Now on Tap: The Future of Targeting

June 3, 2015

Casey Petersen

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Recently at Google I/O, the annual Google convention geared toward developers, but studied by nerds worldwide, Google Now on Tap was announced, promising some truly mind-blowing features, including the integration of Google Now with 3rd Party apps, and natural language processing to create tasks, give directions, or a number of other “helpful” things, based on what you’re doing. The demo was pretty awesome.

Google Now on Tap’s main feature is its natural language processing. This update provides a lot of new features – but this was the big “Wow.” Let’s say you’re driving home from work, and your spouse texts you and says, “Hey, can you pick up the dry cleaning on the way home?” Google Now reads that, and makes a reminder for you to pick up the dry cleaning.  Perhaps a buddy texts you and asks to meet for drinks at 7 PM, and don’t forget to bring the book you borrowed. Google Now can make a reminder to bring the book, and also make suggestions for bars or restaurants nearby. Reactions vary from awesome to creepy, with this technology. However, the achievement of this kind of intelligence is really cool.

The one thing Google doesn’t talk much about at I/O is it’s actual real business – selling ads.  We get excited about all of the things Google is doing in mobile, entertainment, in cars, on our faces, and everywhere in between. But the real business of Google is how they use the data generated by those activities and sell highly targeted ads to businesses who want your money. Fantastic, right?

I’m actually of the belief this is fantastic for consumers – because it makes our lives easier by putting the right products in front of us at the right time. But it’s even better for marketers. Once this rolls out, at some point in the future, Google is going to unlock the Holy Grail of ad targeting – Intent.

As the social/mobile/location revolution has matured, we can target based on your Facebook likes and actions, the places you visit online, and even the place you’re at. Foursquare danced around this a few years ago, when they mattered. Location got us close, but it never quite got us there. Failed companies like Ditto and Forecast attempted to give people a way to say what they were going to do, and hopefully be able to sell ads to companies to influence their intent. The idea was great – the implementation was horrible. We were already sick of checking-in to places, and this was just another thing to do. It was too much work. However, the marketer’s dream of knowing that someone was going out for Coffee, and being able to hit them right in that moment and say, “Hey – come to Dunkin’ Donuts instead of Starbucks, and we’ll give you $2 off!” Location alone missed the point – the customer was already at the place they decided to go, buying what they decided to buy. The dream of discerning a customer’s future intent, “I need to buy milk,” and being able to hit them in the middle of the decision-making process is now finally on the horizon.

Let’s take Google’s Now On Tap to the next logical place – ads. You’re driving home, and your spouse says, “Hey, can you pick up dinner?” Google Now creates a reminder, and an ad pops up and says, “Hey, swing by here and pick up dinner, and use this coupon for free drinks!” Perhaps you create your own reminder to pick up milk on the way home, and as you leave the office, Borden places an ad on your phone to buy Borden brand milk for 50 cents off today only!

Google Now is an exciting improvement to its virtual assistant on its own, but the future it represents for advertisers is truly game changing, and the most exciting development I’ve seen in this field since Facebook started behavior targeting.

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