I used to be a voice-assistant skeptic. Then I met Alexa, and now I believe in the potential of an ambient computing future. Imagine a computing platform that extends beyond the smartphone in your pocket, to a network of web-connected devices – the Internet of Things. Not only do these devices talk to each other, they talk with and to you, and carry out all your assorted commands and tasks.
In the past five years, we’ve seen a proliferation of virtual voice assistants, including, but not limited to:
- Alexa (Amazon)
- Bixby (Samsung)
- Cortana (Microsoft)
- Google Assistant (Google)
- Siri (Apple)
All of these services deliver information and experiences through voice interactions with us as the end-users. Where they quickly differentiate is in varying levels of ability to deliver a consistent, compelling response that makes us want to go back and use them again.
Consider Siri, integrated into iPhones by Apple in 2010. Through the sheer presence of being Apple software, Siri was, by many measures, the “first” voice assistant, though that’s debatable from a development standpoint.
This is how many of us used Siri in that first year, asking her to answer a question or perform a task for us:
“Tell me a joke, Siri.”
“Hey Siri, remind me to make coffee in the morning.”
“Siri, what’s the weather supposed to be this afternoon?”
How many of those queries were asked for the sake of novelty or were just simply misfires? It turns out that (as is the case with Google and other platforms) most of them were and still are. As of 2016, 98 percent of iPhone and Android users say they’ve used their respective voice assistants at least once, and just a little more than half say they only use them infrequently at best. Fair or not, the early expectations for voice assistants was set so low that they were seen as a novelty—loaded with potential—but not yet essential.
Enter Alexa in late 2014. Not the first, or even second or third voice assistant, but the first to enter the consumer space independent from any pre-existing hardware or software platforms. Alexa boasts the most accessible developer interface and API access to date, by a wide margin.
Combine Amazon’s low cost for entry (add Alexa to your home for $30) and desire to integrate with just about anything electronic, and you have a voice assistant that’s staked out a substantial claim to the marketplace before the rest have had a chance to take a meaningful second step. Alexa growth and overall usage rates are outpacing its voice-assistant rivals by a considerable margin And, by 2020, end-user spending on voice assistants is projected to be a $2 billion market with $10 billion in revenue.
Brands and products have an opportunity to harness the potential of Alexa into end-user and customer experience journeys that enhance and reaffirm brand loyalty and advocacy. Consider several Alexa skills, which are specific capabilities consumers can add and enable to personalize their Alexa experience:
GLAD recycler (Can I recycle my pizza box?)
AAA restaurants (Tell AAA to find me an Italian restaurant.)
Betty Crocker (What can I use to substitute baking powder?)
Farmer’s Insurance (What’s the status of my claim?)
Capital One (Make a credit card payment.):
Tide (How do I clean a grass stain?)
This is a small sample of the more than 15,000 skills currently available, with savvy brand marketers adding more every day.
Yes, some of these voice actions seem unconventional.
Then again, it used to be absurd to think you could apply for college from a smartphone.
Now is the time to enter and own the voice-assistant landscape – to establish and refine the brand experiences that stand to only evolve and mature over time.
According to Gartner, our job as marketers will increasingly become a function of influencing the abstraction layer (hidden technology) between brands and consumers. How can marketers use Alexa? Think about the possibilities:
- If you are pharma company, users could say, “Alexa, remind me to take my allergy medicine before I mow the lawn at 5 p.m.”
- If you have a pet food brand, consumers could ask, “Alexa, where can I buy more True Chews Dog Treats in town?”
- If you’re a utility company, users could ask, “Alexa, how much is my electric bill this month?” and pay it in the same AI-based conversation.
- If your brand sells active lifestyle clothing or equipment, you could create a customized flash briefing that would provide daily/weekly area hiking trail conditions and weather.
- If you sell beer/wine/spirits, curious foodies could ask Alexa for cocktail recipes and recommended food pairings.
- If you’re a restaurant or food service brand with delivery or carry-out, hungry customers could place an order.
So, for marketers looking to gain a first-move advantage in an area that’s rapidly gaining importance as part of a brand’s connection to consumers, Alexa provides a relatively simple point of entry. Callahan is happy to assist.