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03.07.17

Alexa, How Can A Virtual Assistant Help My Brand?

by Ben Gaddis

“Do we need to focus on wearables?”

“Are chatbots something our customers really want?”

“Should we build a VR experience?”

As a creative agency with a deep focus on innovation, we get these questions a lot. To be honest, it’s not always easy to predict how and when to invest in emerging, and many times fleeting, markets. Because of that, I’m always leery of broadly touting a new technology as something that almost any brand should look at. Now, however, I’m going to break that rule.

While fluctuation and stagnation plague some technologies thought to be the next big thing, I’m saying here and now that the time has come for most brands to at least begin testing a strategy for voice-based experiences—particularly focused on Amazon Alexa.

The maturity of voice-based experiences has arrived. Virtual assistants are no longer just a frustratingly wishful thought, or a marketing gimmick. They have become a channel brands need to incorporate into their marketing strategy today.

But don’t just take my word for it.

It’s Happening Now

In December, shortly before Amazon announced record Echo sales, T3 conducted a national representative survey of 5,000 consumers to better understand the adoption rate of various emerging technologies, including voice-command assistants.

The data showed that 17 percent of consumers (roughly one in five) indicated they plan on purchasing an Amazon Echo within the next six months. And while 17 percent is an impressive adoption rate for any product after just a few years on the market, the dominant demand for home assistants is coming from millennials. Our research showed that 27 percent of consumers under the age of 35 plan to purchase an Echo within the next six months.

That means more than 1 in 4 millennials will have an Echo on their countertop before Donald Trump spends 100 days in the White House.

As the nation’s largest living generation, with more than 75 million people ranging from 18 to 35, millennials likely make up a huge portion of a brand’s target audience.

Low Risk, High Reward

In addition to the growing demand from millennials, our confidence in voice technology stems from the relatively low risk and low cost barriers to entry.

For example, we built a simple Alexa Skills demo for one of our clients in less than a week that integrated shopping lists and recipes for a large grocery store chain.

This fast-prototype work spurred us to pitch the low risk, high reward angle to other brands. Within a few months, more than five of our clients, including a top CPG company and a major retail store, were integrated with the Echo to do everything from allowing customers to place an order, earn loyalty points and receive marketing emails to providing a hands-free interface using their existing website content.

For a relatively low cost, we were able to develop skills and gather information that reframed each organization’s thoughts about voice-based technology.

The Learning Curve

Developing these experiences allowed for versatility in our clients’ marketing efforts, but it also gave us the opportunity to rearchitect the skills we developed for Alexa across other channels like chatbots, mobile and Facebook Messenger.

In the process, we learned valuable lessons. We discovered that the teams and disciplines need to create voice-based platforms are diverse (linguists for voice command, UX teams for on-screen experiences, etc.). We also realized that the basic understanding of how to craft a conversational user experience is important.

Needless to say, the possibilities with AI are endless, but I believe that brands should focus on voice technology for the following reasons:

1. It’s happening now.

2. There is a low risk for a high reward.

  • Developing Alexa Skills has a minimal barrier to entry.
  • It’s relatively low cost and can take less than a week to build.

3. The learning curve is manageable and valuable.

  • By building voice-command skills, brands will gain insights into similar AI technologies like chatbots.
  • Brands will find new ways to think about assistant-based commerce and

So instead of standing on the sideline, waiting for an opportunity to approach, I encourage companies to start thinking about how they can capitalize on voice-based experiences today. The future success of your brand may rely on it.

Ben Gaddis