If Siri has her way with us, all of your search spending will become a pointless expense.
Why? Search engines, as a technology for the future, are dead. What people want are answer engines. Until recently, such a thing was a pipe dream, as all search engines suffer from an "answer" problem. (I should know -- I ran marketing at Ask.com.)
You see, when you search for something with keywords and don't find it, you don't blame the search engine. You just type in a different combination of keywords. However, when you ask a question on a search engine and don't receive the answer, you don't blame your question. Rather, you blame the technology for not being able to provide the answer.
It's all about context -- and context (location and tasks) is at the heart of the mobile experience. The vast majority of what we would have been "searching" for on our desktop is now already available, contained, categorized, and neatly arranged in little subsets of the data available in apps -- all without any of the non-relevant information that comes along for the ride in search engines. In essence, we "choose" our vertical search category by merely choosing an app: Google Maps (for directions); OK Cupid (for dating searches); NYTimes, CNN, Engadget (for news); Amazon, eBay, Overstock (for shopping); Fandango, Flixster (for movies).
But why is this important? Well, everything you need to know about the fundamental shift that is about to occur is in the graph "2011 U.S. Ad Spending vs. Consumer Time Spent by Media."
Mobile devices are replacing the time we spend on our desktops and with every other media from print to TV. And yet there is a huge chasm when it comes to ad spending. Unfortunately for those of us in the digital space, search is how many companies have learned to justify digital spending. Analytics wonks and CFOs have fallen in love with search's clean funnel. But Apple and Siri are about to change all that. Here's why.
The power of Siri
The iPhone itself is now bigger than all of Microsoft. Apple's growth alone last year is bigger than 1.5 Googles. So if you think you can ignore something as big as Siri from a company as big as Apple, think again.
Siri is expected to go way beyond just helping us change our appointments and send text messages. Apple filed a revealing patent last year called "Intelligent Automated Assistant" that allows users to buy items online using only their voice; the patent was filed for use by the Siri voice-activated personal assistant and would allow Siri to help you purchase books, DVDs, music, and other products just by talking. Wolfram Alpha has already started using its access to Siri and partnered with Best Buy to deliver Siri-enabled shopping results.
Have you started paying attention yet?
The coming storm
The hurricane that is Siri has not hit yet, but it is lurking offshore. Siri attempts -- and I stress attempts -- to interpret what you mean. If you know how to speak to her, she can be helpful. However, she is -- to say the least -- particular about most of her requests, and that can be frustrating.
So why was Siri omitted from the new iPad? Quite simply, Siri is still in beta. Although she is vastly more capable that Microsoft's TellMe, she is not yet ready for prime time.
That is good for you. It means you still have time to save your job.
However, eventually Siri will have an API that app developers will be able to access. The key is to capitalize on it early, as Apple will not partner with every app for Siri. Apple will most likely choose the best-of-breed app per vertical as a default (i.e., Google Maps for directions) and require the user to make a specific request if they want to use a different resource.
For now, however, Siri's features are limited to the iPhone 4S and its default applications, as well as some applications that seem to have preferred status (e.g., Google Maps, Yelp, Wikipedia, and Wolfram Alpha).
Leveraging Siri -- now
You can already update your status on Facebook with Siri and tweet with Siri. In addition, you can integrate the task app Remember the Milk directly with Siri. And just about any calendar app can be integrated to respond to Siri.
If you are a small or local business that gets the majority of its traffic through Yelp and search, then the first step is to update your business's Google profile information that ties into Google Maps. Siri will eventually make traditional SEO and even paid search useless, so it does not matter if you are spending money in search. What is important is that you understand where she is pulling information from -- and that is Google Maps and Yelp.
Ensure that you have identified your product offerings, update your Yelp page, and do your best to have people rate you on Yelp. You can capitalize on much of Siri right now. Siri was in essence built for businesses like you.
Immediately update and enhance your website with a mobile (WAP) enabled version that allows people to book reservations, make appointments, call you, buy products, and find out more information. You should be doing all of this anyway, but Siri now gives you a great reason. You need to give Siri the widest possible opportunity to find you and allow people to engage with you in a way that can help replace some of the dwindling importance of desktop search.
But what about service brands? How do you leverage Siri right now? Think messages.
Many businesses and brands have SMS access to their businesses, and this is where you can leverage Siri. That is how you can set your status on Facebook or tweet with Siri. And until Apple builds an API, that is the hack you will have to use as a brand.
Example: Laundry Locker
I happen to use a service in San Francisco called Laundry Locker. It's a great service where you can just drop off your laundry in a locker and text the locker number to the company. It picks up your laundry, cleans it, and puts it back in a locker. I can access that locker 24 hours a day so I never have to rush home. It's convenient and reasonably priced, and the service does a great job.
One issue I have with Laundry Locker? It doesn't have a mobile application or mobile site. How did I solve that problem? And what should Laundry Locker be promoting? Siri to the rescue!
Laundry Locker has SMS access via the SMS short code 66746.
