September 19, 2017

5 Big Ideas from our Product Owner’s Guide to the Universe at MWCA

We had a stellar program for “Mobile Product Owner’s Guide to the Universe” at Mobile World Congress Americas. There were a ton of ideas that came from our speakers during the all-day event, and these are five of the most interesting:

1. Exponential Acceleration — and Convergence — of Lots of Tech (AI, AR, VR, MR, Computer Vision, Machine Learning, Mobile and More)

“We used to say disruption is the new normal,” said Tom Edwards, Chief Digital Officer at Epsilon in his keynote address. “But now, I see this more as exponential acceleration. It’s more about consolidation and bundling of existing technologies.” With the rise of interconnected systems, marketers will need to keep up with customer expectations for seamless, intuitive, lightning fast, “magical” experiences with technologies. See Tom’s video that dives into the themes in his keynote here:

2. Leaving Room for Innovation (and Making Sure Your Definition of Innovation is Helping Not Hurting You)

Organizations can’t stop everything to innovate — but they can’t afford to fall behind either. It’s important, said panelists Todd Stricker with MarriottScott Cuppari with Coca-Cola Freestyle and Dorothy Jensen from Southwest Airlines to leave bandwidth on your teams to experiment, ideate and stay ahead of the game — even if many of the ideas never make it into production. They also advocated for carefully considering how your team defines innovation.

 Todd Stricker with Marriott, Scott Cuppari with Coca-Cola Freestyle and Dorothy Jensen from Southwest Airlines at MWCA17

“We frequently define innovation as unlocking value we weren’t unlocking before,” said Stricker. “Re-defining innovation in those terms helps people think in the problem spaces we’re really attacking to unlock customer value. That helps break the paradigm that innovation has to be a massive new crazy thing. It can be at a micro-level, and super meaningful when you’re dogging customer problems and making things better for them.”

3. It’s Time to Revisit A Few Technologies You Might Have Written Off

Technologies you might have tried a few years ago have matured: write them off at your own risk. For example, AI and natural language processing have helped create vast improvements in chatbots and voice assistants, as Vera Tzoneva, Global Product Partnerships, Google Assistant demonstrated.

VR technology is also better and more immersive than it’s ever been, said Andy Mathis, Mobile Partnerships and Business Development Lead at Oculus. For brands that want to connect with customers through indelible, immersive experiences, VR is an avenue that’s waiting to be explored. Red Bull’s VR hub lets you go cliff diving, fly a plane in the Red Bull air race and more, connecting with their adreneline-fueled branding. Tom’s in-store VR experience (see below) makes you an eyewitness and participant, making their brand promise of “buy a pair give a pair” come to life for customers.

4. Creating a Continuous Stream of Crowd-Sourced Customer Feedback to Help Drive Your Product Roadmap

Getting more (and more balanced) customer feedback helps product and marketing teams act on better, more balanced data about what customers want and need more quickly said Rob Pace, CEO of HundredX — and helps bake a listening culture into your organization. That’s critical for ensuring your products and features align to what real customers really want — not just what your team thinks they want.

Rob Pace, CEO of HundredX at MWCA

5. Data-Fueled Context is Increasingly Critical for Personalized Marketing

“The internet of things is too focused on the things,” said Dimitri Maex, President of Sentiance. “It’s on its way to becoming the internet of you — and I believe that will happen through AI and data.”

Maex shared how — using movement, location and time data from mobile phones — it’s possible to learn an enormous amount about a user’s context (Are they walking, driving, boating? Are they near home, work or school? Where are they likely to be going next?) and customize their experience for 1:1 interactions fast and at scale.

The exclamation point at the end gives me cavities, but a period is too bored... Thank you to our speakers, everyone in attendance, and our super smart, super helpful sponsors who helped make it all happen!

Also a big thank you to Urban Airship for this amazing recap! (original article)

May 8, 2017

Engineering Jedi: Alexa Lingo

It’s an exciting time for voice. Amazon’s Alexa has come into her own these last couple of years. Some analysts estimate as many as 8.2 million devices have been sold since late 2014. I personally find myself talking to Alexa multiple times a day, every day. It’s truly a remarkable feat of technology.

The engineer in me is fascinated by Alexa. And, being at Bottle Rocket where I work on the frontline of all things technology, I recently decided I wanted to write my own Alexa app, uhm I mean skill (which you’ll learn about later). Bottle Rocket promotes a learning culture, so I quickly tapped into other engineers and strategists here who were already tinkering (and in some cases, more than tinkering) with voice and lots of impressive things in the “personal digital assistant” space.

Much to my surprise, I found that even as a veteran engineer, I had some trouble following the conversation. While Alexa hasn’t even officially turned 3 yet, a whole vernacular has popped up around her that can be a little overwhelming.

So, before I rolled up my sleeves and started coding my first Alexa skill, I put together this handy little glossary of Alexa lingo.

Alexa Development Terminology


Except in the case of the Echo Tap, which has a physical button, Echo has multiple microphones that are always listening. Think of the device as being in standby mode. It is not fully activated and comprehending until you call out the wakeword. By default, this wakeword is “Alexa.” There are currently four other wakewords you can set on the device.


Skills are essentially apps for Alexa. The list of available skills for Alexa is growing every day. If you haven’t done so before, spend a few minutes browsing some of the most popular.


