Smart Speakers & Co: Voice tech for Communicators

Smart Speakers & Co: Voice tech for Communicators
9. November 2018 Falk Rehkopf

Smart Speakers & Co: Voice tech for Communicators

Alexa, Cortana, Siri, Amazon Echo, Google Home – home voice assistants and smart speakers are now everywhere. Given that consumers and businesses are increasingly utilising voice assistants and smart speakers to conduct searches, shop, work, email, access media and discover new products and services, it’s important for brands and publishers alike to step up their efforts and create content tailored to these devices. In this article, we explore the growing importance of voice tech for communicators and share several tips that will help you harness the power of voice technology.

What’s Voice tech?

Voice technology, in essence, refers to voice recognition software; this is a machine’s ability to receive and interpret dictation and to carry out spoken commands. Voice tech is used in many applications, including voice assistants and smart speakers. Now, let’s take a second to define voice assistants and smart speakers as well. First up, a voice assistant platform is a software that aids users in their day-to-day life using voice recognition, natural language processing and speech synthesis techniques. Smart speakers, on the other hand, are smart audio playback devices that come equipped with voice assistants. In a nutshell: consumers can utilise voice assistants on their smartphones or they can utilise these same assistants via smart speakers. Currently, the few voice assistants available include Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant and, as a newer contestant, Baidu’s Duer. Popular smart speakers which consumers use (in conjunction with these assistants!) include Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple Homepod.

The rise of voice tech

The way we see it, voice tech is on the tipping point of going mainstream, with consumers having access to more options than ever. When it comes to smart speakers, Amazon’s Echo range is currently leading the market but it’s only available in select countries including the US, UK, Germany and Australia. Other contenders include the Google Home and Google Assistant which will be launched in over 30 countries this year. Apple recently launched its HomePod – with HomePod 2 in the works – and South Korea’s tech conglomerates, Naver and Kakao, have churned out their own devices as well. As for voice assistants, Siri owns a whopping 46% of the mobile voice assistant market in the US while Google Assistant currently owns about 29%.

Publishers and broadcasters are getting in on the game

Voice tech is pretty game-changing and as such it’s important for media publishers, marketers and communicators to adapt their strategies to this new technology. At the end of 2017, the BBC launched its first full voice service for smart speakers which brought the broadcaster’s full range of live radio stations – including all local, national and international radio as well as all podcasts – to smart speaker users for the first time. National Public Radio, which is a non-profit membership media organisation based in Washington, D.C., has already recruited six people dedicated to producing content for voice assistants. Then there’s the New York Times, who currently has an open job offer for a voice editor who will be tasked with getting the New York Times on voice-enabled devices. In November 2018, the U.K.’s Guardian News & Media announced the launch of Guardian Voice Lab – ‘an in-house team dedicated to experimenting with storytelling and delivering journalism through smart speakers and interactive audio‘. In December 2018, after working with around 130 publishers for almost a year, Google launched a voice-driven version of Google News for smart speakers and phones. “We are combining Google News with the interactivity and voice experience of Google Assistant,” said Liz Gannes, a former reporter and lead for this project.

Voice as a part of the marketing & communication mix

Some marketers and PR pros might dismiss voice tech as just another distribution channel to add to their current marketing and communication mix. That couldn’t be more wrong: these devices have established themselves as essential in people’s everyday life. In 2018, about 22% of internet users worldwide will use a smart speaker at least once a month with only slightly more users engaging with their voice assistants via smartphones than via speakers.

Alexa, How Do People Use Digital Assistants? by eMarketer

In the latest episode of eMarketer’s “Behind the Numbers” podcast, forecasting analyst Jaimie Chung breaks down the data for personal assistants like Alexa, Siri and others. What are people using the services for? What are the implications for marketers?

It took TV 14 years to be as popular and as successful as smart speakers are now after just 6 years. These are only a few of the many reasons why marketers and PR should leverage on smart speakers. That said, voice tech opens up a world of opportunities and allows marketing and PR professionals to reach out to consumers in a way that’s exponentially more effective than what current platforms and channels can offerRead on about the opportunities and risks of voice tech to find out more!

