When the first mobile phone went on sale it was the size of a briefcase, incredibly expensive and had the sole functionality of making calls.
However, it started something that revolutionised human behaviour and society unlike anything since cars became affordable to the masses.
Innovative thinking created the platform for the game changing Nokia 3310 and then the first smartphone.
Amazon’s Alexa is the personal assistant equivalent of the mobile briefcase – these devices will become ingrained into our daily lives in ways that we can’t currently even comprehend.
It isn’t much of a punt to say personal assistants are more than a passing fad because the market is already littered with compelling evidence from the big players who rarely get it wrong.
Google Home launched in the UK in April and Jibo will be unveiled later this year. Jibo will be a lot more expensive but its functionality is at another level and more significantly it works proactively.
Alexa has significant functionality, but most units will only ever use 5 to 10% of their capabilities because their time-poor owners don’t have the inclination to learn about the different aspects available.
But it isn’t only established brands who see the market potential. Essential, the company set up by Android creator Andy Rubin, is launching a new mobile handset designed to rival both the iPhone and the Amazon Echo.
Details on Essential’s hub are currently vague but the concept it to create an open source that powers all the smart devices in your home utilising the smartphone as the operational interface.
The bundling of functionality and access to technology is a powerful play in the market and a different core proposition to the other options entering the market.
The main problem brands face here is that voice search utilised across linked devices removes traditional barriers to engagement, as we have already seen with Burger King’s TV ad triggering Google Home to talk about their Whopper burger.
A single command can initiate a purchase and automatically arrange payment from an e-wallet. Consumers effectively jump straight from awareness to point of purchase, skipping the traditional research phase.
The voiding of this phase in the purchasing process means that it is more important than ever for brands to be front of mind.
Whether it’s a hotel or an estate agent, you need to be in a position where consumers are actively going to be seeking your product and asking for it by name.
Increased advertising presence at the top of the funnel will be key. A cross-channel media strategy, that includes both brand fame building traditional channels and online measured using the appropriate KPIs, will be the enablers for enhanced performance in this space.
This reach and frequency driven approach will ensure that brands remain top of mind for consumers and in a world where voice assistants are dominant, could be the difference between success and failure.
So if you aren’t already, start tracking your unprompted awareness as it will be crucial to future-proofing your business.
A further way brands can maximise presence on voice assistants is by integrating, and doing so early.
Much like the economy has a boom and bust cycle, the digital landscape goes through phases of bundling and unbundling. We are about to enter a phase of bundling, where we will see lots of mergers, acquisitions and even company failures.
This consolidation will play into the hands of the already dominant big three – Facebook, Google and Amazon – who are diversifying their proposition and ensuring they are first to market in the personal assistant space.
They are no longer purely social, search and shopping platforms, they are enablers of much wider needs and behaviours and they are increasingly going to become almost "one stop shops."
By working with them to ensure full technical integration you increase the chance of recognition at the point of need.
It is vital that brands learn to work with voice assistants now, as currently we’re just warming up our vocal chords.
Ben Foster is digital client director at MC&C