Alexa, why should we care about virtual voice assistants?

Which challenges hide behind Alexa? Here are 5 tips for marketers about the voice revolution coming along with virtual voice assistants...

14 Mar 2019 1581 Views

Written by Helena Lübeck 

JUST ASK. Alexa, why should marketers care about you? – The voice revolution
Image 1: Alexa’s revolution (own illustration based on Ugalde, 2018)

Alexa, who are you?

Imagine a world where we talk more to our virtual voice assistants than to real humans. A world, where Alexa becomes our personal consultant navigating us through life. Where, whenever coming home, Alexa welcomes us with a warm “Glad you are back!” and turns on the lights. Imagine a world, where purchasing new things isn’t time intense or nerve-wrecking anymore, because Alexa makes sure that you always find the right product. Whenever we need a new wind jacket for example, Alexa can simply search for the best option. Imagine a world… or wait – don’t we already live in such a world?

Yes, Alexa is a real thing and the name refers to Amazon’s virtual voice assistant. It was launched in 2014 and has been sold more than 50 million times so far (Anand, 2018). Build on an AI platform, virtual voice assistants are able to learn, reason, predict, and plan (Wirth, 2018). With billions of different skills, these assistants react to different commands such as searching for products, checking weather or talking to us (Hoy, 2018). As of now, voice assistants are already a natural part of our everyday routines since they perform ordinary tasks and respond to informational requests. However, a usage shift towards a rather advanced level is expected. In fact, virtual voice assistants will become the primary source of information (Dawar, 2018) and product searches will be based on these assistants as well (PwC, 2018).This said, the newest level of technology changes our way of thinking and leads to a voice revolution.

Alexa, what is the voice revolution?

“The voice revolution has just begun […]. By 2021, […] there will be almost as many voice activated assistants on the planet as people” (Shulevitz, 2018, p. 95-96).

The voice revolution describes the fact that people nowadays rely on voice instructions and digital assistants to process requests (DeMers, 2018). Even if still in its infancy, the adoption of virtual voice assistants already happened at a remarkable speed (Sahlool, 2018). Believe it or not, the voice revolution is considered the biggest digital transformation over the last decade (Forrester, 2018). And this definitely changes our whole way of thinking!

But if you’re now asking yourself how this is relevant for your marketing activities, here’s the answer:  as marketers, the introduction of new technologies primarily offers new perspectives of the digital buying journey including pre- and post-purchase stages. (Kannan & Li, 2017). Concerning pre-purchase stages, it is not uncommon that customers nowadays search via their smart assistants. In 2017, 29% used their assistants to research an item they wanted to purchase (NPM, 2017). Let’s take the previous wind jacket example again: here, Alexa was the one searching for the jacket and then presented her best option to us. And predictions even assume this trend to grow! In 2020, half of all searches will be voice-based (Reinhardt, 2018). In light of this, voice-based purchases undoubtedly become a common phenomenon of our society (Heller, 2018). To respond to this changing society, brands need to prepare their marketing strategies and the way they connect with consumers (Bentahar, 2018).

Alexa, why should marketers get prepared? 

It is imperative for marketers that they figure out a way to adapt to virtual voice assistants and the challenges posed by them as soon as possible. They must prepare for the day when voice-based purchases completely break through. But what about you, are you ready yet? If not, here are 5 tips to prepare for tomorrow’s virtual world.

1. Customer acquisition: Do everything to be the assistant’s first choice.

A marketer’s main challenge is to make consumers think of your product as being their best choice – their perfect match. In the world of AI, this task becomes more difficult since marketers no longer need to convince the consumer but instead the virtual voice assistant itself – and this is obviously more complex. Virtual voice assistants are based on algorithms that can compare different products within only a matter of seconds (Cutler, 2018). The outcome is then presented in form of a ranking starting with the assistant’s top suggestion. A brand therefore should aim to become the assistant’s very first choice. But how can you do that? It is unfortunately not unthinkable that marketers need to pay to be listed on an assistant or to get preferential positions (Dawar, 2018). To give a precise example, sponsored products are always at the top of Alexa’s rankings (Graham, 2017). By these means, cooperating with voice assistants is even more important than the product’s strengths themselves. In tomorrow’s world, what weights more – relationships or the product itself? Sad future, isn’t it?

