Voice-controlled devices are today’s hottest technology.
Amazon Alexa now has more than 15,000 skills (which can range from basic functions to more robust experiences, akin to apps.) And each day, we’re hearing about new capabilities or big announcements for similar devices. Apple, for one, will release a Siri-based HomePod this fall.
As a content marketer, you should be keeping your ears (and eyes) open to these new audio channels to ensure that your brand voice is heard.
“If a brand doesn’t have a presence on voice platforms, then they are literally silent when a consumer asks to engage with them,” says Bret Kinsella, Editor and Publisher of Voicebot.ai, a publication about the voice and AI revolution.
Are you ready to be an early adopter and develop audio content to expand your reach? If so, listen up: Here’s what you need to know about the voice-controlled device space.
The State of Voice
Voicebot estimates that about 16 million Amazon Echo were sold by June 2017, with potentially another 2 to 3 million sold during Prime Day. Amazon still has the biggest market share, around 80 percent, according to Kinsella, with Google Home as the only major competitor. At least until Apple enters the field.
Because the industry is still relatively new, now is a good time to start thinking about breaking in. Coming up with a content strategy isn’t all that different from creating one for other emerging platforms, like Snapchat or Facebook Live. (Remember when everyone was making Vines?)
“Many of the considerations are the same at a high level – objectives, audience, cadence – but there are some nuances to voice,” says Kinsella.
As Peter Horst, founder of CMO Inc., shares in Forbes, consumers are less prone to remember audio-only messages, versus audio-visual stimuli. “So minute for minute, audio marketing needs to work harder to reinforce and build upon brand assets that can be aurally conveyed. Music, sound effects, branded tones, and voice talent will need to be strategically used to help drive lasting memories,” he says.
Kinsella agrees: “Rich audio content that is recorded and uses voice actors and music provide the best consumer experience.”
In other words, brands need to think beyond reading off a script or using a robotic voice to reach consumers. They need to think of engaging concepts that will promote ongoing interactions.
That’s why if you don’t have in-house resources to create high-quality audio content, Kinsella suggests that brands work with an experienced agency. Amazon even recommends a few. This can result in a higher-quality product at a lower cost.
For ambitious brands looking to go it alone, Amazon has an Alexa Skills Kit right on its developer site with step-by-step instructions for creating and launching skills.
Examples of Content on Voice-Controlled Devices
Some brands have already jumped in and created interactive Alexa skills. Here’s a look at a few:
By asking Alexa, “What’s my flash briefing?” or “What’s the news?” users can get a quick, daily curation of news and content from providers of their choosing. Besides obvious outlets like CNN and the New York Times, brands offering daily content include:
Disney: This Day in Disney History gives devotees of the mouse brand trivia to go along with their weather and traffic updates. For instance, on July 21, 1954, construction began on Disneyland – in case you were wondering.
BuzzFeed News: Just last month, the digital publisher launched “Reporting To You,” a daily news and culture debrief for Alexa users. Listeners get an audio roundup of the day’s most important items straight from a BuzzFeed reporter. “We wanted to make something that stood out, sounded different and – most importantly – sounded human,” said Eleanor Kagan, Director of Audio for BuzzFeed News, in a Poynter.org article. “I think this is a natural extension of the work BuzzFeed does to reach people on the platform…what we value here is experimenting on different platforms, and this seems like an ideal place to do that.”
Games and Trivia
Dunkirk: To promote the release of the World War II movie “Dunkirk,” this Amazon skill offers an interactive experience, featuring voice acting and music. It’s sort of like a “choose your own adventure” story. You pick a character you want to portray (an infantryman, RAF pilot, or tank commander), and then you guide the action. It definitely goes beyond just listening.
Food and Recipes
Johnnie Walker: For whiskey lovers and novices alike who want to learn about their favorite bottles, this skill actually performs a guided tasting. You’ll have to BYOB, of course, but Alexa will lead the way providing insight for every sip, serving tips, and more.
Hellman’s: There are lots of food brands with recipe skills, but this one stands out because it gives Alexa users multiple ways to find recipes. You can match recipes based on the ingredients you have on hand or browse ideas. From a marketing standpoint, what’s smart is that you’ll get an email with a link to your chosen recipe. This is a great way to message customers who are actively seeking your content.
And Then There’s Video
With the release of Amazon Echo Show, which features a video screen, brands have yet another content avenue to explore: voice-enabled video content. People and the Food Network were recently among the first to release shows for the device. People’s is actually a video flash briefing for Amazon’s brand new Echo Show.
This goes to show how quickly this platform is evolving, so consider that before you go all-in on developing just audio content.
“Multi-modal engagement will be increasingly important,” says Kinsella. “This means you might start with voice, but at some point there is a text response or visual display to complement the voice experience.”
SEO Opportunities with Google Home
Although voice is still a small part of the search market as of now, SEO-savvy marketers can surface their brands on voice-controlled devices.
On the upside, many SEO best practices that you’re already using will carry over into the voice space.
“My 12-year-old son has been using voice search for YouTube for the past four years, but there’s still an algorithm behind it,” says Michael Kirchhoff, Senior Director of Content at the SEO platform BrightEdge, during a recent webinar. “So if you’re using keyword phrases your audience is searching for, and using varieties of these keywords, you’ll still be found.”
However, there are some nuances. Voice-controlled devices will usually just highlight one answer to a user’s question. Google Home, for example, is a single-result search device. To rank as that answer, your brand would have to be the authoritative search result. Google’s “featured snippets,” also known as “Google Answer Boxes,” were designed for this purpose, explains the Moz.com blog. So if you want to try optimizing for voice, focus your efforts on getting your content into featured snippets. (Here’s our primer for how content marketers can do so.)
E-commerce companies may find success in becoming the top product recommendation for Amazon Alexa voice ordering.
Overall, there’s no doubt that voice-controlled devices are gaining in popularity, and offering brands yet another entry point into the homes and everyday lives of consumers. Determining if it’s worth it to invest in content marketing for voice – in the same way you have to decide which social channels are worthy of your resources – really depends on your overall brand strategy.
If your target audience is likely to be an adopter of a voice-enabled device, if you’re looking for a new channel to reach customers, and if it’s within your means to create high-quality audio content on an ongoing basis, it could be a worthwhile experiment.
Though Kinsella believes it’s more of a question of “when” than “if.”
“It is much like the early days of the web,” he says. “Every company realized at some point that it needed a website. They are now realizing they need a voice application or applications to connect with consumers across platforms.”
Dawn Papandrea is a NewsCred Contributor.