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Having to actually stand up to switch your lights on? Having to search and select a song to play music? Having to resort to looking out the window to find out the weather, no thanks! With that in mind today’s article will be all about Smart Speakers.

The technology behind our favourite devices from ‘Alexa’ to ‘Siri’ has developed rapidly over the last few years with Electronic Notes’ mentioning that it was ‘only a few years ago [that] speech recognition was very much a laboratory phenomenon, but now it is being extensively used.’ Therefore, not only does this technology exist but more importantly, it’s accessible to the everyday person. So, how do they work, how can it help you and how can it be utilised in marketing terms?

Smart Speakers, or the technology behind them, has been building for many years now. As discussed by The Verge, it was in fact our namesake, Thomas Edison who ‘invented one of the earliest working dictation machines’, a phonograph, and ‘these early devices could record speech and play it back, but they could not process words and take any action.’ Jump ahead to 1952 when the first documented speech recogniser was built by Davis, Biddulph and Balashek at Bell laboratories, which was named ‘Audrey’. Whilst it was functioning, it was still expensive and wasn’t necessarily faster than completing the same task manually. From there IBM introduced the Shoebox, invented by William C. Dersch that could perform arithmetic on voice command, which you can watch here.

To the 1990’s when Dragon launched Dragon Dictate, which was the first of these types of programmes that was made available to the public. Leading us right up to now where Siri, Alexa or Cortana are there at a touch of a button. From this we can understand that this technology didn’t simply appear overnight but has a long rich history that has contributed to the devices we now know. But I think it would be fair to say that it is the sheer accessibility to smart phones that catapulted this bit of tech forward, and unleashed the potential for a mass market product.

“…it was in fact our namesake, Thomas Edison who ‘invented one of the earliest working dictation machines’, a phonograph…”

Modern AI speakers rely on voice recognition technology to work. Whilst each system functions slightly differently, generally,  they listen to key words that activate a response, they record what is being asked of them and then this is transferred to a main processing area, where the voice recognition service deciphers what is being asked and then sends a response back to the smart speaker. With time the speaker will begin to learn patterns, personal to each consumer and their dialect, to help it provide a more fluid service.

From fun tricks such as asking it to figure out what song has been stuck in your head, to controlling smart lights and smart thermostats. These smart speakers have become interchangeable with personal assistants and have genuine beneficial features that could really help structure your day to day routine, especially during this challenging climate. If you’re not a morning person and find it difficult to become productive then having a smart speaker may just help get things started. They can read your to-do list to you or emails whilst you have your first caffeine kick. Or if time management isn’t your strong suit then how about using third party apps to set timers for those harsh deadlines. Need a little music to defeat that 2pm slog, you now have access to thousands of specifically designed motivational playlists. These smart speakers could really make a difference.

However, there are also drawbacks. For example, voice recognition whilst advanced is still not flawless. There is definitely a learning curve with these devices, it takes time for them to become accustomed to your voice and there may be times where you have to repeat yourself or become frustrated when ‘what’s the weather?’ becomes ‘calling Heather.’

With anything that’s new it takes time for technology to be fully utilised, and we are beginning to see that happen with smart speakers. People are beginning to ask questions that they would normally ‘Google’, such as ‘what is there to do for families near me’ or ‘what times are Cineworld showing Frozen 2’. Voice search term volume, although a long way off web search term volume, is increasing – and with this comes an opportunity to deliver targeted advertising or podcast content to those who would find it useful. A ‘voice strategy’ is the next up and coming section to a marketing plan, and it’s all about being informative and fitting in to people’s lives seamlessly, just like the smart speaker itself has. The voice strategy should be informative and can also learn in to entertaining – mirroring the emotional reason why people would use or request a response from their speaker in the first place.

I think it’s fair to say that Smart Speakers have been evolving for longer than most of us may initially have thought and are improving and adapting alongside other technological advances daily.

It’s near impossible to walk into a house without either a Cortana, Siri or Alexa being in attendance and whilst it may still divide many people on what use they are, it is clear to see that they are here to stay, and we say – ‘Alexa, play Celebration by Kool and the gang’

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