As packages [arrived from the recent] record-breaking Black Friday weekend, it’s no doubt [you were] seeing Amazon packages complete with front-and-center ads for Amazon’s Echo and Dot devices. You may even be one of the reported millions that ordered one that weekend.

These are more than just devices — they are Alexa-enabled and are helping Alexa further integrate into consumers’ lives. And Alexa isn’t alone: from Alexa to Google Now to Microsoft’s Cortana to Apple’s Siri, we have a budding class of intelligent agents (IAs) on the rise. In 2015, 45% of US online adults used at least one.

As consumers, these purchases mean a new product or a holiday gift. As a marketer, these are part of the growing intelligent agent landscape that threatens your direct relationship with customers.

How? As consumers fall in love with the customized, proactive utilities IAs provide, IAs will capture customer moments. The good news: If you work with them, you can gain valuable new customer access and insights. If you don’t, you risk losing your direct customer interactions to this powerful intermediary.

How do you land on the positive scenario? The answer isn’t “launch a [skill, card, whatever the agent-specific experience may be].” Don’t repeat the app mishaps we saw from brands launching an app whether it made strategic sense or not. Instead, determine the strength of your brand loyalty, digital commitment, and data insights to decide if launching your own IA strategy is feasible today — or if you should pursue a different type of IA strategy as outlined in this report.

One brand did pass the test and launched an Alexa skill: Patr-n. With high brand recognition and an innovation mandate, it had the foundation set for test-and-learn trials to navigate the possibilities of a conversational interface. And it did so in a way to accomplish the brand goals for customer engagement and the customers’ goals of making a great cocktail. Through a conversational interaction with a digital bartender, people can learn about Patr-n and receive custom cocktail recommendations based on their flavor profiles or ingredients at hand.

More details about Patr-n’s decision-making process, development timeline — and learning, and results are available in my latest case study.

(About the author: Jennifer Wise is a senior analyst at Forrester Research serving B2C marketing professionals. This post originally appeared on her Forrester blog, which can be viewed here)

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