One Big Idea from Mary Meeker’s 2017 Internet Trends Report

Venture capitalist Mary Meeker just released her annual review of internet trends. But who has time to process 355 slides or a 40-minute video? Even many of the published summaries are just data dumps.

In keeping with its mission to help brands connect with customers at every critical moment, Signal has distilled Meeker’s slides into a few big ideas for marketers. Big ideas are generally found at the intersection of several trends, and that is true of our first idea: Customer Conversations Beyond the Keyboard.

What’s happening? Until recently, the keyboard was at the center of all online conversations: if a brand wanted to exchange information with a customer, someone was going to be typing. But thanks to rapid advances in artificial intelligence, brands and their customers have an increasing number of ways to connect and exchange information online, including voice, images and user activity.

How big is it? Voice-driven virtual personal assistants such as Apple’s Siri have been around for several years, but are just now hitting their stride as voice recognition software has improved. More devices are now capable of handling voice, and more truly useful consumer applications have been created. According to Meeker’s review:

  • Twenty percent of smartphone search queries are now made by voice rather than keyboard input.
  • Google’s voice recognition software has gone from less than 80% accuracy in 2013 to 95% in 2017, reaching near-human precision.
  • The Amazon Echo interactive speaker’s installed base rose from 2 million in Q3 2015 to nearly 11 million in Q1 2017, while its number of “skills” (i.e., third-party applications) increased from just 2,000 a year ago to 12,000 as of April. Expect adoption of Echo-like smart speaker devices to expand quickly in the next couple of years, with Google Home entering the market at the end of 2016 and Apple’s HomePod slated to launch this December.

User activity, meanwhile, refers to behavioral data captured by a connected device — a fitness wristband that tracks the wearer’s physical activity, for example, or a gaming console that tracks online playing behavior.

Sixteen percent of U.S. adults now own wearables, with penetration estimated as high as 40% among 18-34 year olds, according to Meeker. Online gaming penetration is even higher, with 48% of households owning a device exclusively for playing video games.

Image-driven applications allow a digital image to replace typed inputs. Currently, most visual search apps are fairly simple.’s app, for example, lets you take a photo of a real estate sign to pull up the full listing for that property. But far more useful augmented reality and “scan to shop” applications are developing rapidly. Google Lens, due for release later in 2017, promises to decipher the world through your phone’s camera: just point the camera at an object and the software will take action, such as finding information on a flower, serving the Google review for a restaurant or translating a sign printed in a foreign language.

What should marketers do?

  1. Marketers must start by prioritizing flexibility and scalability in their customer data and identity systems to ensure they’ll be able to handle the massive influx of new data.
  2. These new communication channels can provide dramatic new insights into your customers, beyond what you currently learn from simply tracking their keyboarded browsing and buying habits. Insights on, say, the wristband-captured behavior of runners versus walkers can inform everything from media targeting to product development.
  3. Even more powerfully, this data can be used to develop algorithms that can actually influence changes in consumer behavior. For instance, Spotify users listened to an average of 41 artists per week in 2017, up from 30 in 2014; the 37% increase is attributed to Spotify’s recommendation engine based on customer-level listening data and proprietary algorithms.

While some might view these new modes of conversation as mere novelties, brands must continue to make it easier for customers to transact with them — or risk losing to brands that do.

Originally published June 20, 2017

Blane Sims

Blane Sims was formerly Chief Innovation Officer at Signal where he defined the strategy and roadmap for an award-winning technology platform serving the digital marketing industry.

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