I simply enter Laundry Locker as an address book entry in my iPhone, and then say, "Siri, tell Laundry Locker Laundry 445." Siri takes my message, contacts Laundry Locker, and tells them my laundry is in locker 445 and ready to be picked up.
All I am doing is hacking the system that is available, and Laundry Locker can advertise that today. However, it would be even more useful to extend this system to work more with natural language. I could specify specific laundry detergent or even use Laundry Locker's corner store to add anything from batteries to tampons to my order (i.e., "Siri, tell Laundry Locker that my laundry is in locker 445, and add some AA batteries, some collar stays, and a lint roller.").
What if your brand is not a small business or a service brand? Here are a couple of ideas on possible "use cases" for brands.
Temporary event. Any short-run promotion could benefit from a shared Siri short code, especially movies. A movie-branded geo-caching scavenger hunt could employ Siri. "Siri, tell National Treasure that I have found clue 3 and the secret message is 'Drink more Ovaltine.'" To which the brand could respond with the next clue. You could even have Siri respond to inquiries like, "Siri, give me a hint to find clue three." If the participant completes the scavenger hunt, the movie company would send a text message with a link that launches the Fandango app and provides a free ticket to the movie.
Augment an existing digital campaign. Siri could augment most existing multimedia efforts of social connection. For example, "Siri, tell Coca-Cola that I want to send a coke to the machine in NYC that says 'Happiness from Sean X.'" Wouldn't this be a nice integration with the "Buy the World a Coke" campaign?
National campaign with local delivery of product. "Siri, tell Chevy to inform me if there are promotions for the Chevy Volt in my area." Such a request would trigger the local dealer network to contact you. Or, "Siri, tell FTD to send flowers to my girlfriend with the message 'I love you.'" How does FTD know who my girlfriend is? Well, that can either be set at the FTD site tied to your phone number, or FTD could text you back for her name and address. But what about which flowers to send her? Easy: FTD merely chooses three bouquets with links in the SMS based on keywords "girlfriend" and "love."
Consumer goods. "Siri, tell Tide to send me its best discount coupon."
All of this could be accomplished with SMS short codes through Siri. Granted, for some, you'd need a way to interpret the request. But this is not rocket science. It is possible today.
The key here is two-way interaction where the SMS short codes used by Siri help engage the consumer further. Each and every time the consumer interacts, that person is saying your brand name, out loud. And if you've ever wondered how brands get cemented in our squishy grey-matter, that is it. Siri can take ephemeral online brands and imbue them with personality -- personality with an almost tangible quality that is so essential to brand recall and, hence, purchase behavior.
How do I get started?
There are a couple of steps that you need to take.
Obtain a short code
If your brand is going to expand into SMS access with Siri, you'll have to get an SMS short code. There are two types of short codes. Most companies, like Laundry Locker, use a shared short code that is used by multiple businesses. To identify the inbound messages that are intended for your account, you set up a shared keyword for subscribers to include in their text messages. In Laundry Locker's case, it uses the word "laundry" at the beginning of the message.
You can also request a private short code. If you choose to get a private short code, you lease it from the Common Short Code Administration (CSCA). Leasing a private short code is expensive, but while you lease it, only you are allowed to use it. You must have a private short code in order to send outgoing SMS messages. (With a shared short code, you can only respond to SMS messages that subscribers send to you.)
You need to find some strategic way to have people add your address to their iPhone address books with that short code in it. That way, when people ask Siri to do something with you, she can send the message to the right short code.
There is not at this time an easy way for people to do this if they are surfing on their iPhone instead of their desktop. This is because Apple does not seem to have an iPhone Safari URL schema to do this. They have map links for launching of the maps app from a mobile webpage, phone links for easy dialing of a phone number, text links for easy messaging, mail links for easy emailing, YouTube links for easy watching of video, and iTunes links for facilitating downloading an app from the app store. But surprisingly, there is no address book schema to add an address contact by clicking a link in Safari on an iPhone. Why? I have no idea. However, there are those who have written about how to circumvent this limitation by having contact information sent in an email that can be easily added.
On the desktop, this is much easier to accomplish. I use microformats to enable an easy addition to their address book. Just click here to add my contact information to your address book. Usually most people who have an iPhone use iCloud or Google, both of which sync your address book on your iPhone.
You must have a way to interpret the SMS you are receiving and construct a way to deconstruct natural language into responses (as I mentioned in my FTD example). Twilio has a great API for SMS that can interface with your applications. If you are going to start anywhere, Twilio probably offers the most flexibility and tools to get you up and running.
Search is not going to die. It will just morph into computational knowledge engines like Wolfram Alpha, Google Maps, and Yelp that will be accessible by Siri. Keep experimenting with new technologies like Siri in order to discover which ones will be relevant to you in the future. Often early movers get a multiple on their marketing investment through increased exposure when implementing something innovative.
Sean X Cummings is founder and difference maker at SXC Marketing.
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