Every morning I ask Alexa to read out the news, turn the lights on in the kitchen, and start making coffee. My son asks Alexa for the weather to see if he can wear shorts to school. And I’ve just gotten Alexa to open the garage door and back my car out of the garage.
I am part of a tidal wave of consumers adopting voice. Today, one in six Americans own a smart speaker, according to new research from NPR and Edison. Our future interactions with technology will increasingly be through “conversations” with smart machines. Consumers are driving the emergence of voice as a new channel, and brands need to start putting their voice strategy in place quickly if they want to make sure they are not left playing catch-up.
Amazon recently banned an ad network from operating on Alexa, which is a signal that brands must work to more authentically reach their consumers on this growing channel through marketing programs. Brands must plan for a variety of voice-activated scenarios, from searches to content and entertainment to services that are the voice equivalent of smartphone apps.
Start with your consumer
Similar to how you focused the first app marketing program you launched, start with a consumer-first planning session. Aggregate your own consumer behavior data and research to create a picture of your target audience. Just like an app doesn’t have to mirror your website, a voice marketing campaign can pick and choose select activities and information best suited to the channel — and your audience.
More than half of U.S. teens and 41 percent of adults speak to a computer regularly, from Siri to Google Home to virtual assistants in cars. But your audience might not resemble a hip 30-year-old talking into their iPhone or a busy mom buying groceries on Google Home.
Respect your consumer communications
Your consumers are not just using voice to create a shopping list. In fact, help with shopping doesn’t even make the top 10 activities, according to research from Edison. People ask Alexa about the weather, to play music, and for general information. They get sports scores, ask for jokes, and add to their to-do lists. It’s worth looking into your own consumer base to determine the marketing approach that is best suited to their current activities.
Plan a voice campaign to be appropriate not just for who your consumer is, but what they are doing and where they are. Voice at its best is helpful and entertaining, not confusing and time-consuming. Two brands that have mastered the perfect blend of helpful and entertaining in their voice apps are Purina pet food and Tide detergent. The two brands have created voice marketing content that answers questions from their expertise as leaders in their respective fields. You can have Alexa ask Tide how to get a stain out or ask Purina about the specifics of a dog breed.
Keep in mind that not every activity translates well to voice. There are a lot of things that work better on a screen than through a voice assistant. Try asking Google for cheap flights to Florida. Without being able to see flight times, connections, and other information, the activity becomes cumbersome very quickly. However, a frequent flier would appreciate the ability to ask what time flight 304 arrives at SFO tomorrow.
A good example of this comes from Patron tequila. The brand is taking a creative approach to its transition to voice by pairing voice activation features with video. Their virtual bar assistant app uses a combination of video and voice to convey more information without overwhelming voice searchers.
Plan around personalization
Unless your consumer is alone in their home or car, interactions with voice assistants can be heard by others. Personalization becomes tricky unless you use voice recognition. Imagine if a consumer asks, “Where should we go on vacation?”: Is your marketing content sophisticated enough to ask “Who is we?”
It’s important to access data from other channels or to use a series of questions to avoid getting stymied by consumer interactions. You will want to take an integrated approach to improve the potential value of a voice marketing presence. This will involve collecting the most relevant bits of information that can help create a more personal experience such as recent purchases, preferences, and searches. You can also tap into broader data treasure troves. Fitbit integrates with Amazon Echo, allowing users to access their personal fitness data by asking questions like, “How far did I run yesterday?” It’s possible that a partnership with a company that’s already integrated can boost your own personalization capabilities.
Even without a lot of data, you can be more relevant if you plan interactions that quickly narrow down to serve a consumer’s personal needs. The North Face has a voice app that asks people a series of questions, such as what activities they might be doing and what temperatures they might encounter, before recommending products. Most importantly, using this information to be more relevant later can ensure higher engagement over time.
Whatever you do, it’s important to start planning for voice as a channel for your consumers. Companies are integrating voice communication into the lives of millions of people through everyday items like cars, washing machines, and smartphones. The voice interface has changed the way search engines work and how people are entertained, and it will change much more in the next few years.
John Hernandez is the CEO of Selligent Marketing Cloud, a company that provides an integrated, omnichannel marketing engagement platform.