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Promises and pitfalls of voice technology in marketing

30-second summary:

  • Users are in every possible way trying to avoid advertising noise, by blocking ads, using browser add-ons, not to mention the “banner blindness” phenomenon.
  • The struggle for advertising space continues, the price tag is going up, but the effect is wearing off.
  • This is where voice technology has emerged on the scene for marketing with convenience and reinvention of the user experience.
  • Nike’s real-time voice assistant helped get 3,000 requests per second for a new sneaker model, introduced at an NBA basketball game in collaboration with R/GA, RAIN and even earned them three Cannes Lions awards.
  • Some other successful executions of voice technology include the “Alexa, Share a Coke” ad campaign in Australia,  DKNY, and other such biggies.
  • However, it involves challenges like the inability to track metrics and a few more which are discussed further.

In the world of advertising, the competition for consumer attention is fierce – especially now when all methods of attracting attention have already been tried and all creative solutions have been invented. That’s when technologies come into play, there are new platforms for user interaction (smartphones with push notifications, applications, and the works), new forms of brand communication (AR/VR), and new ways of accessing the target audience (assistants and speakers are a hot trend).

In today’s era of universal digitalization, marketers are working hard to reach the internet audience. But users are in every possible way trying to avoid advertising noise – by blocking ads, using browser add-ons, not to mention the “banner blindness” phenomenon (when a person at a subconscious level knows the place of advertising and automatically excludes these areas from their attention focus). The struggle for advertising space continues, the price tag is going up, but the effect is wearing off.

This is where digital assistants and smart speakers emerge on the scene, with:

  • Their re-invented user experience
  • The convenience of voice control
  • The immersive effect of being present in the most beneficial place – the consumer’s home
  • And enormous prospects for attracting a financially sound audience

Do brands want to use smart speakers and digital assistants as a new communication channel to reach the right audience? Sure they do. And the pioneers will get all the loot.

Nike’s sensational example

Nike’s campaign featuring a real-time voice assistant sale of a new sneaker model, introduced at an NBA basketball game in collaboration with R/GA, RAIN earned them three Cannes Lions awards.

But it is not only about the prestigious award, rather than the new potential sales channel that Nike got (3,000 requests per second was the load on the system during the campaign). This is the success others would certainly like to repeat.

What are some other cases for using voice technology in marketing?

1. Gamification and ‘send-me-a-sample’ campaigns

This works especially well for children’s products and for any FMCG brands in general. Coca Cola has recently launched the “Alexa, Share a Coke” ad campaign in Australia, encouraging people to ask Amazon’s voice assistant for a free personalized bottle of Coke to be delivered to them. Last summer, DKNY held a similar campaign, offering perfume samples to users of Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa who asked a voice assistant for a sample.  At the same time, our statistics say that when a brand launches two different skills, one of which is a product placement embedded into gaming content, while the other is direct advertising of goods and services, the second one is usually worse at gaining traction and has much lower ratings.

2. Branded skills and content for voice assistants

This is a perfect channel for copyright holders, to create anticipation before a movie or book release you can create a branded skill for a virtual voice assistant – we at Just AI implemented such a case for the game launch “Detroit: Become Human” (8,000 queries per day and increased product awareness). 

One of the best examples of high-quality audio content is HBO, from their award-winning Maze Alexa skill Westworld to Esme & Roy adventure game – both launched to promote eponymous shows. In December 2019, Disney launched an Amazon’s Alexa skill to offer an exclusive behind-the-scenes peek at “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” before the movie’s release. With the monetization capabilities of Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa, it’s also an opportunity to earn extra money on voice games for smart speakers.

3. Embracing voice commerce

Making a purchase using only voice beats even Amazon one-click ordering. So, as voice technologies mature, more companies view it as a new sales channel: Papa Johns’ skill allows you to order pizza through the voice assistant Alice, McDonald’s also has a similar skill. In December 2019, British florist Interflora became the first retailer in the country to launch its voice commerce Alexa skill, enabling its customers to voice-order flowers. Moreover, US drivers with Alexa-enabled cars will soon be able to ask the voice assistant to pay for the fuel, without needing a card at Exxon and Mobil gas stations. Considering the fact that some 20% of smart speaker owners use them for shopping-related activities of some sort, we’re sure to see more companies enter the voice commerce game.

What possible pitfalls could voice technology have in marketing?

1. Voice technology is in its infancy

While the industry is growing at unprecedented speed, it’s still the dawn of the voice era. So due to the novelty of the technology, some people may be reluctant to use it, while the lack of strong expertise in the skills development can hinder content production. Just like in any growing market, you need to convey the value of new technology to the audience through content: demonstrate cases and best practices.

2. Tracking voice skills metrics is challenging

As said above, voice is an early platform, so it’s not likely to skyrocket ROI in the first place. The definition of an effective voice campaign may depend on the voice assistant you’re using. Sometimes, to track the necessary metrics, integrations with internal systems are necessary, but digital assistants rarely allow for such integrations. Here it’s important to understand the capabilities and limitations of the new technologies.

3. The audience is still limited

Right now digital voice assistants are mostly used by people under 35, but gradually the audience will become wider since people over 55 are starting to show interest. Besides, voice-first technology holds much promise for older adults – among all other things it helps reduce loneliness among older people, a study finds. And both Amazon and Google have been extensively creating child-friendly content for their voice assistants.

To sum it all up, voice-first technology creates blue ocean opportunities for marketers: companies can either learn from success stories or look for their own niche offerings. But since voice tech is still young, brands need to pair their voice efforts with other marketing activities  – just like the aforementioned Nike did. 

Yulia Ryzhikh is a Chief Marketing Officer at Just AI, who builds natural conversational experiences since 2011. Today Just AI are focusing on business processes automation via voice assistants, chatbots and AI-powered dialog systems. They build engaging voice and text-based interfaces through rich content and awesome development tools.

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