Be fast or be forgotten. When Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, it changed the way we communicated forever by creating the app market. Phones suddenly became “smart”. Brands that seized the opportunity and quickly enhanced their services with responsive websites and apps had a huge advantage over competitors who only served customers on desktop.
The gaming company Rovio are a great example of this. Their foresight on how smartphones would change the way people gamed made them the superstar of mobile games in the early 2010s’. Their biggest hit Angry Birds grew from a smartphone game to one of the most iconic entertainment brands of the decade — leading Rovio to IPO in 2017 with a $1 billion valuation.
For smart speakers, 2019 will be that iPhone moment. Even though Apple introduced Siri in 2011 and Amazon launched the Amazon Echo in 2014, it’s only now that the Natural language processing technology is advanced and affordable enough to make voice assistants a product for every home. Almost literally: Smart speakers are the fastest-growing consumer technology, topping smartphones and smartwatches. Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook have all released their own products for the market. The fierce competition has dragged prices below £50 for entry-level models. In 2019, the market is set to sell 56 million units in the US alone.
For brands, this creates a new channel to interact with customers in new situations. From using Alexa Skills to saying, “Ok Google” to control an entire home, smart speakers are integrating into people’s lives to such an extent that smartphone use is diminishing. Two out of three smart speaker owners are now using their smartphones less.
But how can brands benefit from smart speakers and voice search? Just bringing the old services to a new medium rarely works. Here are our five questions every brand should ask themselves before 2019.
1. Is my SEO strategy ready for voice search?
Half of search queries will be done by voice by 2020. The most significant difference between ‘traditional’ and voice search is that instead of a list of search results on screen, voice assistants only return one answer. What does it mean for brands? The choice between creating the best answer to people’s questions — or disappearing.
As people speak differently to how they write, your search engine optimisation needs to shift from single keywords to providing answers to real-life questions. FAQs and “how to” guides are especially useful for voice search. They resemble natural conversations. On average, voice assistants reply to search queries with a 29-word answer. Creating clear, concise and descriptive online content around this length, will enable the voice assistant to ‘read’ this content more easily.
2. How can my brand help people in their daily routines?
Not only do new technologies change the devices we use, they change what we do with devices. According to a Google survey, 72 percent of smart speaker owners say they use them as part of their daily routines.
Do you know your customer’s routines? When are your customers home? How can you help save this person time? An excellent example of this is within the Google Home Hub smart speaker, whereby voice activation, a user can ask Google for tutorials, ingredients and recipes, all of which can be displayed as they cook. An interesting way to think about this is remembering that smart speaker users are actually treating their voice assistants like real people, even saying “please” and “thank you” in requests. Imagine you are talking to your brand’s customer directly. What would you say?
3. How can I make my existing products better with smart speakers?
Smart speakers will certainly bring new products and services we can’t even imagine today. But in addition to new products, smart speakers have the potential to enhance your existing products. For instance, Disney is partnering with Google to create sound effects and musical accompaniment to go with Disney storybooks, providing a more immersive experience for bedtime reading.
This isn’t to say your brand must create a lifestyle element. Rather you must solve problems for your customers in innovative ways, ensuring it is on-brand. Take National Geographic’s voice app Bravo Tango. In fall 2017, National Geographic aired a miniseries about American soldiers returning from the Iraq War, many suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. To help real veterans adjust to life back home (and drive interest in the show), the network created a brain training voice app. Bravo Tango (a military-inspired abbreviation for ‘brain training’) is made up of exercises targeted to help with challenges veterans may face, such as sleeplessness, anxiety and loneliness.
4. How can I integrate my brand within the entire connected home space?
Smart speakers are tools that can connect users to a wider connected home ecosystem. For instance, Philips have their “hue” Alexa Skill, which enables the user to control the lights in various rooms — even being able to set the lighting for particular moods. “Alexa, turn on Energise in the Kitchen”.
It’s an easy mental leap to imagine a partnership between a TV company and a smart home product to set the mood before movie night. This would add extra value and functionality to the real-world and to the user, beyond the specific entertainment experience. Also, remember the AI within smart speakers: it learns more about users’ preferences as time goes on. As a consequence, your brand needs to be in the same pre-emptive mindset.
5. How does my brand sound?
Almost a quarter of users of smart speakers in the UK can’t recall the brand they use to receive news. How can you ensure your brand’s voice is still heard, and users know they’re enhancing their relationship with you? Ensure your brand’s voice stands out by developing it in-line with how the brand communicates already. Take the Domino’s voice app as an example. It responds with cheeky comments, just like its pre-existing ordering bot ‘Dom’.
Brands with memorable TV and radio jingles have an advantage here. But also brands that used to be mute before are doing experiments in sonic branding. Visa recently developed a signature sound to accompany payments with its card. The debit card issuer ANNA Money also went one step further, making their card give a “meow” sound with every payment.
Your brand most likely has a logo, but how would its audio logo sound like?
Ana Pak is Global Digital Strategy & Innovation Lead at Vizeum.