Competing in the Time of Programmatic Commerce

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The digital assistant ushers in a world of convenience to consumers: But are marketers ready to face up to the challenge? The answer is yes, that is if we right size Alexa for a moment. Today it’s a highly advanced search engine for the home with the potential to become a domestic brand advocate. What it actually becomes however is up to us.  It’s important not to be complacent during times of transition – let’s look at how brands connect with consumers to maintain or achieve hegemony in this new world order.

Buying The Time

In order for brands to leverage digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant there is one daunting question we need to face: Will they serve up advertising to their platforms as voice search expands? The answer is probably not.  As the proliferation of the technology increases in popularity, advertising agencies and marketers are wondering if Google and Amazon will open their platforms to additional forms of paid messages from brands. The introduction of voice ads is likely to raise more questions about transparency, privacy and intrusiveness in this new medium.

So much for the traditional media tact.

One possible solution is the adoption of virtually assisted direct marketing programs, combining channels – including mail – to allow customers to touch and interact directly with products. The distribution of brand samples to target influencers in the interest of gaining influencer share of voice will increase sharply. Virtual assistants could be the biggest breakthrough to integrated marketing.


As we edge towards a world of automated shopping replete with IoT connected shopping lists that constantly replenish our cupboards, one way to introduce new products will be an increase in trial samples. Subscription boxes mean that we can introduce consumers to new products – and even services and breakup the implicit biases that years of product usage have engendered.

A Little Voice Told Me

What happens when virtual assistants become super-cognitive? The next generation of virtual assistants may become a real time influencer – a familiar voice informing you on what bargains are available. The potential for Alexa to have a depth of engagement leads us from the realm of call and response to more of a call and converse world.  That’s where the role of public relations will factor prominently as the need for third party endorsements and outside reputation building to create mental triggers in engaging with virtual assistants. The battle for PR supremacy will extend into social media and influencer marketing.  As a non-politically partisan, scandal-free influencer, marketers will not have to lose sleep about a virtual assistant breaking the morality clause of a contract.

Our ability to decode human behavior will be put to the test as we gain the most practical insight into consumer’s daily routine.  What the technological breakthroughs of the past decade have taught us is that access to the individual doesn’t imply consent. The responsibility to know someone and to respect them their physical and mental boundaries will be the hallmark of brands that will enjoy the era of the virtual assistant.

Just ask Alexa.

Photo by Michael Sheehan

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