We are rapidly approaching a future where a messaging UI becomes the primary way in which we interface with the web of connected services. From a consumer perspective, this is amazing. Your experience becomes keenly focused and simplified by not having to jump out of one app and into another to complete your Jobs To Be Done, and it really feels like the internet is magic again (not that it ever really stops feeling like magic).
"Play the next episode of Dexter" and immediately your device goes full-screen and you’re picking up from where you left off. No going through app trays to find the right one and then through several layers of menus and navigation to find the right show. One command in natural language, typos ‘n all; one perfect response from your device. Sounds amazing, is amazing, becomes mind blowing when stuff in the real world happens too like your laundry being picked up, cleaned and delivered back to your home without any effort on your behalf beyond "M, get my laundry done today".
As great as things will be for us as end users, there’s a few reasons it may not delight us as marketers.
Disintermediation of the service and the interface will diminish brand loyalty
Instead of clicking on your brand’s app, people will simply ask for what they need. The association between the outcome of their desire and your brand will start to evaporate. People will increasingly realise that a lot of competitive service providers are operating at functional parity, and that leads to a context where choice of provider will be purely based on quality of service and price. This will lead to service brands being increasingly dependent on traditional advertising to create preference.
"M, book me a cab" - This request is the future enemy of brands. And so, the future marketing brief will focus on going beyond spontaneous awareness and ensuring the brand either becomes a verb or synonymous with a generic term. Such as:
Uber’s brief: Get consumers to ask "M, book me an Uber"
GoCompare’s brief: Get consumers to ask "M, GoCompare car insurance quotes"
Vue Entertainment’s brief: Get consumers to ask "M, what’s on this weekend at the Vue?"
And so on.
Who chooses the supplier when the user doesn’t?
"M, book me a cab"
When someone asks for something without specifying a preferred supplier, how will the AI powering the interface decide on who to give the task to? It could reply with loads of options, but that defeats the point and design principles of extreme simplification. In the case of Google Now, another digital personal assistant, they've decided to use Uber as the default for taxi services, a business that Google invested over $250M in two years ago. You can see how this may be an issue.
Ideally, M would have a really smart algorithm that would assign it to whoever provides the best balance of price, speed, quality and previous personal usage - but this would face even more scrutiny than Google’s search algorithm. I suspect the ‘fairest’ and most profitable way of choosing the default, is by not choosing at all. Expect it to sell that privilege, in real-time through an auction model, making it equally accessible to small, local businesses as it is to international brands.
A new front in the battle for data
Brands and businesses have to start negotiating for data now. If Facebook M is the platform through which your services will be discovered and either partially or fully delivered then you need to start the conversation about who owns and can access that data. What’s stopping Facebook from selling your customer interaction behaviour to your competitors or even barring your access to your own data without a hefty fee? Not much, so agreements need to be shaped now whilst Facebook is in the position of needing your services to drive consumer adoption of M. If we don’t, we risk a future where we’re at its mercy and the terms are dictated to us.