Part 1: Digital Assistants, the Internet of Things, and the Future of Search

Welcome to a three-part series that explores the rise of digital assistants and what that means for the future of search marketing. Part 1 explores the fundamental changes taking place in search due to the arrival of AI digital assistants. Part 2 will discuss search marketing opportunities that digital assistants will create. Part 3 will explore the active steps digital marketers should take in order to survive in this brave new world of digital assistant search. Enjoy!

 

Google  announced a host of new products last week, but one in particular should have caught the eyes of local marketers.

Sure, there was Google Pixel, a slick new smartphone with a best-in-class camera. And Google Home is nothing to scoff at (though it’s pretty much Amazon Echo with the serial numbers filed off).

The real story was the announcement of Google Assistant, the artificial brains behind Pixel, Home, and sooner or later, the Internet of Things (IoT).

The digital soothsayers have long proclaimed the imminent arrival of the Internet of Things. And yet, for many watching the IoT’s plodding development, the results have been underwhelming. We’ve seen a lot more IoT devices that fall into the category of Tide Dash Buttons than we have of the gee-whiz, meet The Jetsons variety.

But that’s about to change.

Until recently, the Internet of Things was slow to take off for two reasons: a lack of connected devices and no efficient way to navigate them.

It’s safe to say we’ve cleared this first hurdle. Gartner estimates that 5.5 million things get connected to the internet each day. At that pace, it will bring us up to 6.4 billion connected devices by the end of this year and over 20 billion by the start of the next decade. Going forward, it’ll become increasingly uncommon for devices not to be connected to the internet.

However, surmounting the second obstacle—effectively navigating the IoT—has proven a bigger challenge. Even in the best of circumstances, trying to orchestrate your IoT devices to work in concert generally devolves into a cacophony of curses rather than the praises of digital bliss.

But that’s where digital assistants step in and speak up. Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana will increasingly serve as the liaison between our things and the actions we want them to take.

Why Google will win the digital assistant race

Before I go putting Google Assistant on a pedestal, it’s only fair to mention that Siri and Amazon deserve credit for laying the groundwork for the IoT. Siri was light years ahead of the competition in terms of voice search (until it wasn’t), and Amazon Echo made the concept of an omnipresent assistant in your home something that was not only viable, but profitable.

Nevertheless, Google will be the one to win the digital assistant arms race and become the go-to source for navigating the IoT. It’s a bold prediction, I know, especially considering Microsoft is putting the weight of 5,000 computer scientists behind their AI project, and Amazon is the go to source for all product searches.

So why will Google emerge triumphant? It all comes down to semantics—literally. The future of digital assistants and the future of the IoT lies in one’s ability to intuit the needs of the user and match that intent with the desired result. This is the dominion of search engines, and nobody dominates search like Google.

Currently, Google swallows up 63.8% of the total search market. Microsoft’s Bing, the next closest competitor, falls just short of 22% of the total search market. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding: “Google it,” is a common phrase; “Bing it,” not so much.

Even if Microsoft’s Cortana were to deliver a better digital assistant, the likelihood that they’ll be able to deliver a digital assistant that’s so much better than Google, so overwhelmingly spectacular that it overcomes our entrenched Google habits is, quite frankly, slim to none.

As for Amazon, they currently wipe the floor with Google when it comes to product searches, 55% of which begin on Amazon’s website. However, skill with product searches doesn’t equate to skill with general search queries, not to mention there are distinct limitations to product searches when it comes to voice search.

Why? Because if I want to buy a product that I’m unfamiliar with, I want to see pictures. I want to read reviews. I want to know the prices of competitors, know my options. Voice search doesn’t lend itself well to Amazon’s strength in product searches. It does, however, lend itself well to semantics, to matching user intent with the most applicable response. And this, arguably, Google does better than anyone else.

The next frontier of search: voice and texting

The next frontier of search is the establishment of ambient digital assistants, which is just a fancy way of saying digital assistants that are always listening to you, waiting for you to engage them. As the technology matures, the two most common ways in which we’ll interact with these ambient digital assistants is through voice and texting.

Voice search already accounts for 20% of all searches, and that’s before Google Home and Amazon Echo have gained real adoption. Expect that percentage to grow dramatically in the coming years.

Meanwhile, digital assistants are also entering text communication, though they face a crowded field at the moment with the proliferation of chatbots. Google Assistant can already be found in Google’s new messaging app Allo, but Facebook has the clear lead in terms of its Messenger app, it’s proliferation of chatbots, and the inherent social domain of its company. But don’t count Google out, especially since Google is set to level the playing field by bringing chatbots to its own messaging platform starting in December.

Still, as exciting as chatbots are, I suspect they’ll have a shelf life that’s tied to the maturity of digital assistants. Right now, chatting with the snarky TacoBot is novel. It’s fun. It’s exciting. But when every brand has a chatbot, that novelty fades. Eventually, users will value a consistent experience, and more importantly, a personalized experience. These needs will be met by your personal digital assistant, not a hodgepodge of bot personalities.

Your personal digital assistant awaits—everywhere

Google Assistant will connect to all of your devices, learn what you like, and adjust its responses based on your personal preferences. In short, digital assistants will increasingly come to know you the more you use them. Considering the exponential growth of Big Data and the growing potency of predictive analysis, expect digital assistants to get to know you very, very well.

What’s more, digital assistants won’t just know you at home or in the office or when you use your smartphone, they will know you everywhere. You’ll find your digital assistant in your watch, in the dashboard of your car, in your text messages, in your fridge, in your TV, in your computer at work—everywhere. This has always been the endgame: an omnipresent digital assistant that knows you as well as you know yourself—and then some.

The Future of Marketing

We’ve hit a fundamental turning point in the future of search marketing due to the advent of digital assistants. Be sure to check back in soon, and we’ll explore everything digital marketers need to know about the changing rules of search marketing and how to thrive in the digital assistant future.

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