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How Marketers Can Use Smart Speakers

Smart speakers seem to be everywhere, and more consumers are getting access at ever-more accessible price points. The more homes smart speakers enter, the more brands and marketers take notice of an opportunity to reach new consumers. Amazon’s Alexa had at last public count more than 70,000 skills, and brands like Capital One, TD Ameritrade, Starbucks, Domino’s, Kayak, Uber and more have deployed utilities that allow consumers to access services from the brand.

For most consumers, however, Alexa’s (and Google Home’s) most useful current-day functions remain in home automation, answering questions and providing utilities like timers, alarms, reminders and reading instructions aloud. In fact, while 100 million Amazon Echo devices have been sold, only 0.2% of device owners have made repeat purchases using the device. A functional voice strategy is essential to increasing this number, but most marketers have been simply copying their other experiences to smart speakers, and have missed the point about the most compelling new roles that voice can play.

Voice skills simply don’t add much value in managing accounts and orders, but they do assist consumers tremendously in hands-free situations, or as part of a broader conversation (pardon the pun, but it’s true). We already have apps and other systems to manage many of the accounts and functions we use. Instead of trying to make voice more like the same functions we can access anywhere else, smart speakers can be used to drive interactions that are real conversation starters: informational search queries, opportunities for product recommendations and interactive experiences that guide users through real-world products.

Informational Search Queries

Brands like Capital One allows for consumers to check their credit card balance, or make a payment when one is due. In order to do this, they need to call out the app by name, sign in with a username and password and enter a four-digit PIN. While this may come in handy on occasion, it shows that most of the basic voice skills available today still only add time and friction to the customer experience. Aside from hands-free scenarios, which hardly permit you the attention needed to manage your finances, wouldn’t a chatbot or app be better suited to executing these tasks?

That’s why brands need to think “higher in the funnel” with how they approach smart speakers and voice skills. Instead of trying to do things that your customers already have close at hand, think of what their thoughts, needs, and concerns might be, and the subsequent informational search queries might be. Amazon has put together a design guide for voice that teaches brand developers how to think through scenarios and mark up their voice skills in order to address the most relevant consumer questions to them.

One basic example could be something like this question: “Alexa, what are blackheads?” This is a basic problem that people often have with their skin, but it also isn’t a purely informational search. The next logical question someone might ask after this one is “how do I get rid of them”, and that’s where the true opportunity for a brand in an industry like skincare might be.

In this case, whatever brand can own the high-level, informational questions that consumers are asking every day can actually use smart speakers as a channel for customer acquisition. This opportunity doesn’t stop at simply offering consumers a solution for their most immediate concerns, but also at recommending them new or associated products. Brands can use informational search queries as “ins” toward higher value transactions, which lends naturally to continuing an open-ended, voice-based conversation.

Product Recommendations through Smart Speakers

Brands like Domino’s Pizza and Starbucks use voice skills to allow customers to reorder their favorite pizzas or beverages, but these kinds of skills also show how limited smart speakers can be. If marketers think voice is only useful for accessing your favorite, most known and most familiar order, how much value is it going to drive for a brand or a customer? It can be fun to live off pizza and coffee, but even if we do, we still change up our orders once in a while. There are voice skills that allow you to call a rideshare as well, but what if you just don’t want to call it out loud?

That’s why, built on the back of strong informational search visibility, marketers should start to think about smart speakers as an opportunity to offer product recommendations that drive deeper engagement and higher cart value for a brand. By prompting consumers to start a recommendation, whether it’s to find their perfect skincare routine, best choice of television or the right car for them, brands can leverage a natural, conversational flow to keep things open ended, informative, helpful and generate real insight on an individual consumer. What’s more, using Alexa apps, you can then push your brand’s recommendations right to their phone, giving consumers the ability to instantly take next steps or make a purchase. This isn’t yet common practice for a few reasons. Marketers have been using disparate and disconnected channels to drive the product discovery, consideration and evaluation process, and because they have lacked the continuous channels that are necessary to comprehensively engage a consumer, they haven’t taken a holistic approach to tailoring their offerings to individual consumers.

With smart speakers in tow, along with mobile voice assistants, chatbots, social messaging and other conversational interfaces, brands can start to think about what that holistic approach looks like. As consumer preference for these channels continues to grow, brands can capitalize on the engagement they produce.

These are the kind of experience that can be accessed through a voice assistant, smart speakers, chatbot and more. They allow brands to generate more revenue while better satisfying consumers. What’s more, they also help block out the myriad of alternatives and the overwhelming variety of product choices consumers have today.

Guided Onboarding Experiences

While most skills underperform by prefixing an existing customer relationship, smart speakers can still help you drive greater value following initial purchase. This can apply to CPG or a variety of other product categories, but if you think about the last time you juggled between instructions and a new product you were trying for the first time, that can begin to sound like the perfect opportunity for a hands-free experience.

That’s where guided onboarding can enhance customer experience, with the help of a smart speaker, while also creating a closer connection with a brand. This can be done through on-packaging instructions telling a consumer to access a tutorial, whether Alexa or Google Home. You can see it at about 1:46 in the video below, but watching the entire video will show you just how this kind of experience puts the best possible capstone on a customer’s path-to-purchase.

How Brands Can Succeed with Smart Speakers

The world’s leading brands don’t have a problem reaching consumers, but they do face challenges in engaging them. Driving deeper, meaningful interactions and better relationships with consumers is critical to improving performance today. Voice offers the opportunity to access consumers in a new, mostly private space and draw closer to fulfilling more of their wants and needs in an open-ended, approachable way.

Consumers expect greater personalization and continuity within the experiences they get from brands, and brands can’t leave any stone unturned in at least demonstrating to consumers that they are there for them. Marketers are deploying AI in a variety of customer-facing interactions, mostly through chatbots and messaging-based engagements. Combining these solutions with a comprehensive voice strategy, powered by a single conversational AI solution, can allow them to give consumers the instant, personalized responses they expect, while also delivering this responsiveness in an automated and scalable way.

Still have questions?  We’re fired up to help as many brands as possible to raise the bar of user and customer experience in eCommerce.  If you need help implementing website engagement tools for your brand or want to talk further about any of the tactics in this article, we should talk ASAP!

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