How AI, Speech Recognition and Digital Assistants Will Impact Marketing by 2020

March 3, 2018

Photography depicts Microsoft AI technology that predicts probability of a student dropping out of school to proactive assist educators.

This guest post was contributed by Steve Sirich, Head of Marketing at Bing Ads, Microsoft.    

There’s no doubt that technology is reshaping the way that brands engage with consumers. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies, such as Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa, are advancing rapidly and have become increasingly ubiquitous in our daily lives, transforming how we interact with the world around us. As consumers we tend to embrace these technologies because they satisfy our desire for convenience and personalization.

As AI and machine learning become more capable and more embedded in our digital experiences, brands will also have to rethink how they engage with consumers. Brands must also use AI, machine learning, and advanced automation to become more targeted and relevant. Brands will have to find new ways to engage consumers, especially if they aren’t the incumbent.

Recently, my colleagues at Microsoft partnered with Econsultancy to release a study titled, The Next Revolution of Search. This study combines insights from more than 25 experts and a survey of 2,681 adults in North America. The findings have far-reaching ramifications to the way that brands must market and advertise in the future.

And the future is coming fast, with many changes in store by the year 2020. Below I’ve outlined some key trends and potential opportunities for brands to stand out in the next couple of years.

Trend 1: The rise of the digital assistant

Digital assistants like Alexa and Cortana aren’t going away. In fact, they’re acquiring new abilities daily and consumers young and old are becoming increasingly accepting and reliant upon these digital assistants. And the trend is expected to continue.

In Microsoft’s research, we found that consumers are embracing the idea of having an intimate relationship with their digital assistants. When they were asked how they imagined interacting with their digital assistants in the future, almost 60% said it would resemble a real relationship, with the assistant being able to ask appropriate questions about their needs to complete a task or even act on their behalf with its existing knowledge.

“One of the most striking changes we’re seeing is in the sophistication of ecommerce players around shopping search,” says Laetitia Kieffer of MediaCom.[i] “The advertisers are radically improving their shopping feeds and understand that their ability to describe products is a competitive advantage.”


Brands that want to succeed will need to rely less on advertising and more on building relationships with consumers and solving their problems. Brands will also need to invest based on their relationship with digital assistants, since these will be the gatekeepers to the consumer. This means feeding digital assistants detailed and helpful product data and providing ultra-relevant and timely updates is paramount.

Trend 2: Smarter searches and implicit signals

Search will be central to brand marketing as its usefulness to the consumer continues to expand. Search is becoming more intelligent, and thanks to machine learning, is beginning to personalize results based on consumer intent. And as technology becomes more sophisticated (and as screens shrink or disappear), the focus of search will shift from a list of links to specific answers.


First, while brands will get less traffic, because results that are surfaced are highly personalized to the consumer, they will see increased traffic quality and a higher return from their marketing investments. But only if they have content that is highly relevant and valuable.

Second, brands that embrace AI, machine learning, and automation will gain access to highly personalized consumer insights from digital assistants. These insights will enable brands to generate more relevant content and better position them to solve specific consumer problems.

Trend 3: Increased reliance on speech recognition

When it was first released, speech recognition technology was more novelty than utilitarian. But as technology and accuracy has improved, so has its usefulness. In fact, 80% of adults with smartphones have used voice search on their devices. And with devices like Amazon Echo on the market, people are growing increasingly accustomed to using voice. While voice results won’t replace text entirely, by the year 2020, Gartner expects that nearly one-third of search results will be screenless and comScore estimates that half of all searches will be voice.


Speech recognition provides new opportunities (as well as challenges) for brands to engage with their customers. Again, the key word here is relevance. Consumers have no tolerance for commercials to come up when they conduct a voice search. Instead, brands must present highly relevant content and be creative about solving a specific problem for the consumer, such as adding a product to their shopping list (or even to their subscription service).

Brands that want to stay competitive must invest in new technology and seek out creative ways to solve problems for consumers. To learn more about how search is evolving, be sure to read the full study, The Next Revolution of Search.

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