The growing movement to voice interface and search has been an evolving topic here on Branding Strategy Insider. This week, two tech giants, Microsoft and Amazon, announced a surprising (and refreshing) technology partnership wherein their proprietary assistants, Cortana and Alexa, will be accessible from each other.
On the surface, this cooperation between rivals seems unusual. Voice assistants for Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft represent ongoing and significant investments that allow the Brands to stand out from one another. But it turns out that each assistant has unique strengths that could benefit the others. At least that’s how it seems Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos might be seeing it.
In an Amazon press release, Jeff Bezos says, “The world is big and so multifaceted. There are going to be multiple successful intelligent agents, each with access to different sets of data and with different specialized skill areas. Together, their strengths will complement each other and provide customers with a richer and even more helpful experience.”
The partnership truly does maximize the unique strengths of each assistant. Alexa is primarily accessed via smart speakers, Cortana is used mostly by PCs. Alexa devices will be able to call up the rich productivity features delivered by Cortana, which taps into Outlook/Office 365 and Windows 10. With 11 million Amazon Echo devices in the US, this is a likely win that will allow users to schedule meetings, check schedules, and do many other tasks that Cortana can tap into. Similarly, Cortana users will be able to tap Alexa to order products, access audio books and control home automation.
One of the core beliefs at Microsoft is that when people and technology work together, everyone wins. Amazon’s customer-obsession and Microsoft’s people-first beliefs allow both brands to overlap where it matters most: squarely on the customer. The power of software and the cloud has liberated customers from the need to play within a closed ecosystem, if they don’t want to or brands don’t force them.
While both Bezos and Nadella are hopeful Apple and Google might join in or be inspired by the partnership, given that Google owns Android and Apple owns iOS, the two dominant mobile operating system players may see significant advantage in keeping their assistants separate as a way to drive preferences especially for devices.
Brands can learn a few things from this partnership:
- Access is the new battleground: As Mark Di Somma shared recently in an article on voice search, “Brand cannot be separated from UI or from search, for example, because consumers make no such distinctions. The brands they rely on are those that provide them with what is needed with the least friction.” This is further evidenced by Google’s recent partnership between their voice assistant and Wal-Mart.
- Simplicity is the best kind of story: One of my favorite articles from Tom Goodwin is “We’re at peak complexity and it sucks“. Sadly, it’s still largely true, but some brands are quickly learning to put how humans work at the center of what they offer their customers. When BMW introduced autonomous parking on their 7 series, it came with an enormous touch sensitive key fob. Audi’s approach this year is to allow your mobile device to do the same thing, saving their customers the need to carry yet another device. In allowing their assistants to work together, Amazon and Microsoft customers don’t have to change devices or launch different applications.
At the end of the day, Bezos believes that the primary assistant on a device will be smart enough to route a request to whatever assistant is best equipped to answer the question. He says in a recent MSN piece, “In my view of the world, because that would be best for the customer, that’s probably what eventually happens.”
This theme of ‘what’s best for the customer’ is almost ubiquitously talked about by brands, but with the help of technology and as more businesses are empowered to transform their products and services, we should expect to see more, better, stronger and valued partnerships where brands are working together with ‘what’s best for the customer’ in mind.
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