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Amazon’s Alexa Gets Visual With Echo Show: What Does It Mean For Brands?

Parks Associates' Dina Abdelrazik on what the Amazon Echo Show's touchscreen and video adds to the voice-activated intelligent assistant Alexa.

Just as the Amazon Echo appears poised to maintain its dominance of the voice-activated connected intelligence device category, it’s now ready to make another leap in that space by adding a screen to the mix.

Pre-orders for the $299 Echo Show began less than a week ago, but it already is a top-selling electronics device (on Amazon, naturally). Promising consumers “everything you love about Alexa,” Amazon says “now she can show you things: Watch video flash briefings and YouTube, see music lyrics, security cameras, photos, weather forecasts, to-do and shopping lists, and more.

The influence of voice-activation and connected intelligence is already threatening to up-end traditional advertising and even calls into question the value of a website, as Birchbox CEO Katia Beauchamp has opined.

Does Amazon Echo Show’s video and touchscreen device further alter expectations among consumers and brands? It may be early days, but Dina Abdelrazik, Research Analyst for tech consultancy Parks Associates, broke it down for us.

GeoMarketing: What does this might mean for marketers who are just now getting used to the voice-activation aspect of intelligent assistants?

Dina Abdelrazik: With any new emergence of technology, marketers are going to search for new ways to reach the consumer. Smart speakers with personal assistants introduced a new category of devices that provided a rare new channel for advertisers to target – a channel that has direct access to consumers in the home and a consumer base that continues to grow.

Parks Associates estimates more than 50 million of these devices will be sold by 2020; that’s a large advertising market.

Furthermore, our Q1 2017 data shows that owners of these devices are young, highly educated, and wealthy – a highly desirable audience for marketers. Of smart speakers with personal assistant owners, roughly 40 percent are within the age range of 18-34, roughly 40 percent have an income of $100K or higher, and over 50 percent have a college degree or more.

Amazon’s recent addition to its lineup of Echo devices with an Echo with a screen will change the game. Early ads on the Google Home, such as the promotional attempt of the film Beauty & the Beast and the Burger King Whopper burger, have been met with criticism.

Consumers find them intrusive and annoying. The addition of a screen will allow marketers to reinforce their ads with an image – this is something marketers understand quite well. Having a screen provides the consumer the ability to swipe past and ignore sponsored ads without fully disrupting the user experience.

Does this new screen function bring some of the traditional online advertising to Amazon Echo?

The advertising industry understands that traditional advertising models are being disrupted by these types of technologies. Monetizing voice-first technology through advertising must be done in a compelling way that does not disrupt the user experience and provides relevance. Such as providing an ad insertion for an Italian restaurant when a consumer’s voice query relates to searching for nearby Italian restaurants.

Players in the voice-first market will need to balance between consumers’ advertising tolerance and monetization of search. If done correctly, voice-first technology has the potential to disrupt the pay-per-click model. Smartphones only expanded the pie in monetizing search from computers with the help of sponsored blue links, but with voice interfaces those links disappear altogether.

Now the Echo Show is bringing that aspect of the model back. However, Amazon clearly favors the hands-free experience with its devices, and many interactions will not use the screen at all. Therefore, marketers must focus on a more limited set of opportunities to leverage the visual component.

Google Home’s voice-activated assistant

Are other devices, like Google Home and Microsoft Cortana, likely to mimic this image/screen function as well?

Similar devices by other contenders in the market will likely counter this crucial move by Amazon. Modality is key. Device makers must consider voice to be a critical interface, but one that will not completely replace touch. Devices will need to be multi-modal, giving the opportunity to consumers to choose the best mode of interaction. If it is more efficient to interact with touch, a gesture, point and click, or voice then the consumer will do so – the key is in the ability to facilitate choice to enhance the user experience. The Amazon Show is providing that choice to consumers, other manufacturers will likely watch and learn from this move closely to evaluate their next step.

Is the screen simply a natural evolution of voice-activated assistants?

Devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home had their limitations in what they could provide a consumer when presenting the information a consumer requested with just a voice interface. Providing a screen is a natural evolution. Voice is still at the forefront of these devices with the visual component now acting as reinforcement or an enabler of functions that need a screen to better provide an answer to a consumer’s voice query.

Requesting information that is sent back as a list or needed in a way to visually compare between different choices is much easier now with a screen. The combination of a voice interface that allows a user to ask and receive an answer in seconds combined with a screen to display the requested information is powerful.

The implications it has on commerce, advertising, and the communications industry with video calling alone is significant and will revolutionize many market verticals.