A layperson’s exploration of all things voice

Monthly Archives: March 2019

March 29, 2019

How Voice Is Superior for Marketing Your Company

With the explosion of content – and mediums – making it more difficult for companies to figure out how to best reach an audience, companies have been experimenting in recent years. One of the more popular innovations is to create “real” content to draw an audience.

A good example is Acura’s sponsorship of Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” It’s a real show with a single advertiser. But Acura is not an advertiser in the traditional sense – at the beginning of an episode, it’s mentioned that Acura is a sponsor & their cars would be product placed. [That is until Seinfeld moved the show to Netflix last year; Acura is no longer a sponsor.]

But creating new content can be quite expensive. And new content is short-lived. A potential customer might watch the content once or twice. What if there was a much cheaper way to draw an audience? And they came back time-and-time again?

Enter voice. It’s much cheaper to create the audio necessary for a skill. If done properly, your audience will reuse the voice content over & over. We are talking paradise. Building skills is a great way to reach – and touch – people…

March 28, 2019

Will Co-Marketing With Amazon Help Sell Your Stuff?

This “recode” article explains how Amazon is trying to partner with consumer good companies through co-marketing agreements in an effort to get consumers used to making purchases through voice. Here’s the intro:

Amazon wants more people to purchase more stuff through Alexa — and it wants the companies that make the stuff to foot the bill. The e-commerce giant has been reaching out to consumer packaged goods companies this year, asking them to include in their advertising campaigns Alexa branding and an Alexa utterance — the phrase you’d say to make Alexa purchase, say, Tide detergent or Blue Bottle Coffee.

The terms are pretty steep. Amazon is asking for millions of dollars worth of advertising impressions and months’-long campaigns on non-Amazon platforms to include the Alexa utterance — essentially for free, according to emails viewed by Recode.

It’s likely brands will ask for better terms if they are going to actually do this. “In negotiations, you don’t want to start with the most reasonable offer,” Jason Goldberg, SVP of commerce at digital marketing agency SapientRazorfish, told Recode. “You start with the most favorable deal for you.”

In exchange, Amazon will give CPGs data about how well their product is performing within its category on Amazon, as well as some advertising on Amazon’s sites — stuff they don’t have to spend out of pocket to offer. Amazon will also help engineer the brand’s skill, which is basically a voice assistant’s version of a mobile app.

As the article notes, only about a third of the folks with smart speakers have used them for a purchase – and only a fraction of that do it regularly. But those stats are based on last year. I imagine more & more people are getting comfortable with their voice assistants – and the number of people getting smart speakers for the first time continues to grow rapidly…

March 27, 2019

Nearly Half of Millennials Use Voice Assistants While Shopping

If your target market includes millennials, voice is a “must” channel for you to consider. Here’s the intro from this “voicebot.ai” article by Bret Kinsella:

CouponFollow’s Millennial Shopping Report 2019 says that 45% of millennials use voice assistants while shopping. The survey of 1,002 millennials in the U.S. ages 22-37 was conducted in January 2019. This doesn’t say that 45% of millennials are using voice assistant for all of their shopping needs or that they are consummating the purchase by voice. However, it is another indicator that voice can be a useful aid in the shopping process such as searching for products or accessing product reviews. This expanded view of voice shopping versus voice commerce was first introduced in Voicebot’s 2018 Voice Shopping Consumer Adoption Report.

March 26, 2019

The Wondrous Noelle LaCharite: 5 Things

I’m too new to this field to have a favorite speaker – but I do: Noelle LaCharite (a “Developer Evangelist” for Microsoft, as well as a “jack-of-all-trades with all sorts of side-gigs/hobbies). I heard Noelle in person a few months ago – then met her briefly afterwards. She was as interesting & passionate then as she is in this 45-minute interview from the recent “Lingo Fest” conference.

Here’s five things to know from the interview:

1. Looking ahead a decade, if your company isn’t getting involved in artificial intelligence or machine learning in some way – it has a good shot at becoming obsolete. For starters, your company needs to enable voice search now.

2. Being a good leader includes the ability to change your mindset over time as circumstances change. You can keep the “spirit” of a company alive, but you otherwise have to evolve. Good leaders also espouse “people over product” (meaning treating your employees the right way) – and sometimes taking a step back to get your product right, even if it means performance suffers in the short-term. She is passionate about “mindful leadership.”

3. When she worked at Amazon, she built a number of skills – including “1-Minute Mindfulness.” Even though the short period of a single minute seems to cut against what mindfulness represents, she finds that people often want to spend less than one minute doing something on voice. She also built skills for: Daily Affirmation; Daily Kindness; Christmas Kindness; Positive Prayer and Daily Inspiration.

4. As you tell from the skills that she’s built, Noelle is big into kindness. In the beginning of the interview, she talks about her programs related to “kiddie kindness,” “corporate kindness” and “couples kindness.” She has a habit of gratitude.

5. In her own life, Noelle meditates first thing in the morning – for at least one minute if she is pressed for time. And then she meditates briefly at work before going to a meeting.

Noelle also talks about “what is artificial intelligence?” – and how it won’t take our jobs away. Instead, it will get rid of the part of the jobs that we like the least. And she also talks “Open Data Initiative” and how allowing the world to use your data is a good thing. The mindset of “our data is our business’ livelihood & must be protected at all costs” is obsolete. Your data can help solve the world’s problems…

March 25, 2019

Stats to Help You Make the Business Case for Voice

Thanks to Scot & Susan Westwater for creating this awesome 32-page deck with all the stats & trends you need to help you make the argument to your employer that your company needs to invest in voice now…

March 22, 2019

How to Select a Name for Your New Skill

There’s an art to picking a name for your Amazon Alexa skill (or your Google action). The first step is understanding the difference between two things:

1. Skill Name – Your skill name is the name displayed in the Amazon Alexa app. Anyone wanting to use your skill has to first “enable” it in the app before they can access it on their Echo. So the skill name is the name you’ll be marketing to potential users.

