Voice technology is here. Now what?
How are marketers and creatives placing their bets when it comes to investing in voice technology? How do they budget for investment in creative tech, and is there the pressure to use it regardless of whether the consumer is there or not? John Campbell, managing director and founder of Rabbit and Pork, talks about these issues.
What do we do in this brave new era of voice?
One of the major draws of emerging and creative technology for brands is the ‘new factor’; the opportunity to be the first company to launch on a new platform – to boldly go where no brand has gone before.
As with any new tech development in its infancy, when voice surfaced as the latest creative tech innovation, it was hard to predict whether the platform would yield results for brands. However, the voice landscape has boomed in recent years due to its intrinsic link to traditional web search, a shift in consumer demands and major investment and hardware releases from Google and Amazon. Both giants have also opened up their platforms for companies to create their own voice apps called Google Actions and Alexa Skills. Other players are also getting involved, for instance Samsung opened up their Bixby virtual assistant to developers, allowing them to create a Bixby Capsule, Samsung’s version of the Action / Skill.
Putting your money where your mouth is – do brands actually have budget for voice?
The new voice app products have provided brands with a more relatable channel, with visible results, to invest time and money into. For example, the voice experience created through them could be a content marketing push, a utility, a customer service or a way to consume the brand’s product.
However, as with any new technology, brands are cautious with the amount of budget and time they invest, with most of the money being pulled from limited ‘innovation’ allocations. Many brands are currently keen to learn and ready to run experiments but are cautious about taking the next step. The current route most brands experimenting with voice are taking is the following:
- Launch a voice app that performs a simple task
- Track usage and gather user feedback
- Regroup to understand what has worked and what hasn’t and build a plan for moving forward
While it is necessary to tread carefully with new tech innovations, it’s also crucial to think long-term. Dave Isbitski, chief Alexa and Echo evangelist at Amazon, often speaks about a having a one-year and a five-year plan. What can you do now with an Alexa Skill and then what could be the vision in five years for your brand?
One of the other draws for brands to deploy a voice app sooner rather than later is the idea of becoming the default option for generic searches. Voice searches on both Google and Alexa devices tend to only read out one result, so the reward for being that one result is obviously very high.
There’s also the chance to become the default skill for certain requests. A good example of this is the BBC’s Good Food skill on Alexa. As one of the first ‘recipe’ Alexa Skills released, Alexa now defaults most recipe related searches to the skill, driving non-brand searches into the BBC’s voice experience.
How to get started – options to consider when investing in new technology
Regardless of the medium (whether it be VR, Voice, Podcasts, or a new social platform), the same methodology can be followed.
Option 1 - Limited scope on initial launch then expand
Launch with a limited set of functionalities, with a view to launch more features in the long term. For example, an ecommerce brand could launch a voice app which solely allows the user to check the status of existing orders. If results are positive, the brand might then invest more into adding functionality which allows in-app purchasing.
Virgin Trains launched an Alexa Skill which at first allowed customers to enquire about rail information. Seven months later, and after initial success, the Skill was updated to allow users to purchase tickets. Since then, the results continued to be positive: “The average time it takes to book a ticket online is seven minutes […] and we've got the booking time down to two minutes on the Alexa Skill,” said John Sullivan, chief information officer at Virgin Trains.
Option 2 - Launch a trial period
If you are unable to commit to a longer-term project, then launch for a specific period of time. For example, a brand may not be able to commit to launching a weekly podcast for a year. Instead they could commit to just six episodes and launch as Season One of the podcast. If successful, Season Two could then follow.
Healthcare podcast – A healthcare provider launched a new podcast; the success of the podcast was going to be hard to predict due to the nature of the medium. As such, a decision was made only to make the first six episodes. It was apparent after the first few weeks of the podcast being live, that it was a success, judging by the feedback received and the uptake of subscriptions. Armed with this data, the brand felt comfortable committing more budget towards further episodes being produced.
Option 3 - Unbranded / Prototype
Often for brands, half the battle of creating and launching into a new technical platform is getting sign off from brand, marketing or compliance teams. This is often harder with new platforms as people are afraid of the unknown. In order to overcome this potential barrier, an option here is to start by pushing something live under the guise of a ‘faux’ brand. Learnings can then be gained and can help you to build a use case for getting the real sign off for release.
Credit finance voice app – There are several non-branded finance related Google Actions developed by a start-up in the US. From an outside perspective it is possible to see that the company have been experimenting with different formats, from quote engines to calculators. The company may be using these non-brand experiences to gain understandings on how users interact with these tools, before creating an experience for a brand.
Alternatively, a prototype for internal usage, which although might not have all the bells and whistles of the final product, can be a more cost and time effective way to test and produce in a similar way.
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