The growth and acceptance of voice engagement is undeniable. Most consumers, when asked about voice and connectivity, naturally default to Amazon’s Echo (Alexa) or Google Home. In addition to these are myriad others: Bixby, Cortana, Siri, Viv, Watson, and the list keeps growing.
The major difference is the device through which each can be engaged. Only Siri and Bixby are mobile-native; the others are computer- or speaker-based. Amazon has launched an Echo for cars, and LG is building its own in-car interface.
This proliferation has led to concerns about interactivity between multiple voice interfaces (VI), and how to get them to work together seamlessly. In response, Amazon has created a voice alliance, but Google and Apple have yet to sign on. And Amazon filed an injunction against Microsoft over the Pentagon’s JEDI cloud computing business, citing unfair advantage. The Open Voice Network is working to create universal standards for voice, but the details remain undefined.
Clearly voice is a big deal, even if many consumers aren’t as engaged as providers would like. The reason is simple: it’s all about the data. Work continues to make voice assistants more conversational in the hopes that people will see them as more “human” and reveal more about themselves. The purpose, of course, is to learn as much as possible about everyone possible to personalize offers. Put simply, it’s all about selling you more stuff.
The topic of data privacy has been broached, but there are no protections with real teeth yet.
While sharing of abilities sounds good at first – e.g., saying “Hey Google” to your Echo device – it mostly muddies the privacy waters that much more. Now who owns the data gathered? More critically, who is responsible for protecting it? What can consumers do, aside from avoiding bringing one of these home?
For now, those questions remain unaddressed and unanswered. But consumer convenience rules, and voice will grow no matter what the risks. Concerns will expand, ultimately reaching a boiling point, and government action will begin. While those wheels slowly turn, capabilities will grow even faster as VI burrows more deeply into our personal lives, filing away all it can for later analysis in the name of commerce.
While the FAANG group has the resources and desire to fight regulation and lobby legislatures, it will do so in the manner that helps them most. As a result, smaller players will be left to fend for themselves, either without a viable offering, or without a legal leg to stand on.
Businesses are rightly concerned over this likely scenario. Google may win the war, but no one wants to take the hill on their own and become a casualty. The options are few: stay out of voice, or focus efforts in such a way that consumer data is not compromised or shared with the top tier of data marketers.
Minnesota-based CoalitionWorks has released a voice-based solution that provides numerous benefits to retailers, while avoiding the possible legal morass that lies in wait. The solution is called VoiceZing, a simple but useful shopping tool. It’s mobile-based, so no hardware is needed, and consumers can access it wherever they are. It’s also built into retailer mobile apps, and thereby promotes interaction with those apps.
VoicZing allows shoppers to build a shopping list, either from scratch or from a starting list, all using voice. It taps into the retailer’s loyalty database to provide personalized offers and reminders, e.g., “You usually buy coffee about this time. Would you like me to add it to the list?” Answer in the affirmative, and it will add your normal brand and size of coffee. It can also search for offers and rewards, upload them to the loyalty account, with no need for coupons or searching. Finally, it will help find and show recipes, adding needed items to the list. All of this interaction is voice-driven.
Here’s the biggest difference from Alexa or Google Home: VoicZing doesn’t capture or keep user data. While it will tap into the loyalty database to find relevant items, that data stays put. CPGs can buy into personalized offers based on buyer behavior using the AI. Targeted offers for national brands or private label now feel like friendly suggestions, all based on shopper data and advanced machine learning. But again, that data doesn’t go anywhere else. CPGs don’t get it, they only see the sales lift. More important, Google and Amazon have no access to it.
Voice assistants, artificial intelligence, and data gathering are here to stay. Consumers and consumer-serving business should be wary of the many traps that lie ahead in the use of voice to capture ever deeper insights. Finding a solution with a narrow focus, that serves a consumer need, and helps drive sales, without having to hand over the keys to the data warehouse, is a sound investment.