2. Communication: Speak the language your consumer speaks.

Second, when searching via virtual voice assistants, people use a more natural way of speaking. They’d rather say “Alexa, search for a new wind jacket that is also rainproof” instead of aligning different words in the search field such as “Wind jacket women high rain resistance”. Product searches in such cases will be based on a more conversational language instead of a chain of keywords (Reinhardt, 2018). Hence, a brand’s content needs to be adapted. Targeted key words such as “when”, “how”, “why, “what” better correspond to this new communication style (Forbes, 2018). Therefore, FAQs are gaining enormously in importance to catch the assistant’s attention by simple questions such as “How rainproof is this jacket?” (Sahlool, 2018). Lastly, voice assistants also favour social media content such as videos since their message is stronger than a traditional web page content (Virgin, 2018).

3. UGC: Activate users to talk about your brand.

User-generated content such as product reviews, unwrapping videos, and online recommendations are more than ever the key to success (Kannan & Li, 2017). This said, interacting online with different stakeholders becomes very relevant to attract new customers. Brands must activate their community by asking to share experiences through different social media channels or the company’s website (Sahlool, 2018).

4. Retention: Alexa doesn’t care about brand loyalty but innovation.

Everyone might think that we know ourselves better than anybody else. But is this still true in a world where machines become smarter and smarter (Van Dijk, 2012)? Alexa suggests books, cosmetics or wind jackets that people didn’t even know they would like and still buy. So, whom do they trust more– themselves or Alexa? It actually seems that people nowadays rather rely on their voice assistants and no longer base decisions on their own judgement (Van Dijk, 2012). For instance, of those who have already used voice assistants for buying products, 85% have just purchased the first choice presented without specifying the brand any further (Sheeran, 2018). And virtual voice assistants don’t always recommend the same product! They regularly reassess every product and might sometimes recommend a new product that better fits the consumers’ needs (Dawar, 2018). Consequently, brands can no longer rely on a customer’s loyalty… The key to stick customers to your brand is in fact no longer involvement but innovation – constant innovation to meet the assistant’s reassessment at any time of the customer journey (Dawar, 2018).

5. Customer satisfaction: Make Alexa your friend to understand your audience.

Let’s be straightforward: many marketers still struggle to perfectly understand their customers’ needs. This is basically because customers express their wants in different ways through search, reviews, comments, blogs, and likes as well as via different channels such as the web, mobile or face to face (Kietzmann, et al., 2018). Going back to the idea of voice assistants as the primary source of information, they can store every smallest detail about a customer’s behaviour (Bentahar, 2018). Since voice assistants constantly anticipate a customer’s needs and wants in real time (West, 2018), they serve as the most reliable source of information (Dawar, 2018). To get the most out of this, brands need to cooperate with such assistants – make them their friend. Here again, marketers might pay to get access to the assistant’s insights (Dawar, 2018). This further allows to build up richer profiles about each customer (West, 2018) and to improve user experiences (Baker, 2018). Moreover, marketing campaigns can better respond to the current needs and wants of a consumer (Dawar, 2018) and brands therefore more easily reach consumers at every stage (West, 2018).

So, are you ready for the voice revolution?
Image 2: Ready for the voice revolution? (own illustration based Kishor, 2017)

Finally, there is nothing more to say other than to get ready for the voice revolution that is ahead of us. Voice-based purchases have not yet reached their peak, but brands need to know what to do whenever virtual voice assistants completely break through. For now, it is not too late to jump on the train and to face the future of virtual voice. So, what are you waiting for?




REFERENCE LIST

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Wirth, N., 2018. Hello marketing, what can artificial intelligence help you with?. International Journal of Market Research, Vol. 60(5), pp. 435-438.

PICTURE REFERENCES (own modification of original pictures)

Image1: Ugalde, R. 2018. Alexa, el asistente virtual de Amazon, es una gran apuesta para competir. [Online]
Available at: https://mundocontact.com/alexa-el-asistente-virtual-de-amazon-es-una-gran-apuesta-para-competir/

 [Accessed on 22 11 2018].

Image2: Kishor, N. 2017. 4 Challenges For Any Amazon Echo Developer. [Online]
Available at: http://houseofbots.com/news-detail/193-4-4-challenges-for-any-amazon-echo-developer

[Accessed on 22 11 2018].

BrandBase | @BrandBa_se
Students from the International Marketing and Brand Management program at Lund University are the contributing authors for the BrandBase blog.