The invocation is the word or words used to identify a particular skill. I’ve heard it described as synonymous to an app name, but I think a better analogy is the app icon since you may choose to call your skill “Greatest Alexa Skill” but might settle on an invocation word that’s less of a mouthful, like “G.A.S.”


This one doesn’t directly relate to the spoken script with Alexa, but rather intent is the “what” in what are you trying to accomplish by speaking to Alexa in the first place.


Utterances represent the variances of spoken language and all the nuance that implies. Think of all the different ways someone might ask about the weather. What’s the weather? What’s my weather? What is my weather? What is the weather like? That list can get very long very quickly. Getting utterances right can be tough, but Amazon’s guidelines are helpful.


Slot is another word for what programmers and mathematicians call variables. If you think back to algebra, x in the equation 50+x=75 would be the variable. In Alexa’s vernacular x is the slot.

Developing for Alexa

Now that you know the terms in play, you can begin to see how they fit together.


Alexa, ask Southwest about my flight info.
<Respond with information about an upcoming flight>

Alexa, ask Coke Freestyle for today’s top mix.
<Respond with information about the most popular Freestyle mix for today’s date>

Alexa, tell NPR to remind me when Way With Words starts.
<Set a reminder for when the program “Way With Words” is scheduled to next air>

Eureka! Now you’re speaking Alexa!

Of course, a lot more goes into building a great voice experience than just understanding the terminology. Publishing an Alexa skill is a blending of engineering, strategy, and quality assurance. Amazon’s submission process requires knowledge of policy guidelines, cloud-based security, and a combination of functional and experiential testing. Lucky for you (and me), my colleagues here at Bottle Rocket have a head start.

I encourage you to schedule a demonstration of Bottle Rocket’s voice expertise. Even if you aren’t quite sure how an Alexa skill fits into your overall digital strategy, seeing some of the exciting work going on here will get the wheels turning

October 17, 2016

Why Brands Should Optimize for Google Assistant

Google’s Pixel Event heavily focused on hardware. They announced Pixel (the first phone designed by Google), an updated Chromecast supporting 4K UHD video, Google Home, and more. What do all of these devices have in common? Google Assistant. So, where there’s new hardware, there’s new APIs – and that means new opportunities for brands.

What is Google Assistant?

Google Assistant is an effort to create a single point of interaction for search, third party services, mobile apps, and web and is the enhanced replacement of what was Google Now. Google Assistant will get to know users personally and help coordinate their day, provide information when needed, and take action. Google’s advances in artificial intelligence (AI), speech recognition, and understanding of conversational language combine to create a powerful service that will be integrated into the new Pixel phone, Google’s suite of connected devices, applications, future Android phones, and there will likely be an iOS app for it as well.

How will users interact with Google Assistant?

Google Home is a new device powered by Assistant that can control a number of other devices, such as Chromecast, making Assistant connection between mobile and at-home moments. It also integrates with IFTTT, Nest, Phillips Hue, and more. Google Home could allow users to make reservations at a restaurant and then turn their lights off on the way out the door. It could help book travel, make hotel reservations, and request a ride through Uber when it’s time to go. This requires development effort to make the magic happen, but the benefit of a satisfying engagement with a user before even installing the app is invaluable – it creates loyalty in the first interaction.

What would a brand need to leverage Assistant?

This functionality is currently available, to an extent, in apps that have deep-linking support, but that’s not all you need. AI, whether Google’s or a competitor’s, is still in its infancy. That being said, many early interactions with Assistant will be similar to an AI assisted Google search. This means SEO and proper site structure are and will be crucial elements of discoverability. If your website is optimized for search, leverages structured data types, and deep-linking support for your app, you’re already fairly prepared.

In early December, Google will launch the Action API. This will allow for “scripted” interactions with Assistant in and outside of an app. Developers like Bottle Rocket can help brands leverage the Action API to develop strategy and server-to-server configurations so that speaking to Assistant can perform deeper actions like booking travel, reserving a hotel room, buying movie tickets, or ordering food. While it has not been released yet, forward-thinking brands will start planning these interactions today.

But why should a brand optimize for Assistant?

It’s about owning a moment in a user’s life. You have to surface during a search, fulfill a need, and then, when your foot is in the door, establish a real connection. You must design intentional serendipity – moments that feel organic, but have been carefully planned to position your brand’s app as the perfect solution to a very particular problem in just the right moment.

Whiteboard infographic of Google Assistant AI and devices

Click image for full resolution

Future-focused brands will begin to work with these technologies – voice controlled products with smart assistants, IoT devices, chatbots, and apps that work seamlessly with the internet – to prepare for a time when users will not seek you out at all. You’ll be expected to come to them, specifically when you’re needed. AI First companies like Google will rely on what it knows about you, your products and services, and your relevance to an immediate need. SEO will be critical, but SEO will not be able to make up for a poorly executed experience – especially since usability and UX are now factors in Google’s search ranking.

Bottle Rocket is prepared to help our clients thrive in an ecosystem driven by relevance and guided with AI. Contact us today to see how your brand can benefit from Google’s latest offerings and how you can prepare for Assistant.

Interested in how it works? Let Luke tell you the rest. Get your copy of “You Should be Using Google Assistant Apps” below.

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