Marketing to Virtual Private Assistants

marketing automation
James T FletcherJames T Fletcher
CEO, Principal Consultant


Why you’ll soon be marketing to Virtual Private Assistants (VPAs)

For many years I’ve been an Apple fan, but as users of Google Enterprise Suite we’ve recently switched to Pixel 2s as our work phones to keep everything nice and tidy. I’ve therefore had my first experience of Google Assistant and how amazing it can be.

I’m also a frequent traveller between our offices in London and Madrid, and on a recent trip spotted a small book with the intriguing title MERGE – The Closing Gap Between Technology and Us. This really resonated with me as someone adopting AI technology like Google Assistant and seeing its value, but also as a marketer and marketing automation consultant.

VPAs and Marketing Automation

Right now VPAs are pretty limited, and ultimately linked to search capability. But as they gain adoption we’ll find VPAs becoming increasingly able to assist us day-to-day by understanding our habits and routines and helping to ‘optimise’ our lives. They’ll even start making low-interest decisions for us, such as finding the cheapest flight to Madrid.

What does this mean for marketing and marketing automation? We’re in a situation where most companies are trying to use data held in marketing engagement and marketing automation platforms to drive better personalisation and higher-resonating customer journeys. This can be through online personalisation of anonymous visitors based on their behaviour, to propensity modelling through the pipeline, assisted by relevant information delivered on our favourite channel.

Marketing’s biggest challenge, however, is that we’re only using a fraction of the data available. We’re collecting a wealth of data but are not quite sure how to utilise it. Why? In my view it’s usually because we’re not collecting the right data, or turning behavioural signals into intelligent data points. So while machine learning is starting to drive our understanding of data, for many marketers this is expensive and they don’t necessarily know what they’re looking for.

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Marketing to VPAs + Humans

So when will VPAs really start making our purchasing decisions? Predictions like those in MERGE suggest they’ll start with low-end/low-interest decisions, like trawling the web for best pricing for our favourite products or consumables. That means marketers will have to market to an algorithm (much as they do with search engine optimisation), with the VPA utilising price, positive reviews, and potentially sustainability and ethics, to drive micro decisions for us humans.

For macro decisions and ‘emotional’ purchases, such as clothes, cars or investments, the VPA will more likely do the groundwork, but the purchase decision will be made by the human. The VPA might also utilise virtual reality – making Nike’s purchase of Invertex (a technology which scans your body) particularly interesting.

Key trends

  • Marketing will have to start developing better methods for using collected data.
  • VPAs will continue to develop and become more intelligent and useful day-to-day.
  • Marketers should consider how they can target algorithms starting with the basics, i.e. search.
  • Multi-tier marketing approaches will become the norm, with ‘emotional’ targeting humans and algorithms targeting VPAs.