Voice tech as a strategy: opportunities and risks

First and foremost, voice tech presents marketers and PR professionals with an excellent opportunity to service and sell directly to consumers. The beauty of voice tech is that it allows companies to remove friction from the buying process. Your consumer could be working out on the treadmill or cooking dinner — and they can still speak to their voice assistant and instruct it to check out items from a virtual shopping cart: 

The numbers don’t lie: 31% of users are more on Amazon and Google since getting their smart speakers. Today, voice shopping generates roughly $2 billion worth of revenue per year but seeing that this technology is still relatively new, OC&C Strategy Consultants forecasts that the figure will climb to a whopping $40 billion by 2022. There’s plenty of revenue to go around, so make sure you start tweaking your communication strategies to capitalise on voice tech (and voice shopping)! On the flip side, while there is a great deal of hype going on about voice tech, the fact remains that this technology isn’t accessible to everyone. Bearing this in mind, there’s a definite risk of companies or PR professionals getting overexcited and diverting all their resources to producing content suitable for voice, only to realise that this simply isn’t a good fit for their target group. To get around this, be sure to do a deep-dive on the respective target audiences and identify whether they do (or whether they have the potential to) use voice tech on a day-to-day basis. If the target audience isn’t tech-savvy and avoid smart speakers like the plague, then it might make sense to give newer voice tech strategies a miss and continue with your tried-and-tested methods instead.

Examples of voice-related communication campaigns

There are plenty of companies who have already jumped on the voice tech bandwagon and launched voice-related communication campaigns. For example, Vogue started creating exclusive content for Google Home users back in 2017. The writers at Vogue developed voice content to accompany some stories included in their print magazine and consumers could simply speak to their Google Home devices and say, “Okay Google, ask Vogue to tell me more about Jennifer Lawrence” to unlock a backstage audio piece related to Jennifer Lawrence’s interview.

Earlier this year, Netflix also launched an interactive audio drama to promote its television series, Lost in Space. The audio adventure featured a fun branched narrative that utilised multiple-choice questions and answers and consumers could access it via the Google Assistant. But, as Burger King discovered, it is easy to cross lines while experimenting with voice tech. The company ran a TV ad which after showing it auto-connected to viewers’ Google Home device – a hack which annoyed Google.

Voice tech strategies: best practices

1. Create, sponsor or advertise on a podcast

Podcasting used to be a predominantly North-American phenomenon but this isn’t the case anymore. The podcast industry has grown to a point where you can now find podcasts in 100+ different languages, produced by people from across the world. Now that smart speakers are making it easier for people to consume and listen to podcasts, it gives companies an excellent opportunity to either create, sponsor or advertise podcasts to increase brand exposure. On that note: a recall study of 11,123 podcast listeners found that 80% could recall at least one brand advertised in an episode, 67% could recall a specific product feature or promotion and 51% were more likely to buy from the advertised brand. If it isn’t already obvious, advertising on podcasts is a highly effective approach!

2. Develop an Alexa Skill

When it comes to smart speakers, Amazon has a 61% market share. If you want to reach out to a huge, ever-growing pool of Echo users, the best way to do this is to create an Alexa Skill, which is basically an app that provides consumers with weather reports, traffic updates, cooking tips, exercise tips, etc. Domino’s, Starbucks and Uber have all created Alexa Skills and if you want to join in, you’re more than welcome — 8 in 10 smart speaker owners are open to using Skills and features created by brands.

3. Double up your SEO activities with VSO: Voice Search Optimisation

SEO may have been the key focus for digital marketers and PR pros for the past decade or so, but the spotlight is now on Voice Search Optimisation (VSO). We’ve written about VSO in an earlier post here in our blog. If you haven’t already started incorporating VSO into your strategy, it’s time to do so now. Statistics show that 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020. While voice searches will never completely eradicate traditional screen-based searches, it will significantly change the way that the average person consumes content. For PR pros looking to get started with VSO, it’s important to understand how voice searches work.

4. Voice tech is also about B2B

Voice tech is not only about B2C as there are many B2B applications also. Voice opens up new opportunities by which businesses can engage with and support customers and employees. Communication specialists should ask themselves if voice tech can help to increase the frequency of customer interactions or if it can help to create and communicate important aspects of the brand.

Outlook of voice tech

Smart speakers are beginning to take over our households – and they’re definitely here to stay. Consider this: 73% of owners report that their children living at home make use of their Amazon Alexa or Google Home unit. On top of that, consumers who already own smart speakers are propelling the next wave of adoption, with 61% of new smart speaker owners actively encouraging their friends to purchase a device. Also, given the potential the technology holds within the B2B space, for example, to advise, guide and engage with suppliers and clients in a potentially more effective and personal way than ever before, we recommend for marketers and PR pros to start capitalising on all the opportunities that voice tech presents and incorporate it into their communication strategies.

Chief Marketing Officer