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The Year of Intelligent Personal Assistants

Intelligent Personal AssistantAs an Android person, I missed the Siri boat. I constantly forget Cortona exists, but it's a thing. Then when Alexa came around, I held out because it wasn't Google. Okay so maybe I'm a Google snob. But now I've had a chance to play with all four as well as develop apps for both Alexa and Google Home (aka Google Assistant). Although Google Assistant is the clear winner for me going into 2017, I'm going to keep this post about Intelligent Personal Assistants (IPAs) in general and the opportunities they present to both marketers and consumers.

Two trends I've continued to follow throughout the years are the need for deeper connections and control without confusion. I believe these two needs have driven technology to this point. The move from text chat, to video chat to VR/AR, is logical in this context. With more technology comes more things and with more things more confusion. I think we're still in the beginning phases of an IoT revolution but the technology to properly manage and control these experiences was not ready, until now.

What Is An Intelligent Personal Assistant?

Right now I'm focusing on the big 4; Google Assistant, Alexa, Cortana, and Siri. IPAs are conversational bots that help you complete tasks. The bots offered by each of the big 4 have slight differences between them, however, I think they compliment each other well. We're also slowly starting to reach a point of stabilization where functionality is relatively similar across each platform.

IPAs at the most basic level allow you to get answers to questions very fast.

"How cold is it outside?"

"Who is the oldest person in the world?"

"Why do people still use QR codes?"

Now give your assistant access to things like your phone and calendar, and it becomes a powerful tool to keep yourself organized. Add your credit card, and you can buy toilet paper in fewer words than a haiku. The more it knows about you, the more helpful if becomes.

How Should Marketers Approach Intelligent Personal Assistants

There is a lot of movement in the space right now, so the most important thing you can do is pay attention. Privacy concerns are still top of mind with reports of IPAs ordering things because the TV told them too. The IPAs are also getting new features daily with services popping up to do everything from order Ubers to Pizza. You may have heard a lot about Alexa coming off CES this past year but did you know Google just automatically enabled Google Assistant across all Android phones running the most recent version of the operating system? This is a huge move and instantly brings Google Assistant up to Alexa's level although Alexa has had a huge head start to get up and running.

But in case you missed the boat, I'll do my best to get you up to speed on the things Marketers should be paying attention to.

Being First To Market

The most obvious one is the massive opportunity this new marketplace presents. First, to market services will enjoy the luxury of claiming their turf for premium user queries related to their industry. Getting a ride and ordering pizza were two of the first services created by Uber and Dominos on Google Home when it finally added the option for third party integrations.

Although at this point, Domino's can't claim "pizza" as the keyword trigger for the app and instead has to use the more direct "Domino's", It won't be long before your Intelligent Personal Assistant remembers that Domino's is your favorite place to order from and allows you to use "Order me a pizza" as your trigger phrase. This is why being first to the marketplace is incredibly important as your Intelligent Personal Assistants learn more about you and your needs.

Deeper Connections

Another great thing about Intelligent Personal Assistants is the fact that they are conversational. Some are better at this than others, like Google Home for example. As artificial intelligence and machine learning become more ubiquitous, IPAs are starting to set new standards for what consumer facing AI might look like in the future. IPAs remember your habits and your interaction history which make it possible to ask contextual and follow-up questions in a very casual manner.

Now imagine in the case of conversational commerce, an IPA that helps you do your grocery shopping. This could be core functionality of the IPA or a third party service you can install. Based on previous interactions with your brands, the IPA could favor your products over the competition.

Furthermore, IPA's become their own channel with unique opportunities to engage users and create memorable experiences. Maybe the pizza brand also helps you make your own pizzas with step by step recipes and alternative ingredients recommendations. Because the platforms are truly mobile and circumstantial its possible to create some of the best contextually relevant experiences we've seen to date. Now instead of catching them before or after they've done the task you'd like to associate your brand with, you can catch them in the act. Doing laundry and can't get that annoying stain out? Just say out loud "How do I get pumpkin spice soy latte stains out of white t-shirts" and your favorite detergent company might respond with answers in that moment.

The lines will continue to blur as brands become companions in our lives instead of just packaged goods.

