With Samsung’s Bixby Rolling Out Globally, a Voice Assistant Branding War May Be Afoot

In a field where Siri and Alexa are already there waiting

Voice AI is becoming part of everyday life. Which name will be the biggest?
Bixby, Amazon, Apple

With the release of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 this week, Samsung’s artificial intelligence-powered voice assistant, Bixby, appears set for more widespread use. Bixby, which has been available in the device manufacturer’s home country of Korea since May and in the U.S. since July, went live in the U.K. on Wednesday and will reportedly be in China in the next few months.

Samsung has more mobile device market share— 23 percent, per IDC—than any other company. So, by this time next year, one would imagine Bixby might be as well known as forerunner competitors like Siri (Apple), Alexa (Amazon), OK Google (Google) and Cortana (Microsoft). Will these names—the actual brands of the AI assistants—have a strong impact on how well the products they are associated with succeed?

“Absolutely,” said Tom Sepanski, director of naming and verbal identity at Landor North America, “especially as these companies keep pouring marketing dollars into building their respective AI brands and more importantly, pouring [research and development] dollars into improving and expanding consumers’ AI experiences.”

A new kind of branding war could indeed be afoot with Samsung in the mix, and Sepanski said that Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Samsung should ramp up advertising in order to create awareness and loyalty.

“Just look at what IBM is doing with Watson,” he said. “But brands have to remember that the experience needs to deliver on customer expectations. Otherwise, marketing efforts will backfire.”

Joan Sinopoli, vp of brand solutions at The Harris Poll, largely concurred, pointing to the marketing successes Apple and Amazon have already had with their voice features.

“Siri was a huge differentiator for iPhone when it launched. It was actually a disruptive technology, and making it ‘human’ made it all the more memorable and approachable,” Sinopoli said. “Amazon already makes Alexa an independent and fully participatory character in its ads, to a humorous effect, as it solves problems for us silly humans.”

Smart speakers, which are becoming increasingly popular, will likely raise the temperature on voice rivalries. Amazon has been practically giving away its Echo and Dot speakers, while Google Home is a big priority for its corporate namesake. Forty-five million voice-assisted devices are now in use in the U.S., according to eMarketer, and that number will rise to 67 million by 2019. Amazon Echo, which utilizes Alexa, owns roughly 70 percent of the smart speaker market, per eMarketer.

“Amazon may want to ramp up advertising of its voice-customization features while others brand their own names,” said Jason Bier, evp, general counsel and chief privacy officer at Engine Media.

Sargi Mann, evp of digital strategy, investments at Havas Media, added that highlighting the utility of the assistants in campaigns can let brands create emotional connections with consumers.

“The ‘Shot on iPhone’ campaign serves as a big testament to that,” Mann said. “Also, think about the GM Onstar service. In both these brands’ cases, while the consumers buy the device or the vehicle for a variety of reasons, the utility and service certainly becomes part of a great ownership experience. It’s a similar case with the assistants; the more intelligent they get, the more consumers enjoy owning these devices they are part of. A creative, humanized view of the technology helps demystify the perceived complexity. It will make them accessible, adaptable and easy to engage with.”

According to a recent study by Edison Research, 90 percent of parents with a smart speaker said their children enjoy the devices, while 57 percent said they purchased one for their kids. And anecdotally, word on the street is that children are becoming attached to voice assistants in smart speakers. These stats and ideas beg a question: If Bixby, Cortana, Alexa, etc. become bigger household names, will consumers love them in a fashion comparable to Coke, John Deere or Harley-Davidson? Will consumers stick to a Bixby or an Alexa even if different prices are involved?

“It would be naive of us to think the assistants on their own can earn brand loyalty,” Mann said. “However, they certainly have the potential to make people more loyal to the brands with which they are associated.”

But not everyone believes voice assistant brands could materially impact device sales.

“I highly doubt it,” said Chris Kelly, CCO of Organic and co-founder of Synthetic. “Of course, there will be outliers that just don’t like a particular name—Cortana bugs me, no idea why. But the name of the product won’t supersede its value or usefulness to people. There are many brands, products and services with awful names that are doing just fine.”