Posted: 23 Apr 2019 Contributor: Matthew J Fritschle

How Are Brands Using Smart Speakers for Marketing?

amazon-echo smart speakers

Whether you first encountered it through HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, VIKI in I, Robot, or J.A.R.V.I.S. in Iron Man, voice technology has been a central pillar in the world of science fiction for decades. As an avid SciFi fan myself, I can safely say it’s gotten to the point where we’re pretty much introduced to some sort of computer or artificially intelligent being who can converse intelligently with people with every other franchise that pops up. Well, science fiction it may be, but recent advancements in the world of AI and voice technology have placed us at the cusp of an exchange between “fiction” and “fact.”

As a quick technological overview from ‘a marketer’s guide to voice technology’ that will serve as a basis for our discussion today, the technology behind these advancements can be boiled down to two components:

  1. Speech recognition that converts spoken words into digital words and is measured by its accuracy and speed
  2. Voice recognition that identifies speakers by different features of speech like intonation, pitch and style

Moving forward, we’re going to focus on speech recognition and one of the most important things that came from it: smart speakers.

Read More About: Voice Search Optimization Tips for Your Content Marketing Plan

Smart Speaker Usage and Key Functionalities

Smart speakers come in many shapes and sizes, but the most popular ones by far are the Amazon Echo series featuring Alexa, and the Google Home line sporting Google Assistant. Before we get to the nitty-gritty of these speakers and all they can do, let’s start with some smart speaker statistics to get an overarching picture of the industry and those in it:

  • 74.2 million people in the U.S. use smart speakers, representing 26% of internet users.
  • That’s quite a high number, and explains the smart speaker industry’s rapid expansion from $4.4 billion in 2017, to a projected revenue projection of over $17 billion in 2022.
  • This increased usage and adoption spans ages and generations. In fact, more so than any other technology device, smart speakers have been embraced by Americans in all generations. This means that a smart speaker target market includes people aged from 25 to 55 years old.
  • 48% of first adopters—those have owned a smart speaker for longer than one year—use the device more often now than they did in the first month of ownership. This is even more pronounced amongst newer buyers, 54% of whom say they use their smart speaker more today than they did in the first month.
  • Maybe this is because of the many things smart speakers and the digital assistants that come with them can do. (We’ll get to these in a bit.) After all, 56% of new smart speaker owners have also begun using the voice assistant on their smartphone more often.

Now that we have some facts and figures to contend with, let’s take a detour and talk about some of the cool things smart speakers can do. For starters, because these speakers are paired with digital assistants we’ve grown accustomed to since their introduction in the smartphone market (e.g. Siri and the iPhone), we can do with them most of what we can with phones, i.e. use them as literal voice assistants who can search the web for us and perform certain tasks.

Starting with search, we can ask Alexa and Google Assistant just about anything and get a pretty relevant response from it. Are you curious about the distance between Mars and Jupiter? Ask away. Have you ever wanted to know what the top song in any given country is? No problem, the answer is a question away. What about dad jokes—are you a fan of them? Whether you are or you’re not, you can definitely ask to hear a couple and your smart speaker will be more than glad to oblige.

Like search, you can also ask your smart speakers a multitude of other things like:

  • What's the weather today?
  • What am I doing tomorrow?
  • What's on my shopping list?
  • What is the IMDb rating for [show/movie]?
  • How long is left on the timer?
  • How do you make [recipe]?
  • How do you spell [word]?

Since asking your smart speaker to search for something is technically a command, let’s talk about some of the many commands your speakers can to respond to:

  • Play [artist name]
  • Play the latest [artist name] [album/song]
  • Play [radio station]
  • Set bass to two on sound bar
  • Set the timer for [xx] minutes
  • Open Netflix/Hulu/HBO, etc.
  • Set an alarm for [time]

As part of these commands, you also have the option of connecting other smart appliances around your home to your speakers so you can create an intelligent hub that can all be controlled by the sound of your voice. For example, you can ask Alexa to turn the lights down, Google Assistant to turn the heat up a bit so you can relax without a sweater, and so on and so on. And then there are applications that act like branded questions and commands you can program your speakers to answer to. As to the how, it’s through smart speaker skills and actions. More specifically, Echo devices use Alexa skills, and their Google Home competitors rely on Google Assistant actions. Through these, you can—actually, let’s save that for the next section.

Read More About: How to Use Alexa Skills in Interactive Content Marketing

How Are Brands Using Smart Speakers for Marketing?

And now we arrive at the most pressing part of this post: A discussion on smart speaker marketing that answers our titular question of how are brands using smart speakers? As we begin, a disclaimer has to be made to the effect that we won’t be talking about smart speaker advertising because, as of early April 2019, neither Amazon Echo nor Google Home speakers run paid advertisements. As a matter of fact, Amazon touched on this point on a recent earnings call, saying that it had no immediate plans on venturing into that sector with Alexa. Google Home is in the same boat, and while they appeared to have promoted the live-action movie, “Beauty and the Beast,” on Google Home last year, they claimed to The Verge that that was only a part of its “My Day” feature that summarizes the events of the coming day.

With this in mind, there is something you can do to “bypass” this whole no-ad thing: Buy ad space on podcasts, radio stations, streaming sites and news sources. For example, somewhat similar to Google Home’s “My Day” feature is Amazon Echo’s “Flash Briefing” feature, which narrates the news and other day-to-day information a user wants to hear as part of their routine. Well, by purchasing ad space on any of these channels, you make it more likely that your content will land in front of your target audience.