Control Without Confusion

As technology continues to evolve there is a lot more to keep track of in our lives. Navigating the mess is a huge barrier to entry for a lot of people. IPAs, however, solve a lot of the problems traditional tech has created. You no longer have to remember the "right" way to do something but just that you can do it. Your assistant is smart enough to figure out what you want to do and guide you along the way. This is an incredibly powerful tool for brands to help consumers navigate their complex digital web. IPAs serve both as their own channels but also as a one-stop access points to more traditional channels.

I've already seen this trend on websites using Intelligent Personal Assistants as customer support tools. It's certainly a balancing act as we advise clients to carefully approach automated personalized communication but when done right it can streamline incredibly complex user journeys. This makes things like identifying more qualified leads before connecting to sales and getting quick answers to common questions painless and easy. More importantly, you can do this all in your brand's voice. API.AI, which is what I used to create my own Google Home app, allows you to give your custom IPA personality right out of the box. It can even have a favorite color.

The Entry Point to IoT

Consumer based IoT is still in its infancy with products like Hue and WeMo currently dominating the space. Managing an app for each device becomes too much to manage once you get beyond 2 or 3 apps. The IPA eliminates the need to ever open those apps again. "Hey Google, turn the lights on and lock the front door". What would previously take the opening and closing two separate apps becomes a seamless phrase you might have yelled out to a family member anyways. In my opinion, besides privacy concerns, managing your IoT infrastructure had previously been too cumbersome a task to warrant the investment. Why pay for light bulbs that add an extra step to use when the switch on the wall is much easier? That's an oversimplification but for your average consumer, it is not far from the truth.

Brand's should be jumping at the opportunity to integrate their IoT tech with Intelligent Personal Assistants. We're still in the beginning phases and similar to how first to market services are going to win, first to integrate tech will also have a huge leg up.

This Is Just The Beginning

I've only glazed the surface here. We've gone from keyword search with website results to conversational search with immediate answers. This affects every facet of the digital agency from Search to Creative. UX will start to encompass voice design while our Ecomm team is developing out conversational commerce experiences. Your website will start to act more like an API and developers will need to make sure information is structured in ways that play nice with our new artificially intelligent friends.

Artificial intelligence in its current form is very cool. Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon are making big investments in this space and alongside the IoT revolution, there is a big opportunity to create a deeper connection and more engaging experiences. It feels like the pinnacle of the inbound marketing movement where search is literally sitting on the mantle above my fireplace. Not only are Intelligent Personal Assistants incredibly fun but they are incredibly useful, and they're just getting started.

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Hack Your Creativity: How Marketers Can Get Creative In Uninspiring Times

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Creation in the Time of Quarantine

Making adjustments during a shoot is nothing new. Weather occasionally doesn’t permit. Scripts require rewrites. Talent informs you that being in front of a camera makes them uncomfortable and visibly sweaty. One time, years ago, we couldn’t find a sound guy because he had wandered off into the woods collecting bird calls. Creative teams pride themselves on rolling with such punches, parrying potential knock out blows in order to capture what’s been painstakingly storyboarded. More than a few months ago, AMP was awarded the opportunity to create videos explaining what goes into a popular brand of protein bars and butters. Each video would answer questions about ingredients through colorful set pieces designed to inform while entertaining. Everything was going according to schedule. Scripts were approved. Voice talent was cast. Food stylists  saved dates on their calendars. Then COVID-19 changed everything. As dates were pushed back, we set up home offices. As the realities of social distancing became apparent, we fine-tuned storyboards. And as we were beginning to think this wouldn’t happen, we figured out ways that it just might. Instead of unforeseen issues arriving during a shoot, we faced our biggest challenge beforehand. We decided to break it down, to focus on one thing at a time. First, we outlined if and how we could have a shoot while keeping everyone safe. Taking a cue from the protein bars we decided to start with basic ingredients. This meant limiting attendees to essential personnel. The shoot was capped at ten, including a medic whose sole responsibility was to make sure everyone was cleaning their hands, masking their mouths and maintaining their distance. Liz Grant and Anika Dhar represented AMP Agency. In addition to their roles of creative and project manager, both were required to wear several hats and in some instances even act as on-screen talent. After safety was addressed we focused on making sure we were able to capture everything both the creative team and client wanted. This was accomplished by using a live streaming tool, that linked the camera capturing all the video with all parties through several channels. The feed itself had roughly a 30-second delay. Comments would then filter in through AMP Agency members on set to the production team and then be seen on screen moments later. As a creative director being able to watch a feed from my home and have my opinions effect the shoot was nothing short of magical. While this of course makes it all seem like a well-oiled machine, the entire process was a learning one. There were still the usual challenges and hiccups but it was thanks to trying circumstances that we were able to try new things. No solution seemed implausible. The additional time due to the delay allowed us to have many options for every shot, so if something didn’t work we could move on to the next set up. And from a team perspective, the live stream allowed more people to tune and weigh in than we’ve ever been able to do during a standard shoot. This experience will change the way we look at shoots and content creation in the future. Because of live streaming approvals can be given remotely, meaning only those really eager to participate need to be on set. This will limit the number of people fielding emails and increase the number of people who craft what’s in the shot. As odd as it sounds, it seems that being kept apart has helped us find a better way to bring things together in the future.

