This fall, I spoke on a panel with Spotify, Nestle and Plan.Net Gruppe about voice strategy for brands at DMEXCO in Cologne, Germany, one of Europe’s largest marketing and technology conferences. Like AI, voice is a hot topic these days. And for good reason.
Amazon recently announced a long list of new Alexa-enabled devices, such as a clock, microwave and a camera, and they have 45,000 skills on their platform. At IO this year, Google announced Duplex, an AI-powered and very human-sounding assistive technology.
It might appear that voice is the next big thing, but that’s not the case. Talking is not the new typing. While Amazon has sold 50 million smart speakers, only 2 percent of them have been used to buy something, according to a report by The Information. In a survey commissioned by BrightEdge, only 22 percent of global marketers said voice search would be a big deal in 2018. There’s a lot of curiosity but very little investment.
However, that doesn’t mean you should wait it out. Now’s the time to develop a voice strategy if you don’t want to be left behind. Here are five things you should consider when developing one.
Experiment with purpose
The promise of voice is that it enables an intimate and conversational relationship between brands and people. In theory, it helps us create stronger bonds with customers. To ensure that happens, it has to support your brand purpose, solve a real problem for people and be something that’s uniquely suited for voice. If you don’t consider these things, you’ll end up with something that no one wants and does nothing for your brand, which explains the vast majority of skills and actions today. It can be simple, but whatever you make has to enhance your brand and customer experience in a real and purposeful way.
Use it as a storytelling channel
Smart speakers aren’t great at search. You only get a single result. If it’s wrong, you have to start all over again. You also can’t see the result. Instead of looking at voice as a sales channel, we should be thinking about it as a brand-building tool. It’s always good to be useful, but we should put more focus on entertainment.
One of my favorite newer skills, Away Mode from the insurance company Hippo, does that. It plays awkward and lengthy conversations when you leave your home to help keep intruders away. While I’m not sure how effective it will be at actually stopping crime, it’s a great PR idea and has the potential to create brand preference. If you want people to engage, make it fun and entertaining.
Voice isn’t just smart speakers
According to Google, nearly 20 percent of searches on Android devices are done through voice. Smart speakers are proliferating, but we should also consider the computer in our pockets. Our phones are actually much more capable than voice-first devices. They are visual, connect us to people and content and tell us where to go.
When developing a strategy, don’t overlook mobile. That means thinking more critically about context. When and where will your customers be searching for you? How can your mobile experience change and evolve to accommodate voice? Where there’s an interface, there’s an opportunity for voice. As the technology gets smarter and people get more comfortable with it, we will see greater adoption. You should not only optimize for it but also have magical and easy-to-use mobile experiences that consider voice.
Think beyond big tech
Just as we should be considering mobile, we should also not just think about Amazon and Google. Your customers use their platforms, so you need to be there, but you should also create unique experiences that don’t fully rely on their technology.
Take a page from DTC companies and do things for your customers that only you can. It’s easy to imagine text-based services like Dirty Lemon and Digit evolving to voice-first experiences. You, too, should think about what parts of your customer experience make sense to migrate to voice, and your first impulse shouldn’t be to think about how big tech can help enable it. As voice becomes more pervasive, you want to have your own voice-enabled products and tools. It will allow you to better know and service your customers.
Make one skill or action
There are a lot of bad and unused actions and skills out there. Some will tell you that they are a waste of time and money, adoption is too hard or the user behavior is not there. Instead they will recommend that you partner with popular publishers. That’s smart, but you also need to participate more deeply and make a skill or an action. It will force you to learn, and if you make something remotely interesting, it will also begin to put your brand in a conversational context with customers. Domino’s didn’t become a technology juggernaut overnight; their digital transformation took over 10 years.
Voice is not the next big thing, but it will be a bigger deal as voice devices proliferate, 5G comes online and the user experience improves. Don’t be standing still when that happens. Kids treat virtual assistants like friends. They are your future customers. Innovation takes time, so start planning, experimenting and building for them now.