In the dog-eat-dog world that is corporate America, brands are ever on the lookout for how to differentiate themselves from the competition.
Now, brands are exploring the next frontier in marketing: voice-activated content, known to the layman as smart speakers—your Amazon Echos, Google Homes, Apple HomePods. Voice-activated content offers a rare opportunity to become the answer to the question: Where can I not just differentiate, but dominate?
In the United States alone, nearly as many Americans own a smart speaker (53 million, or 21%) as there are Catholics (23%), and there are 118 million smart speakers in homes across the country today, according to a recent webinar led by Jay Baer, founder of Convince and Convert. By comparison, Baer said, there are 90 million dogs in homes across America.
“One thing I haven’t heard in my career is, ‘Dogs are a niche,’” he said.
What Does That Mean for Marketers?
Voice-activated content is a marketing tool CMOs should be leveraging. Done well, it is the most easily accessible content for customers. And projections indicate market penetration is accelerating: 75% of American adults are expected to own a smart speaker by 2025.
The way people interact with smart speakers is unique to forms of search. Someone Googling where to get dinner might reduce a query to three or four typed keywords: “best dinner nearby.” But someone engaging with a smart speaker will use long-tail keywords, or speak in a full sentence: “Where’s a good place to eat around here?”
Part of what’s driving the fast adoption of smart speakers is convenience. People who use smart speakers often are multitasking – whether asking Siri to make a phone call while driving or asking Alexa how many ounces are in a cup (eight) while cooking dinner – and are turning to smart speakers as virtual butlers.
This is how it works: When prompted by a question or request (the “invocation phrase”), Alexa, Google, Siri, etc., will react or visit their own “skills store” for an answer. Alexa allows for multiple invocation phrase owners, so the answer to the question, “Where’s a good place to eat around here?” may yield multiple answers.
Google, however, only allows for one invocation phrase owner, meaning that if a brand is the first to create an answer to an invocation phrase, it would be the only answer to that phrase. With half of searches projected to take place through this platform next year, this means either huge opportunity or, for those who aren’t first to the finish line, getting benched for life.
How should marketers begin? A big challenge is how to craft a skill or invocation phrase so that the answer to the invocation phrase is your business. Baer lists five steps to creating voice-activated content:
- Identify your target audience. Understanding your customers (voice-activated content is best used to deepen existing relationships rather than acquire new ones, Baer says) and their needs is paramount. What does your audience want? What is its demographic composition? How can you make your voice-activated content valuable compared to content accessible on your other platforms? Having a targeted audience enables effective content.
- Determine your content strategy. Since the majority of voice searches are driven by immediate need (“what’s the weather doing?” or “who’s singing this song?”), you may want to consider developing paths to short answers, a la FAQ pages. Or maybe your company’s strategy is to tease content and drive users to your website. Decide how your content will address your specific audience’s needs.
- Plan conversational paths through skills/actions. Content strategy will help inform what your invocation phrase(s) should be. But as a caveat: many skills are developed that don’t end up making it into Amazon’s skills store, for example. It may take a few tries before one sticks.
- Test and launch the skill/action. Crucial to the success of a skill or action is user-friendliness. The easier it is to remember your invocation phrase—and, by extension, your invocation name, or the words used to invoke your brand—the more likely it is your content will get accessed and your brand gain traction.
- Promote your voice-activated content. This last step is crucial. Most people assume that a company has some sort of website, but smart speaker technology is still young enough that user awareness is somewhat low. Companies will need to promote that they have a voice-activated content presence.
If I, a late adopter and borderline luddite, can be a barometer for anything, then voice-activated content is going to be big. Alexa so quickly established itself (herself?) as a staple in my life that I registered my interest in the fall of 2018 for Echo Auto (Alexa for your car). The technology is by invitation only and, nearly a year later, I’m still checking my email to see if my invitation has arrived (am I on your GPS, Bezos?).
But as far as exploring voice-activated content goes, don’t wait for an invitation. It’s a dog-eat-dog world but the players are still puppies.