Hey Listen - We Made a Voice App

After months of staying home and not seeing another human being for days on end, it got kind of lonely for me. So with the help of a conversational experience software partner, I built something to keep me sane under the guise of my agency’s first foray into the world of voice activated technology. Well, that’s not exactly what happened. The real story begins when Doug Grumet and Michael Mish asked me to lead a task force to structure our voice marketing offering. I had to think about it for a bit. Sure, my team was well-versed in optimizing web pages for voiced search results from Google Assistant, but there was another side to voice marketing that we had the opportunity to dive deeper into. Our dev team in Boston had experience building voice applications for clients. You might know them better by their brand names like Alexa Skill or Google Action. These apps are capable of doing a lot of things beyond answering queries and should be thought of as web entities that you can have a conversation with. Based on the work that team was doing, it made sense to have Jon Bishop, Director of Creative Technology, join the team. He is passionate about technology of all kinds and has a strong sense of how these apps can connect to a client’s existing consumer platforms. He even wrote a blog post about Intelligent Personal Assistants way back in late 2016. Once he and I kicked things off, we started investigating different solutions available to the marketplace. One of the vendors we found had an office right down the street from us – Voicify. They have a platform that allows brands to rapidly deploy voice experiences across any voice assistant device and easily maintain the content. So, we set up a meeting and got a few demos going. We learned pretty quickly that their platform was going to allow us to create voice apps quickly for our clients with the benefit of being able to publish an app to multiple platforms from one interface. The Voicify Conversation Content Management System™ is an out-of the-box solution that allows brands to create Q&A content and deploy it onto voice-enabled devices with a few clicks. They have done a lot of the development already so that all you need to do is focus on the best content for your voice app. In order to really get to know the capabilities of the platform, we decided to create a voice app for our own agency. To make sure it wasn’t just the brainchild of two dudes, we enlisted the talents of a few other AMP experts:  Sean Adams - who is an SEO Supervisor on my team and helped build out our Q&A structure Rachel MacMunn - who is a copywriter on our Creative team who made sure our content was aligned with AMP’s brand voice Nick Russo - who is on our AMP Marketing team who ensured our agency knowledge was correct With the team assembled, we went to work on what kind of information we would want on the app and how the responses to users' questions should be structured. Once we had the content set, we were able to bulk upload the inputs and responses into the Voicify platform. After a few rounds of beta testing (within Voicify and on Google), we were ready for deployment. AMP Agency’s voice application is our proof of concept of developing a presence for our brand on the emerging platforms for conversational experiences. We’re excited to continue to add to our app over time and play around with a machine learning interface. The Voicify platform has more features that we have the ability to add to our app, such as: Text display, images, and video files for screen devices Sonic branding (playing a brand’s jingle as a part of a welcome message) Audio files, which includes changing the voice of our app to one of our employees like Rachel’s Connections to your ecommerce backend for voice initiated sales These capabilities are all at our disposal and can be used for any brand that wants to partner with AMP to create their own voice app. With our experience, we can shorten the timeline from kickoff to launch. So have a chat with us! If you have an Alexa speaker, try saying “Alexa, launch AMP Agency.” With Google Assistant, say “Hey Google, let me talk to AMP Agency.” Then, go ahead and ask us any questions you may have about AMP.