Smart Speakers Today


Come on, Alexa. I need more from you.

According to the Consumer Technology Association, U.S. shoppers were projected to spend $96.1 billion on technology in 2018, with 36 percent of Americans expected to purchase some kind of smart home device.  And Amazon reported that last year’s Black Friday weekend was the strongest holiday shopping weekend so far for Echo devices. Millions were sold worldwide, and the new Echo Dot was the top-selling product on Amazon.

I think it’s safe to say we’re past the early adopter phase. Smart speakers were THE products during the 2018 holiday season, just like we saw with the Nintendo Wii in 2006, the Apple iPod in 2007 and GoPro cameras in 2012. I have an Amazon Echo Dot with Alexa, and my hope is that with this broad adoption we’re seeing, smart speaker integration and capabilities will finally live up to their original promise of being a personal assistant.

According to a study by Adobe, the most common commands given to Amazon Echo (or Google Home, Apple HomePod or Samsung devices) were to play music (70%), check the weather (64%) and get answers to questions (53%). Use of the devices is growing, with 36% of those surveyed saying they had used voice services to make a call, 31% had used it for smart home commands and 17% had used it to order food. Now we’re talking, Domino’s.

Being in marketing, we talk all the time about what “better” looks like. As a consumer, I’ve made TV better by cutting the cord and moving to Hulu with Live TV. I’ve made the weekly chore of putting gas in my vehicle better by using FuelFox. I really want my smart speaker to get better – like moving beyond knock-knock jokes and replays of Jimmy Fallon’s opening monologue during breakfast. I want to see some real utility soon.

A quick search of “banking” skills within Alexa shows that there are now 31 banking options, including some major brands like American Express, U.S. Bank and TD Ameritrade. However, my bank is not one of them, and I don’t plan to make stock market trades by voice. What I would love to see is for Alexa to make my banking better by checking my account balance, letting me know about recent transactions that have cleared and reminding me each day if I have a bill payment due. Eventually, I want it to help track my spending based on budgets I’ve set up.

The world is becoming more personalized, with curated content and experiences designed for you and me – not demographics or segments. Marketers today are looking to leverage more user data so they understand how to design more customized and relevant experiences. Smart speakers are poised to have a front row seat in this conversation, but they need to up their game or consumers will move on.