Okay, so I’m not going to lie to you, today I felt a little rough. They put a lot of Tequila in Texas Margaritas!

But today was jam packed with some fantastic sessions, so pushed on, had some waffles (with bacon and brown sugar butter and maple syrup) and got on with it.

The first session was the one I was really looking forward to the most – “AI Replaces Search; the future of customer acquisition” or in other words how will AI change the way we find and discover stuff.

If you think about it search has only been around for a few years, but imagine a world without Google or Bing. But search is ripe for disruption. Ultimately the idea of conversational search , voice search, predicted search, and the like have been around for a while but right now there is a convergence of technology that could see the rapid rise in voice search over the next two to three years. The panel was world class including the CEO of Ozlo, that has developed natural language algorthims to power Alexa (Amaon’s AI). We also had Amanda from Hoteltonight.com and Brian from Yummly.com, both of which are experimenting with machine learning, chatbots and the like. Finally we had the lead scientist on AI from Bing. And these guys are taking this stuff really seriously.

The main takeaway from this talk is that marketers have to get much more focused when it comes to disruption. The reality is that millions of people are interacting with personal assistants like Siri, Cortana, Alexa, and Google (yep, Google called their AI, well Google!) every day and they are getting smarter but brands need to catch up and have to start thinking about structuring data and content in a way that is optimised not only for SEO, app discovery but not bot discovery. Soon, the reality of not being found by Alexa will be have as dramatic effect on a brand’s bottom line of not being in the top 3 organic search results. Take this stuff seriously people!

Take a very simple task for a human. “I’d like to get a bottle of wine that goes with pasta, on the way to Charles’ house”. Easy; you can in an instant picture the route to your friend’s house, recall where the bottle shop is, you know your budget, and you probably know (red or white at least) what wine goes with the pasta dish you are taking. But if you were to ask an AI the same question then the data sets the computer would have to know are staggering. At the very least it would need to know:

  • Your address
  • Charles’ address
  • The route to Charles house, and the closest bottle shop to that route
  • Your normal budget for a bottle of wine
  • What wines go with pasta, and in fact what type of pasta dish you are making
  • the inventory of the store closest to your route

That is a lot of information – address books, bank data, maps, wine database, food database, wine matching api, store inventory, etc. Its especially complex because unlike search as it stands today that gives you a number of options based on keywords that you search for (in this case something like “bottle shops near me”),  in audio search you only want one response. The right answer! But this is exactly what companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, etc. are trying to achieve, through natural language processing and cognitive computing.

At the moment the solution for AI to be able to understand what you need is through conversational search. Basically, the computer asks you questions that makes answering your main question easier, because, and  this is really important – when dealing with voice search – you only want one answer – not a list of choices. So in this case your AI Personal Assistant, may respond with, ” what is Charles’ address?, which pasta dish have you made?, what is your budget? are you happy with Glengarry on New North Road?” And like any AI worth its salt, it will remember every answer you give that over time will make it smarter and smarter.

The guy from Bing noted that it will be the single biggest shift in consumer marketing behaviour, since search itself. This is because the web as it stands today has been indexed and is searched through keywords and phrases, sifting through search results until you get what you are looking for. With AI, keywords become redundant in many respect and through conversational search the focus shifts from keywords to intent. Search Engines like Google and Bing are monetised through brands buying keywords and then serving an ad to a consumer along with other topically relevant ads.  So, what happens if rather that having multiple results, you only want one; how would that be decided, what is the role of seo, versus sem? In the example above, in which we’re looking for a bottle of wine you wouldn’t want a wine brand to be able to bid on your question and get their brand of wine recommended over others simply because they paid for it.

So what’s the advice from SXSW? Ignorance is not a strategy; start thinking now about what tasks an AI, be it a chatbot or something more elaborate, could take over and start building a case. Happy to point you in the direction of some of the vendors I’ve met here. And remember that the sooner you get started the sooner your AI will start learning.

In the world of search, now really is the time to start thinking about voice search and conversational search. Discuss with your SEO team a 12 month roadmap to be ready. Alexa, Google Home, Cortana, and Siri are here, and they are only going to get smarter. You don’t want to be left behind.

For example how powerful would it be for a consumer to ask Alexa on a Saturday morning “what’s the best deal on Samsung TVs in New Zealand at the moment”, and immediately the response come back; “Noel Leeming has 50% off all Samsung TVs this weekend. The St Lukes store which is closest to you, opens at 9am. Would you like me to send directions to your phone…” There’s even a company that I met with called Spoken Layer who optimizes your content for Alexa and Google Home!

I’ve written more than enough today, and to be honest after helping Shane Evans out for half an hour at the ASB Clever Kash stand and then having a few beers with Shane, and my old boss Kevin Malloy which was a really great catch up, I caught up with some work and then crashed out!

 

 

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