Search Marketing Expo (SMX) is one of the best conferences in the search industry, delivering expert presentations, studies and resources for professionals working in paid search, programmatic, display, organic search and earned media. For two days, professionals from agencies, tech companies, vendors and in-house positions gather to share insights, case studies and industry trends. Coming out of SMX, attendees are equipped with fresh perspective and industry information to impart to their clients’ digital strategies. Here are some of the hot topics and top takeaways from SMX East in New York.

AI and Machine Learning

Artificial and machine learning technologies are still nascent. Tech companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft are investing in these technologies to make them easier for engineers and web developers to use. The same companies are selling more smart speakers and smart screens (Google Hub, Facebook Portal, Amazon Show), and hardware sales will continue to drive end-user adoption. As adoption increases and permeates daily routine, brands will be expected to enter the AI and machine learning arena, to engage with end-users.

Virtual Assistants and Chatbots

Voice adoption is growing on all platforms. Not all platforms, however, are designed for the same voice experience:

  • “Alexa, turn my lights on”
  • “OK Google, how do you thaw a frozen turkey?”
  • “Siri, when is my dentist appointment?”

Both Microsoft and Google presentations stressed that brands should begin including voice in their marketing strategies. A voice strategy is really a content strategy, engineered for conversational experience, delivered through a virtual assistant. Start small with voice – be the authority on your brand and products, not everything. If the voice experience can’t solve a problem, don’t build it.

Function > Messaging

As consumers adopt voice interaction with virtual assistants, and tech companies encourage engineers and developers to build conversational experiences, brands must act or be left behind. But instead of trying to push campaigns or branded messaging, brands must deliver functionality that interacts with daily routine. Messaging must incorporate functionality. Virtual assistants are assistants, not advertising platforms. Deliver assistance, and consumers will engage with your brand.

SMX East Top Takeaways

1. Anticipate user intent across devices, platforms

Think holistically about marketing messaging and user intent. Don’t create a campaign for a smartphone that is different than a campaign for an Alexa skill or a Google Voice experience. Solve problems with messaging, then deploy the messaging to different platforms, so they can be displayed or consumed by any device.

2. Create functional value

As digital device use continues to increase, advertising and marketing will need to find smaller, more useful ways to engage audiences beyond simply amplifying sales messaging. Instead of advertising the cleaning power of a specific solution, detergent pen or applicator, a cleaning product brand manager can create a conversational experience that references their products while providing helpful information.

3. Tailor for discovery by virtual assistants

In addition to creating functional value, content needs to be discoverable by virtual assistants. The first step is housing a singular content database with smart taxonomy. Next is knowing the technical requirements for deploying the content across the virtual assistant ecosystem. Coding conversational content for Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft is not as labor intensive as it may seem. By having a content database and a streamlined deployment plan, all platforms, virtual assistants and search engines will be able to discover and store that content, keeping it ready and waiting for the moment users need to solve a problem in their daily lives.

Mike Hanson is a senior manager, SEO, Chicago.