Alexa! Can you hear me?

Nicola Proud, Thursday February 23, 2017

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For those wondering what on earth I am talking about, we have a new Amazon Echo.  It’s basically a hands-free speaker you control with your voice. The Echo connects to the Alexa Voice Service to play music, provide information, news, sports scores, weather and more, whenever you need it. All you have to do is ask her. The regular readers to this column will know that Karen and I are obsessed with learning about new technology and discovering what impact this will have on a brands’ marketing activity.

Whilst writing this article I asked Alexa: “Where is the best place to eat in Northallerton?” Very quickly, she replied “Here are a few of the top-rated ones. Lewis and Coopers, Betty’s and Garthway Tea Rooms.” If you have ever been to Northallerton, you will be familiar with these places to eat and I’d say she got the answer absolutely right. Think of the opportunities this provides to the hospitality industry but also the increasing pressure for food brands to appear as high-up the ratings as possible.

I’ve heard about mums using this gadget in the kitchen when cooking a recipe for a family meal or realising they’ve run out of something and asking Alexa to add an item to the shopping list. My nephew, who is only 4 years old, will regularly ask Alexa to play songs from Mary Poppins. It was fascinating experiencing our first Fewell family meal-time with Alexa in the room. There was no need for phones on tables and instead we all connected with the Echo and asked Alexa to give us the answers to any questions that came up over dinner.   

Whilst it’s early days for Alexa, and the software is continuously being updated, I think voice-activated assistants are something brands really need to be aware of. Already companies, such as FitBit are integrating Alexa into their own technology with users being able to wake up and ask Alexa how well they slept last night or how many steps they’ve done. Whilst this may sound a million miles away for many of us, I am convinced over the coming year we will see more Artificial Intelligence applied to our everyday lives.

We’re going to be exploring Alexa in many food-related scenarios over the coming year so look out for the findings of our research in a few months’ time. I wonder how long it will be before I can ask Alexa what was on the menu at my children’s school today and get the right answer. Something tells me not too far away at all.

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