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Alexa, why should I care about smart speakers?

Alexa, why should I care about smart speakers?

What did you get for Christmas?

Chances are, that if you’re into gadgets, it was an Amazon Echo.

The internet shopping giants are keeping the exact sales figures of their range of digital assistant under close wraps, but the fact that the Alexa app needed to operate them was the most downloaded on Christmas Day and for weeks afterwards on both IoS and Android platforms is a pretty strong signal that Amazon won the seasonal battle to be top dog under the techie Christmas tree. Amazon might be coy about detailing their massive growth, but informed industry experts think there are probably currently about four million of their smart speakers in the UK, and one recent survey suggested penetration will top 40% of all British households as early as this year. With Google, Apple and Samsung also all in the arena, the explosion in voice recognition and the generational disruption it represents for how we interact with technology isn’t science fiction, it’s here and now, and brands are already diving in, admittedly some with better results than others.

Whether it’s cooking tips (and abuse) from Gordon Ramsay as users cut their vegetables in their kitchen, or taking up the slack and reading a bedtime story to kids, the benefits of smart speakers seem endless. The number of new ‘skills’ (or apps) which the Echo devices can offer has risen from a dozen or so when it was first launched to approximately 30,000 now, and growing daily.

Crucially, the fact that it’s not just Amazon but independent companies that can develop new skills for Echo devices makes this pioneer period a real gold rush moment for any firms willing to take up the challenge. Gordon Ramsay aside, other early adopters like JustEat and VirginTrains are already translating the tech into sales. But like every gold rush, there are some who don’t always strike it lucky first time round. National Rail’s Alexa skill, for example, has left some users complaining in frustration that the Echo can’t differentiate between different stations in the same city, or has given out-of-date schedule information.

A quick look at #AlexaFail on Twitter provides enough proof that the tech is (often hilariously) still evolving. But despite the inevitable glitches, the rapid transformation of Amazon Echo and its competitors from parlour room novelties into genuinely life-enhancing helpers is happening, quite literally, as we speak.

Personalisation will be the next big leap forward. Once smart speakers can recognise individual voices it will be able to tailor results to preferences. Likewise, the integration of voice recognition with cars and all manner of smart devices from TVs, home heating and lightbulbs to ovens is already here.  All new BMW’s and Minis will have the technology by the middle of this year.  As an example, when the tired traveller can ask their car for nearby hotel or restaurant recommends and get a response tailored to their history, preferences and budget, and then have it booked for them, then the game will really have shifted another gear.

In the meantime those brands that can answer the questions consumers are asking, and those who learn from the mistakes of others, will be the real winners.

Rowing For Home: Help Stripe back Sleep in the Park to fight homelessness

Rowing For Home: Help Stripe back Sleep in the Park to fight homelessness

Stripe is joining the fight against homelessness in Scotland by taking part in Sleep in the Park, the world’s biggest ever sleepout, and we need your help.

In just over a week a group of Stripes will be among 9,000 people bedding down for the night in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens with event organisers Social Bite, who have set themselves the ambitious target of eradicating homelessness in Scotland in five years. In addition to charity events like this, they are creating a nationwide jobs programme for homeless people and introducing new housing solutions for the homeless population.

We have pledged to raise £3,000 for the cause and are doing this through a range of events including a bake sale, wine tasting and our Senior Account Director, Sam Crawford, has even agreed to shear off her beautiful, ginger tresses for the cause.

Spending a night in the open in a sleeping bag safe in the knowledge we have our own homes to return to hardly represents a hardship, certainly not when set against the daily trials of homeless people fighting for survival, but hopefully, the donations will help to deliver the long-term goal.

So what’s next in our bag of tricks for donations? We’ll be taking on the nautical spirit of our original home, Leith, and rowing on top of The Barge at The Shore…while dressed as pirates. In stripes, naturally.Our special Rowing For Home day will take place next Tuesday 5th December, so if you happen to be passing and see us huffing and puffing out on the top deck, you’ll know why.

And if you aren’t, please spare a few quid here.

From hack to flack: Jumping from journalism to PR

From hack to flack: Jumping from journalism to PR

That’s that then;  week one at Stripe done and dusted, week one of being in PR at all for that matter done and dusted after 20-plus years as a journalist.

I loved working my ticket round the weird and wonderful world of newspapers and news websites for longer than was probably healthy, so how has it been then ‘jumping the pond’ and landing in Scatter Cushion Corner?

I’m not really sure how to describe it; ‘challenging’ doesn’t cover it, ‘bewildering’ certainly comes close in parts, but perhaps the best parallel I can find is that I feel like Karen in the wedding scene in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas  –  overwhelmed by a new life in an alien world, spinning around in a sea of sensory overload, but in a good way, still smiling.

Not that I’m comparing my new colleagues to The Mob, or myself to a blushing bride;  I knew from the get go that things would be different here than the newsroom.

Up until now my first week in any new job has pretty much consisted of being told where the kettle is and how to turn the computer on.

But as my first monthly team meeting ended and the clapping stopped and we all headed off back to our desks, loins girded, enthused, focused on the job ahead, I took a moment, looked around, and said to myself ‘Toto, I don’t think we are in Kansas any more.’

On the way back to my desk, ever so-slightly shell-shocked, one of my new colleagues smiled and leaned in and said: “You aren’t quite used to the whole clapping thing eh?”

It’s not that I’m not used to meetings, I’ve been to plenty, all sorts.

Like everybody else, memories of most of them have evaporated into a sludge of meaningless doodles, secret shared raised ‘oh aye?’ eyebrows, indecipherable notes, and forgotten action points.

But there are some meetings I remember more than others,  the ones ending with scrunched up news lists being hurled by an irate editor and bouncing off the back of hapless news editors’ heads, or worse, the bear-pit ritual humiliation of a colleague.

That doesn’t appear to be the Stripe way. This first meeting saw the senior managers sitting down with the whole team,  laying out the bones of the business in the weeks ahead, all of it, and publicly acknowledging success (hence the clapping, they’re not Moonies). They invited questions, no matter how prickly, and set proper, clear goals for the days ahead; I wasn’t used to any of that, maybe it’s like this in every PR agency, but I suspect not.

They say that first impressions are important, in this game perhaps more than most,  so here are my first impressions – I’ve clearly joined a motivated, dedicated team of very bright people who are all working incredibly hard. No time for scatter cushions here.

Since day one it has been a whirlwind of meeting new colleagues and clients, trying to learn the ropes, doing my best to get up to speed with the ways of working round here, of trying my best to add value to the whole enterprise, but mostly simply trying not to make any mistakes.

I know I am out of my Comfort Zone; an old friend who also now works in PR after a life in journalism put it beautifully when she said that I was clearly in The Google Zone. When I admitted after a few moments, sheepishly, that I had no idea what that was, she laughed and said:  ‘that’s the whole point, you have to go to the toilet and Google things every five minutes. You’ll be in The Google Zone for a good while yet’.

Stripe is undeniably fast-paced and dynamic – the energy in this place could have it connected to the National Grid –  and it has been a breath of fresh air; give me the Google Zone over the Comfort Zone any day.