Okay, now that that’s covered, let’s talk about how most brands are actually using smart speakers to uphold their marketing strategies. Because the ad route is blocked, brands have found they have two options with smart speakers:

  1. Delve into technical to get themselves ranking on voice search results so smart speakers can pull up their answers first
  2. Create Alexa skills and Google Assistant actions that entertain people or provide a service, both of which improve brand recognition and loyalty

1. Getting Technical with Smart Speaker Marketing

With the goal of improving their odds of being pulled up for an Alexa or Google Assistant query, the most popular smart speaker marketing strategy brands employ is to optimize their digital properties for voice search. You can get a full voice search optimization guide here, but for today we’ll compress it into six tips:

  1. Secure your site with HTTPS - HTTPS is the standard for all communication on the web, and Google makes it known that they prefer websites that have made the move and added the extra ‘S’ after HTTP. In fact, 70.4% of voice search result URLs belong to websites that have already adopted HTTPS.
  2. Use structured Data - Structured data, also called schema markup, is metadata that tells web crawlers what the content on a page means. By structuring your data, you make it easy for search engines to go through your content and actually understand its meaning, which provides a richer set of data points that give you more opportunities to be found.
  3. Improve your mobile site speed - With a mobile-first mentality, not only does Google punish slow websites with lower search rankings, but real data also tells us that the average voice result page loads in 4.6 seconds (52% faster than the average page).
  4. Create a FAQ page - Because their content is in the perfect format for voice search—a conversational question followed by a short and concise answer—FAQ pages are practically fodder for smart speakers.
  5. Publish blog posts that answer your user’s questions - Similar to FAQ pages, posts that answer the questions your users are asking are more likely to be pulled up for a voice query.
  6. Use conversational content - People tend to talk with Alexa and Google Assistants as if they, too, are human, which means conversational content that reveals intent.

2. Getting Creative with Skills and Actions

A more relevant tactic for smart speaker marketing is creating applications in the form of skills and actions that smart speaker users can use day in and day out. Many brands used to be more tentative to pursue this course of action in the past because they didn’t think the payoff was worth the investment, but things are different today. Today, more and more users are turning to their smart speakers for help, for news, for entertainment, and for pretty much anything you can think of. For example, consider HBO. Apart from creating general HBO skills/actions that keep you updated with what’s new on their end, they’ve also introduced Westworld: The Maze, as a choose-your-own-adventure-style game for Echo-using “Westworld” fans. The beauty of this and similar applications is that every use leads to a bump in brand loyalty, recognition and awareness. Even better, if you put out a skill or action like Domino’s Pizza’s AnyWare skill and action that allows people to order pizza with their voice, you can also benefit monetarily.

Read More About: Important Voice Technology Components and How You Can Use Them

Actually, now that we’re on the subject of HBO, it’s best to mention what they themselves have already done to jump in the smart speaker game. Apart from general HBO skills/actions that keep you updated with what’s new on their end, they’ve also introduced Westworld: The Maze, as a choose-your-own-adventure-style game for Echo-using “Westworld” fans. The beauty of this and similar applications is that every use leads to a bump in brand loyalty, recognition and awareness. Even better, if you put out a skill or action like Domino’s Pizza’s AnyWare skill and action that allows people to order pizza with their voice, you can also benefit monetarily.

Skills vs Actions

As you can see with these two examples, smart speaker applications give you an opportunity to interact with your audience on a brand new channel, and you really should try your hand at them if you feel that your users can actually benefit from it. If you’re still on the fence, maybe the following list of branded skills and actions will change your mind:

  • Have you ever spilled coffee on your shirt? Have you ever tripped and ended up with a grass stain on your white pants? Have no fear, Tide’s Stain Remover skill is here to offer step-by-step instructions for every type of stain!
  • Do you suffer from allergies? Well, just like a weather app gives you information about the climate, allergy medicine Zyrtec’s Your Daily AllergyCast skill provides information like a pollen count forecast local to your area. With user feedback, the skill can even provide a personalized Allergy Impact score to let you know how environmental factors will affect you.
  • If you’re a fan of cooking but are running low on recipe’s, Campbell’s Kitchen skill is exactly what you’ve been looking for. Why? Because it can tell you recipes and suggestions based on your taste profile, the weather, and even what’s trending.
  • With over 2,000 delicious recipes waiting for you, BuzzFeed’s Tasty action gives you all the help you need to start cooking food you’ll actually enjoy eating.
  • Am I the only one who spontaneously gets the urge to buy flowers? Considering that 1-800-Flowers’ action allows you to send gifts to the most important people in your life (including yourself), I doubt I’m alone.
  • Does the act of telling your Google Assistant to find tickets for the latest live events appeal to you? If it does, you better make use of the Ticketmaster action, which will be your go-to-to discover tool to all the latest and greatest entertainment.

Note: Just because an application is labeled as a “skill” or “action” does not mean that it it only that; like smartphones (iOS vs Android), brands tend to make an application for each operating system so a larger percentage of their user base can enjoy them.

Final Thoughts

In today’s day and age, smart speakers are the epitome of the modern smart home. With voice command functionality and third-party integration, not only can smart speaker users benefit from the multitude of applications they can download, but the brands behind them as well. If you’ve been thinking of changing things up this year, but haven’t really decided on what to do, I’ll give you a suggestion: Venture into the joint smart speaker and voice technology market before your competition beats you to it.

Contact Aumcore to learn more about what Smart Speakers can do for your brand.

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