Should some brands be saying no to Alexa?

Black Friday will see Amazon make another push to get its Echo device into consumers' homes, building its customer base in the face of growing competition from the likes of Google Home and Apple HomePod.

We saw this during Prime Day and we’ll see it again at Christmas.

It will also trigger many brand owners to start asking their teams and agencies, once again, "shouldn't we be making a skill for Alexa?" After all, marketers are frequently reading that developing “skills” for the Amazon Echo can be a game-changer for brands. There’s a fear of missing out.

But brands eager to join the rush to produce voice-enabled experiences should approach with caution and, for some, it might be a matter of recognising that the right choice is to say no to Alexa.

I actually talk from experience, having recently completed an exploratory project for a major client. This project revealed that the technology, in that particular context, is not there yet for a meaningful and worthwhile customer experience.

The client was smart enough to treat this as a discovery project, effectively saving thousands of pounds in wasted development time had they commissioned a full build.

Of course, for some, developing an Alexa Skill can be a hugely positive investment. Dominos, Uber and Capital One have all reported early success stories. We’ve found, through creating an Alexa skill of our own, ‘The Higher Lower Game’, that our design and engineering teams have developed new skills in meeting these emerging voice-driven needs.

For many, creating an Alexa skill is a natural evolution of their customer proposition. But our experience is showing us that it’s vital that the time and investment is made up front to explore whether voice-enable experiences are suitable for significant digital investment.

It’s an exciting space – and so it’s impossible not to fall in love with an idea when you think it has potential. The hard work is in finding out if people would actually use it and whether the technology is sufficiently mature - and then letting go if you don’t find the answers you’re looking for.

We see so many businesses still approaching this type of work with an end product in mind, rather than viewing it as an experiment. It’s hard from an agency perspective too, as an answer of ‘not yet’ can feel like a failure; but sometimes the right thing to do next is to do nothing at all.

It doesn’t just end with Alexa. In our experience, this is the right approach when tackling any big problem on behalf of a business. You have to be always ready to capitalise on the next piece of technology as it emerges – and ready to say no if you need to.

Tom Bradley is design director at Code Computerlove

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