of Helloumi, a conversational commerce and chatbox platform, describes CI as a hybrid UI, combining voice and chat with visual UI elements like menus, images, videos, and interactive buttons. Conversational UI can offer a user a sea of choices. This can be informative, just as much as it can be overwhelming. With a sea of options, it’s hard to grasp on to anything.
Pan suggests a solution for brands who want to use a CI: creating a conversational UI that suggests several options, rather than just asking a user what they want. This may limit the possibilities but it also simplifies the interaction, leading to less frustration and a shorter route to needs being met. It also points to a key takeaway that marketers need to be paying attention to – simplification of choices rather than offering endless choices may be more effective in the future.
A More Fluid and Audible UX
CIs will continue to change the user experience in different ways. Right now, there are two primary ones that marketers should be aware of:
- They are encouraging people to be more engaged with devices, both in consumer-driven and in organizational culture.
- They are pushing towards a more hands-off experience. Hands-off, right now, means voice, which is opening the doors for more audio-driven content.
Consumers are already deeply tuned into their smartphones, smartwatches, and other devices. They essentially help facilitate everyday life and work, from checking the weather to scheduling appointments. But, with voice assistants, all of this happens with a few words, rather than having to tap a couple icons, type, swipe and push. This makes relying on our personal devices to get things done even easier.
The more consumers use voice AI to get these small tasks done, the more businesses are going to find useful ways to integrate their products or services into this new wave of consumer-brand interaction.
- Order a product
- Send a customer service request
- Upgrade software
- Schedule an appointment
- Renew a subscription
- Listen to online reviews – have a voice assistant transcribe online reviews
- Post a video
- Share a link
“Siri, turn on Pizza Order. I want the usual, light on the olives this time.” “Check my email for offers on logo designs please.” “Also, have XYZ Company email me their video tutorials on integration and post the article I listened to this morning to my Twitter account, it was really fascinating. Oh, and, it’s going to rain before I get home, let the dog out.”
In this fluid lifestyle, who’s going to bother looking for your brand? In this reality, your brand just has to be there, in the background, ready for action.
The brands that can offer useful, seamless ways for consumers to connect through CIs, are the ones that are going to play a bigger role in this more streamlined lifestyle.
In terms of digital marketing, this shift to more tech and more touchless may impact everything from content marketing to SEO:
- Instead of reading a blog post on a website, people may opt to listen to it being read by their voice assistant while driving to work. How will this change the way blogs are written?
- Will podcasts take a more prominent content role as consumers grow accustomed to hands-off interaction? How will podcast content change in order to offer the more direct, to-the-point answers that consumers are looking for?
- Will emails, like other written content, be listened to rather than read? Will CIs be able to sift through the content a user may find relevant, clearing their inboxes for them? How will this change email marketing?
- Search will continue to change. Keywords will need to be better aligned with voice search queries and SEO strategies are going to be focused more on a concise answer to a direct question.
Conversational UIs have historically been somewhat flawed, and even frustrating. This is changing quickly as tech companies poor billions into AI. Right now, the shift is happening for the user. From opting for smartwatches over a phone or tablet, to getting used to the seamless convenience of smart home technology, people are finding more value from voice assistants. Marketers have to stay on top of this trend as it may dramatically change what content people are interested in, how they consume, and how they find it, let alone how they spend money.