Amazon’s Dave Isbitski: With Voice-Enabled ‘Everything,’ Brands Must Get Back To Conversational Basics
Following a keynote at Yext's ONWARD conference, Isbitski discussed the mainstreaming of Alexa — and the next phase of the mass shift to voice for marketers.
With the rise of machine learning and cloud computing to fuel innovation, natural language conversations with AI have become an everyday reality — but even voice-activated intelligent assistants become a major factor in consumers lives, brands’ sense of how to approach them as a marketing vehicle is still in its infancy.
But “every industry can [add] value based on just having a conversation,” explains Dave Isbitski, Chief Evangelist for Alexa and Echo at Amazon. And while the technology that consumers are using to power nearly every aspect of their lives has indeed evolved, “it’s still almost like what’s old is new. We’re going to back to just having a conversation.”
Following a keynote at Yext’s ONWARD conference in November entitled Voice-Enabled Everything, Isbitski talked to GeoMarketing about the reality of marketing through conversation — and the next phase of the mass transition to voice. (Full disclosure: Yext owns GeoMarketing. More details on our relationship here.)
GeoMarketing: Amazon Echo products and the Alexa assistant have become so mainstream. But do brands have a sense of how to approach using Alexa as a marketing vehicle? What’s the top question that you get from brands about how they should use Alexa as opposed to just what people are used to (i.e., text and type)?
Dave Isbitski: The bigger question that most brands are asking themselves, and that everybody’s coming to, is, “What does it mean to be conversational?”
In terms of digital marketing, we’ve had technology, we’ve had these screens, for a long time. But now, it’s almost like what’s old is new. We’re going to back to just having a conversation. And so, a lot of brands have conversations with customers through their support centers. But those calls sometimes have a tendency to show what the technology couldn’t solve.
So another question brands should be asking: “What’s actually working with my technology today?”
What I start to see is brands will have everyone at the table. It will be, “What kind of calls are we getting from customers in our support center? What are we hearing that’s actually working? What are our reviews in our mobile app – what do people like about our mobile app?”
After that, the questions become, “What do we want to provide? What’s in our specific industry? Where can you do value?”
Because, every industry can do value based on just having a conversation.
What other trends are influencing brands in this new era of artificial intelligent-powered marketing and assistants?
The other thing that I’ve seen is chatbots. Brands who have done chatbots have started to reach that state where they can be more informal with a customer, versus trying to go through what I call “on-ramps.”
You have these on-ramps: “This is how you get to ask a question,” versus “Ask a question,” which a chatbot will give you.
If a brand has started with chatbots, and they’ve experienced that informal conversation, and they’ve seen that customer questions get resolved — which usually, they do — you start to see that expanding their marketing strategy.
Then voice conversation is a smoother transition. What you’re doing is, you’re creating this contract of the types of questions that are going to be asked.
You can take that data you have from your chatbot. Sometimes the training questions are the same. We have that at Amazon, we have Lex, which is a service through AWS. [Amazon Lex is an AWS service for building conversational interfaces into applications using voice and text].
In fact, with Lex, you can actually take the utterances and intents you’ve built, and create an Alexa skill.
What other issues are brands having to deal with in the transition to voice?
When I was talking about the on-ramps, the worst thing you can do, and I have seen this happen, is to say, “We’ve got a mobile app, this is the parameters through my service that my mobile app calls, therefore I’m going to ask those as questions.”
That’s not conversation. People will know that right away. They’re like, “This is just a back and forth, this is the IVR system. I might as well just hit the buttons on the keyboard. That’s not how conversation works.
You spend most of the time thinking about having a conversation with your customer. So, I guess the bigger question that you’re asking is more about, “What’s the starting point for this?”
Because there are over 25,000 skills, what I tell a lot of people is, “If you’re thinking you’re going to do a finance skill, for example, we’ll see what Amazon customers are saying in reviews, because there’s real data there.” You know what your customers are telling you.
But if you’re looking for voice experience, we share all that in reviews, so you could actually go through, and you could data-mine all that and say, “You know what, I consistently see people are saying this. This one’s got four stars.”
All of that is publicly available. And we saw that in the mobile space, too. If you were going to enter an area, you looked at what was getting to the top of the charts. and the question was always, “How could you create more value on top of that?” And that’s what every brand constantly has to consider.