Keeping your brand visible (and audible) in the age of Alexa

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The popularity of voice-activated assistants in the home is continuing to grow.

Recently, I’ve been attending conferences and seminars where predictions for the year ahead are presented and debated.

One prediction frequently discussed is the growth of voice-activated assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home. Devices which are set to put millions of products just a few words away and potentially cut brands out of the conversation altogether. So will 2017 be the year we switch from tapping and typing on touch-screens to simply shouting commands at electrical appliances?

There’s no doubt we’ll see growth in this area. By January 2015 about 125,000 households in the US had Alexa, by May 2016 this had shot up to 1.75million. But there are still a few barriers to overcome before it becomes ubiquitous, like physically owning a device, the technology working flawlessly, users being comfortable interacting with it, trusting it in terms of accuracy and security and finding truly effective uses for it. Apple’s Siri is now five years old. Personally I still find it easier to fire up the weather app on my iPhone to see whether I need to grab a brolly as I leave the house.

There’s little doubt though that growth in voice searches poses a threat to brands by increasing their risk of becoming ‘invisible’. A point that highlights the importance of data and CRM in nurturing a channel of communication to deliver a seamless customer experience.

I can't hear you

So, why the risk of brands becoming ‘invisible’? Well, when you perform a voice search there’s only one response, not the usual list of options you’d see if searching by fingertips. Nor do you see the product, price or brand of what you want. Choice is substituted for sheer convenience. That’s the pay off for removing a layer of friction from the hassle of buying stuff.

Also, when voice searching, commonly the brand is omitted from the question. You’re more likely to ask “where’s my nearest coffee shop” than “where’s my nearest Costa Coffee”. Indeed, evidence suggests category searches are more popular than brand searches. To combat this, marketers need to create a channel to the consumer and nurture that – and quickly before your consumers happily delegate buying decisions to Alexa and co.

Delivering a relevant and personal customer experience that makes people feel special is more important than ever. A connection that proves you truly get them on a human level. Such as TalkTalk’s voice recognition service, TalkSafe. Essentially a voice fingerprint that verifies your identity when calling customer services. This bypasses the need for remembering the answers to security questions, speeds things up, is more secure and overcomes a number of customer frustrations.

And how about the role of data and CRM? It’s imperative that brands have all their ‘search’ data accurate, up-to-date and relevant to ensure they have a fighting chance of being the one and only winner of voice searches.

It’s also critical that brands can match the convenience and speed of voice search. Your customer experience has to be seamless, work across devices and enable consumers to get what they want quickly and hassle-free. Whether that’s finding their nearest coffee shop or ordering a last minute birthday present.

If you think all of this seems a distant reality, the truth is it won’t be long until devices you can’t talk to look as outdated as screens you can’t tap and swipe.

And if you are going to delve into the world of voice activated devices just keep an eye on your kids. A recent news article in the US reported that parents of a six-year old girl were surprised when a $160 dolls house appeared on the doorstep. Their daughter simply told them, “Alexa ordered it for me!”

Russ Groombridge is a CRM and insight consultant at Intermarketing Agency

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