Banging The Drum to the AI Beat: A Search Panel Recap

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By Mateo Suarez

On Friday morning July 28th, we swapped our Empire State Building view of NYC for a look out at Madison Square Park and The Drum’s Search Panel at the Yext offices. Our CMO and SEMPO Chairman, Mike Grehan, participated on the panel alongside Purna Virji from Bing, Larry Kim from Wordstream, Christina Connor from DoubleClick, and Duane Forrester from Yext. The Drum’s Senior Reporter, Lisa Lacy, moderated the panel of executives whose minds are perpetually indulging in the problems and intricacies of our interactive future with ever-evolving Artificial Intelligence (AI).

As we delve deeper into the growing relationship of voice assistants and humans, the question arises: are Siri, Cortana, and Alexa the destroyers of advertising?

Whether it’s Google’s Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, or Amazon’s Alexa, companies are rushing to have the best voice-activated device. What does that mean for the well-established relationship marketers and platforms have with advertising?

Mike stressed the importance of understanding how people are using voice, “When you look at the patterns that you go through, voice is about recommending and suggesting, and then, you have discovery…” Aligning with Mike’s mantra of “Stop selling, start helping,” this opinion seemed to be popular amongst the other panelists in discussing the difference between “agents” and “assistants,” as brought up by Duane Forrester. He also encouraged dabbling in the unexplored capacities of AI and the possibilities it can have for an all-encompassing user experience.

On the topic of “agents” versus “assistants,” Purna Virji of Bing posed a possible travel scenario, “If Expedia had a skill that it creates for Cortana, I could talk to Cortana to book me a flight. I could say, ‘I’m going to Boston next week, can you get me a hotel?’ Expedia would know that last time I stayed at a Hilton and ask me if I want to stay there again and if I want to use the same credit card. Because Cortana is my agent, it can do all that activity in less than 60 seconds.”

Presently, users can have multiple ad blockers active while searching digitally. Combine that with the ease of a speak-to-command relationship with AI where manners are optional, and it could be, as Mike questioned, the dissolve of PPC as we transition from clicking to speaking. Simultaneously, Mike pointed out, “60% of voice queries through Alexa, Siri, or Cortana, are for a service, not search.”

Naturally, other panelists pointed out that PPC could adjust should AI evolve to a point where such is necessary. While it may seem as though the rise of AI is pushing the fundamentals of PPC toward retirement, some panelists presented a possibility for the “C” in PPC to be used as an interchangeable part of the acronym: click or command. Behold, the future: Pay-per-command?

In stirring opposition to this progression, panelist Larry Kim, made a “bet” on the vitality of current SEO methods saying, “I would imagine that Google will not want to destroy their 70 billion dollars of revenue streams in business. So maybe they’ll just put a voice ad.”

The back and forth between the panelists brought forward Lacy’s question, “Can search advertising even exist in the voice realm?”

DoubleClick’s Christina Connor replied, “The answer is, not yet. We’re still trying to figure out what voice search is like, what’s a good experience versus a bad experience, what kind of questions people are asking, and how that conversation evolves over time,” and, as Mike says, “AI, right now, is weak AI. It doesn’t learn and it doesn’t go beyond its purpose.”

So, it seems, with the evolution of AI, the outcome of the battle between text and voice search and the future roles of SEO and PPC are TBD…

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