Google took a few big steps forward at Google I/O 2016 to fill in its portfolio to win, serve and retain customers in their mobile moments. Three new product announcements should propel Google forward. They include:
- Google Home. Google Home looks like an incredibly promising (and necessary) entry into the home virtual assistant or agent hardware market. Like Amazon, Google led with a story of entertainment and media followed by that of virtual assistance. Google claims the combination of natural language processing, artificial intelligence and years of experience with consumer inquiry patterns via Search will push it beyond the competition. Google’s entry validates the space and its vision to sit between the consumers and their favorite brands. However, Google also failed to offer answers to questions such as a firm date on availability, price or access to the service – how open will access be for brands who want to engage their consumers on Google Home?
- Allo. Allo is late to the instant messaging game, but on time for the bot frenzy. Brands are exploring bots that offer customer service or support and help them sell products and services. Google will launch Allo this summer with a host of well-known brands such as OpenTable, Uber and GrubHub. Like Facebook — and despite a dependence on advertising revenue — Google did not announce any opportunities specific to marketers for advertising or broad consumer engagement. Google will still facilitate consumers getting reservations or finding concert tickets – sitting between the brand and the consumer. The strategy is both expected and smart.
- Instant Apps. Instant Apps are a less obvious though essential piece of the puzzle for virtual agents or assistants. Eventually these agents will curate content or streamline task flow for consumers based on real-time context such as location (near term) and anticipated consumer needs based on insights (longer term). Google — or Amazon, Apple and Facebook — can’t dynamically assemble information and services unless they can extract it from the apps. Developers must begin to think differently about the construction of apps, building in modules or fragments that third parties can extract and reassemble in a more convenient way for the consumer. Instant Apps are a step in that direction.
Demos at I/O were impressive in that they showcased technological feats, but like other announcements, showed scenarios that appear simple to the consumer. We haven’t yet seen the true breakthrough experiences that bots fueled by artificial intelligence and machine learning that will make conversation — or bot-based services a consumer preference over individual apps. Google is on a journey – and they have time. Consumers won’t expect these experiences for another two to three years.
Brands need to pay attention today to the mobile ecosystem. They can no longer just rely on owning mobile moments – or engaging consumers only in their own apps or mobile websites. They need to think hard about their strategies to borrow mobile moments from key players in the ecosystem like Google – entities that have deep understanding or context about their (the brands’) customers and own the mobile moments with their (the brands’) customers.
Brands need to move forward, but they also need to go into these relationships with their eyes wide open. They won’t yet know if they are making a deal with the devil: what will be the rules of engagement around data exchange? Whose service will be chosen if a customer wants a pizza delivered tonight, or a washing machine repaired? Will the business model be to bid on these leads, or will consumers have control and choice over the brands within their virtual assistance ecosystem? Few – including Google – have revealed how they will monetize these new services beyond the obvious harvesting of more data or context or consumer understanding and consolidating their hold on consumers’ time.