By Ryan Pitcheralle

Siri can check the weather as you decide which jacket to grab, while Amazon’s Alexa searches for and plays the catchy song you heard yesterday, and Google Home orders you an Uber to meet your friends at lunch.
As the number one industry topic, revolutionary techniques in machine learning and Artificial Intelligence are capturing the imagination of marketers everywhere. Virtual Assistants can deliver personalized results and help advertisers and marketers reach targeted segments more efficiently. Eventually, AI may make recommendations based on your behavioral patterns, significantly impacting search engines.
This week, we had the unique opportunity of sponsoring and partaking in MediaPost’s first-ever Marketing AI conference. Acronym’s Ryan Pitcheralle, VP, Digital Center of Excellence, participated in the Search vs. Service panel. We sat down with the leading search practitioner to get some insider insights on AI as a transformative point for search. In case you couldn’t make it to Marketing AI, here’s the scoop…

1. How is your agency looking at AI or AI-powered devices?

In its more overt forms, advertising has not yet arrived on the speakers, but on televisions and other devices that incorporate voice platforms, such as Google’s Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa, marketers are already hitching a ride. Corporations including the Campbell Soup Company, Domino’s Pizza, Uber and Capital One are building apps (“skills” for Alexa, “actions” for Google) that allow people to look up recipes, order food or a ride, and check their bank balances by speaking to a voice-enabled device. It’s like the early days of App stores where there was a gold rush to build apps; now there’s a gold rush to build skills for Voice Assistants.

At Acronym, we went out and purchased all available voice assistants and promptly placed them into a conference room for testing. What we noticed, especially from that of Google Home, was immediately taken advantage of. There has been a push, for some time, to win Answer Box results in the google SERPs. What was learned was that the Answer box powers the answers used in Google Home. So we found a traditional SEO strategy that carries over as a Voice Search Strategy.

2. How are your clients looking at AI?

Right now, they are doing more listening than looking. Most are waiting for a related brand example or a competitor making a splash. And when things evolve what’s the risk in being first to market? In fact, much of the early advantage in evolutions of search are really only advantageous to the first movers. Essentially, if you are a brand considering an App, you are already late to the party. Apps represent the immediate use of AI technologies as a Service – Apps are the first foray into AI for most brands and rightly so. We instruct they evolve as soon as possible. With an App, a brand has stepped into AI, which means not only do they have a mobile first strategy, they have an instrument of Service and not just Search.

It’s important to stress that moving into AI enabled technology is a time-intensive process that requires a backbone of tech, compiling every form of digital data that can be captured before you can even start thinking about utilizing AI infused tech. Data sources, data integrity, then data hygiene, are all important steps required to take big data and make any real use of it.

3. How are you using AI as a consumer, have you experimented with voice assistants or chatbots – what do they do well?

Traffic, scores, weather and toilet paper. I ask Google the former and Alexa the latter.
Each of those do that very well. Right now, Alexa and Amazon dominate the voice assistant purchase. Google made one tiny leap in that direction and heard the sirens when people were being served unsolicited ads. This is a major problem for Google in that they probably realize they have lost retail voice game as soon as the gates opened.
But for other major retailers, an App means they can come close to using voice for ringing the register. This is something Google will have to advance in, but i’m looking forward to their solution.

4. How is AI transforming search, are there instances where a virtual assistant is used instead of Google or Bing?

My 4-year-old is native to voice search. He can’t read and write yet so he won’t remember a time where text ruled search. He solely relies on voice assistants for information retrieval (toy review videos). Even Siri delivers well on that front. The concept of the 4-year-old and search is an interesting one for me. What’s more compelling is that at this early age, he has already learned to adjust his behavior to ask questions the right way for Voice to deliver on his q’s. Moreover, he knows that Alexa will buy him toys, Siri will show him videos and Google will answer his questions. So really, the assortment of Voice Assistants complete the buyer’s journey for my toddler. Now what…

5. What’s the difference between search and service for end users?

Search gets you to a list of restaurants, Service executes the reservation. Right now, you still need both. Most Service tech, like Apps, require adoption which relies on Search. The two will always live together, but Service can take on both. Even Google does this within their SERP – think Hotel and Flights widgets. And remember, most micro-services like weather bots (Poncho) or news readers (CNN) fall short of providing any more ease of use or value than what Google is doing in their SERPs today. Sometimes a chat bot isn’t any better than what Google provides in their Search products.

6. What do you think the wave of AI means for the industry – any impact on search marketing and SEO?

I feel like AI will alleviate some of the redundant blanket marketing that is done around Search. AI as personalization has already made marketing automation more successful and Apps are following suit. Once you capture a user into your App, all of the marketing to that person thereafter is personalized. Which makes a big difference since the Push Notification is, at the very least, free.

Moreover, it’s crucial to understand that Search as Discovery, as we know it, is all encompassing – it’s everything, it’s holistic. The discovery that Service is supposed to provide is “suggestive” meaning, it’s concentrated to your preferences and behavior, and, for better or worse, the behavior the Service is trying to get you to develop. So in this way, true holistic discovery will only ever come from Search.

9. What do future SERPs look like?

This concept of future SERPs scares me, not because i’m indebted to this industry, but more along the lines of being afraid that personalization will result in a window pane view when it comes to online discovery. Hope with me that the Google SERP doesn’t turn into a Yahoo mail home page, I’d much rather a world where Google does not anticipate my taste, but machine learning and AI puts us on that path. More telling though, is what AI will do to the website as we know it today. Most websites 10 years from now won’t have buckets of organized content relying on navigational elements to help sift through to what the user wants. Instead, sites will ask for an input and try to answer the need with a bot. Hold on tight, the future is here.