Actions for Google Home: Time for brands to get creative

Google’s Home device was launched in November 2016 in the US, and as recently as April 6 2017 in the UK.

As a direct rival to Amazon’s Echo in the battle to gain control of the intelligent digital assistant market, Home has made great strides already. Some sources estimate that Google may already have an installed base one-third the size of Amazon’s Echo, which launched in late 2014.

Ultimately, the more effective and useful hardware will gain the public’s vote. What makes the hardware useful will be the software that powers it – and more specifically, the functionality that it provides.

Google has increased the number of Actions available via Home, and third parties are encouraged to get involved and develop novel uses for Google’s voice-enabled assistant.

It feels as though we are at something of an inflection point for this technology.

As such, it seems timely to take stock of where we are, showcase some innovative uses of Actions, and also look at how marketers can start to profit from this largely untapped opportunity.

Google ‘Actions’ = Amazon ‘Skills’

Google Home is powered by Google Assistant, which has recently been rolled out across all Android devices. Assistant responds to voice commands, and can perform an increasing number of actions.

Actions are Google’s equivalent of Amazon’s ‘skills’ on Alexa; the full list of Actions can be accessed and enabled from the Google Home app.

Amazon has undoubtedly stolen a march in this regard, with over 10,000 skills already available. Most observers estimate there to be between 100 and 130 Actions available on Home.

A further 20 Actions were added last week by Google – but we are really just starting to scratch the surface of what this technology can achieve.

Google has opened this up to third-parties and has also provided a comprehensive guide to help developers get up and running.

The aim here is to move from a fairly one-dimensional interaction where a user voices a command and Google’s Assistant responds, to a fluid and ongoing conversation. The more interactions a user has with a digital assistant, the more intelligent the latter will become.

Actions: The fun and the functional

We can broadly separate the list of actions into two categories: the fun and the functional.

Some of the more frivolous features of digital assistants do serve to humanize them somewhat, but their use rarely extends beyond the gimmick phase. Just say “Ok Google, let’s play a game”, and the assistant will tell a joke, make animal noises, or speculate on what lies in your future.

On the side of the functional is an integration with If This Then That, which opens up a potentially limitless list of possibilities.

If This Then That integrates with over 100 web services, so there is plenty of room for experimentation here.

There are also a number of integrations with Google products like Chromecast and YouTube, along with third-party tie-ins with Spotify and Uber, for example.

One new – and innovative – use of Google Actions was released by Airbnb last week. The Airbnb Concierge Action serves as an information repository that is unique to each property.

The host can leave tips or prompts with the Assistant, which will then be relaid on to the guest when the correct voice command is made. Guests can also leave recommendations on local restaurants, for example, for the benefit of future visitors.

Marketers should pay attention to this. This is a clear example of a brand understanding that a new medium brings with it new possibilities.

Simply transposing an already existing product onto this new medium would be significantly less effective; we need to view digital assistants through an entirely different lens if we are to avail of their potential.

We have also seen a novel – if slightly mischievous – use (or abuse, depending on your perspective) of Google Home by Burger King this month. Burger King used a television ad slot to interact with Home and ask about one of its burgers, triggering the digital assistant to list the ingredients in a Whopper.

Although Google have moved swiftly to prevent this happening again, brands are clearly seeing Home as an opportunity to experiment and generate some publicity.

Digital assistants provide fertile ground for brands, as they create a new platform to connect with existing or potential customers. Moreover, with only 100 or so Actions available, there is ample room to engage with this now before the market inevitably becomes saturated.

For marketers interested in playing nicely with Google on this, you can sign up here to be informed of any partnership opportunities.

Monetizing voice-enabled assistants

This task is rather straightforward for Amazon, in the short term at least. Users can interact with Alexa to purchase from a selection of millions of items and have them delivered to their door by Amazon.

For Google, it is more complex. Their money-spinning AdWords business has depended on text-based search and a visual response. That input-output relationship is thrown off entirely by a voice-enabled digital assistant.

However, the smart money is on Google to find a way to integrate paid placements into their Home product, even if it takes some trial and error to find a solution that does not diminish the user experience.

During Alphabet’s (Google’s parent company) fourth-quarter earnings call in 2016, Google CEO Sundar Pichai informed investors, “[Home] is the core area where we’ve invested in for the very long term.”

The significance of those words cannot be understated. Google is, like any privately-held company, under pressure from its shareholders to deliver ever greater profits.

Selling hardware alone is unlikely to bring the profits Google needs to keep growing from its already dominant position, so there are clearly plans to monetize their Assistant in an ongoing capacity.

That level of fierce competition will bring advantages for consumers, as the products will improve and prices may even drop.

The advantages for marketers are potentially even greater, should they be willing to take some risks and work to get the most out of this still nascent technology.

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Image showing front and back of the rumoured iPhone 8 in blush gold colour, which is a kind of peach brown. A caption in the bottom right corner attributes the image to Benjamin Geskin.

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