Is Amazon About To Ruin Alexa Responses With Ads?

I am a product specialist. A long time ago, I was actually a product marketing manager for a big tech company. I have shipped hundreds of products over the years. Every need needed a solution. And when you meet enough needs, people buy your product.

But in general, they have to think that they have a need for it. Oh sure, that’s the role of marketing. His job is to create demand where sometimes there is none.

Marketing can make you sensitive to something. It can also generate leads, when it finds people likely to be interested in a product. Other times, it generates just enough hype for the product to trend and take off on its own.

An object that has imposed itself in everyday life

What does Alexa have to do with it? In 2014, Alexa seemed strange. Nobody knew why to desire this product. It didn’t fit any of the usual product marketing formulas.

Overall, it was a Pringles box-like device to talk to. But why talk to him? Why spend hundreds of dollars for it to do what any app would? Why let him take up space just to answer you? As for turning on the light…all it took was a press of a button.

And to listen to music? Well, there were stereos, iPods and smartphones for that, and many other ways to listen to music. Of course, the intercom function can be useful. But who needed an internet-connected device that listens to everything you say?

I know it’s subjective, but Alexa, more so than Siri or Google’s assistant, seems to have struck the right balance between personality and usefulness, between capability and functionality. Whether it’s setting a timer while cooking, performing a math calculation, pausing the streaming service you’re watching on your TV to ask a question of general interest, Alexa is usually relatively helpful.

In 2022, Alexa is everywhere. Many families have one in virtually every room.

Sponsored Replies

But that helpfulness seems to be about to change. Amazon recently announced that it is about to introduce vendor-provided answers for common Alexa questions. Here’s how Amazon describes it:

“The feature is called Customers ask Alexa, and it works like this: when customers ask Alexa questions, including queries related to product features or compatibilities, Alexa responds with helpful answers provided by brands of these product categories. (…) For example, a customer who buys cleaning products on Amazon could ask: “how can I remove pet hair from my carpet?”. A brand can now provide answers to such questions, along with links to their Amazon storefront. »

Amazon clarifies that these are not paid advertisements. Sellers do not pay to be placed. Instead, there will be a new “Customers ask Alexa” feature in Seller Central, where sellers can view and answer questions using “self-service tools.” The answers will then be moderated by an Amazon team responsible for these questions. All responses will be attributed to the responding brand.

According to Rajiv Mehta, General Manager of Alexa Shopping at Amazon, “Amazon recognizes brands as experts on their products. With this new capability, we’ve made it easier for brands to connect with customers to help them answer common questions and better inform their purchasing decisions.”

So there is no chance that it will go wrong. Playing the algorithm for priority on the SERP (search engine response page) has already irrevocably changed editorial journalism. Most articles (including mine) go through an SEO review. Even if a title is extremely appealing to human readers (or just makes more sense), it can be dropped in favor of one that has more weight in Google.

Yes, you still get quality content (if I may say so), but SEO weighs heavily in almost every editorial decision for almost every website. It’s just what everyone needs to do today to keep generating revenue (needed to produce and manage expensive publications). We all need good content, and we all need to pay our bills.

Selling points or advice?

It’s not unreasonable to expect sellers to compete for prominence in Alexa’s seller response system. It’s also not unreasonable to expect sales pitches, even if disguised as very helpful answers, to overrun those answers.

This “service” is not expected before October, so there are currently no sample responses. But we can certainly expect questions like “should I use scissors or electric clippers to cut my hair” to lead to something like “never pay for a haircut again with this new design.” peak and be at your best without the help of others. This answer is brought to you by ManGroomer, the ultimate haircut kit. Do you want to receive one? He can be here in two days. »

To be honest, this kit is awesome and saved me considerable embarrassment during a Zoom meeting at the height of the pandemic. But this is not the question. Getting featured, even for products that work, ruins the helping relationship many of us have developed with Alexa. She’s no longer a trusted friend, but just another door-to-door salesman trying to sell you something. Except she’s already in the house.

Admittedly, Alexa has offered certain items at random times before (Amazon Music comes to mind). We always respond with an “Ah, no. No no no “. Sometimes it appears with a yellow ring alert which is a reminder to do something about an upcoming Subscribe and Save command. But so far, these promotions and notifications have not been specifically tied to third-party sellers. They don’t give sellers a way to game the system for the best SEO response results.

That’s what worries me about Alexa. Amazon engineers managed to train Alexa to strike the right balance between helpfulness and discretion. But if she’s constantly trying to push us to sell, it’s going to get boring.

An evolving relationship

I am sad about this situation. Alexa has been a fantastic (and frankly unexpected) boon to many of us. At this point, she is practically a trusted member of the family. But if its essential nature is corrupted by an excessive quest for even more Bezos bucks, that will be a real shame.

For example, I would feel a lot less comfortable leaving Alexa in my elderly parents’ house if I think she’s going to push them to buy new products with these marketing techniques. The same goes for young children or people with poor impulse control. It’s too easy to say yes to a trusted family member. After all, how many times have you said yes to his helpful little questions in the past nine years?

For the record, I emailed Amazon asking if Amazon customers will be able to opt out of these potential upsells and how, beyond content moderation, Amazon can prevent Alexa from turning into a do-it-yourself machine. SEO-based advertising. I haven’t received a response yet.


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