2. Invocation Name – In comparison, the invocation name is what someone has to tell their Echo in order to access the skill.

Your invocation name is more important than your skill name since that’s what people will mostly be using. Here’s a few pointers to bear in mind for invocation names:

1. Your invocation name isn’t required to be the same as your skill’s name – but they should definitely be related so that your users can connect the dots

2. Even more importantly, the invocation name should reflect what your skill does (and be memorable). Ideally, it will be specific to your skill’s functionality – unless you have a unique brand that your users will readily understand. Combining functionality with a known brand is even better!

3. The invocation name should also be the kind of phrase that people aren’t likely to botch when speaking – so that Alexa can easily understand it

4. Shorter is always better. But don’t make it unnecessarily short if it doesn’t capture what the skill does nor is memorable

5. The invocation name should fit smoothly with at least one of the Alexa skill launch phrases (“launch,” “ask,” “tell,” “load,” “begin”) to allow users to naturally invoke the skill

As explained in this note, Amazon has a number of restrictions for invocation names, including:

1. Can’t use one-word invocation names (unless unique to your brand/intellectual property)
2. Can’t use names of people or places (unless they contain other words in addition to the name)
3. Can’t use two-word invocation names if one of the words is a definite article (“the”), indefinite article (“a,” “an”) or preposition (“for,” “to,” “of”)
4. Can’t use any of the Alexa skill launch phrases & connecting words, nor contain the wake words “Alexa,” “Amazon,” “Echo” – or the words “skill” or “app”
5. Can’t infringe upon someone’s intellectual property rights

March 21, 2019

I Yell at Alexa (& My Wife Laughs)

This “Wired” article – entitled “The Terrible Joy of Yelling at Alexa” – piqued my interest because I find myself yelling at Alexa in order for my voice assistant to hear me. My wife laughs every time. And the article made me laugh. Here’s an excerpt:

It didn’t start out this way. I fell in love with my Alexa just after I gave birth to my son. I’d be trapped on the couch, my son nursing away, and with only my voice I could play NPR or find out the weather or even call friends and family via their Alexas. She was like an extension of me, doing the things I wanted to but couldn’t. Sometimes my husband and I joked that she was the other wife in the family.

But like all relationships, ours hit a rough patch. My son entered toddlerdom, I was back to work, my husband was applying for new jobs and traveling a lot and life was … stressful. The house was full of tension, but Alexa didn’t seem to notice. She answered every question in the same perky tone.

It was then that my husband and I began to gang up on her. We’d ask her something, she’d get it wrong, and we’d berate her. Alexa, you idiot, why on earth would you think we wanted to hear Phil Collins? We piled on. It made us feel better. It made us feel like we were on a team and our common enemy was dumb Alexa. We’d yell at her and then laugh and laugh.

March 20, 2019

Google’s New “Stadia” Game Controller Embeds a Voice Assistant

Yesterday, Google announced its vision for the future of gaming with its “Stadia” cloud platform. As this Verge article notes, many of the details about how Stadia will actually work are still unknown – it won’t be publicly available until later this year.

But the Stadia controller – the only physical piece of Stadia – was made available and a Google Assistant is embedded within it (here’s a 2-minute video of when the controller was announced). The first game controller with voice directly available!

It’s too soon to know how big a role will voice play in Stadia – it will depend on how game developers create in-game experiences utilizing it. But it’s definitely something that distinguishes this controller from all others…

By the way, the Verge reporter loved the controller, the first one that Google has ever made. Watching the Stadia launch was uplifting – all sorts of new possibilities for video & gaming were readily apparent. Hope springs eternal…

March 19, 2019

Hey, Google, Siri or Alexa: Which Handles These 100 Questions Best?

Geez. It was only last week that I was complaining about mass media not covering voice enough. They must have heard me. Yesterday, the “USA Today” ran this article entitled “Hey, Google, Siri or Alexa: Which voice assistant handles these 100 questions best?” – here’s an excerpt:

Still, survey after survey shows that Google is the smartest of the personal assistants, with Amazon’s Alexa a close No. 2, and Apple’s Siri behind. Once again, we sat down to ask a series of questions – 100 of them – to the assistants to see how they would fare. But we did it differently this time. I wondered: How would each fare if we asked a different set of questions? Namely, what if we asked Amazon’s suggested Alexa queries to Google and vice versa with Siri?

This survey had a different victor, Alexa, with only 22 wrong replies out of 100, to 25 for Google and 43 for Siri. More importantly, it showed that each voice platform has a unique set of differences. Apple’s maligned Siri is best for basics (sending a text, composing an e-mail, adding calendar items), while Google is usually the smartest for math and trivia, best in smart home for quick setup and ease of use. Amazon has way more skills and different things you can do than the other two.

The article notes some notable voice fails – and successes – and this tip to remember when providing an utterance: “If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying. Often it’s the phrase, the diction, or, there might be a skill in the Alexa or Google Home app to enable the command, like I found for renting a car, hailing a cab and using Open Table for reservations.”

March 18, 2019

How Customer Service Is Different With Voice

For me, I absolutely hate calling the airlines and being thrown into a seemingly endless wait to get what I want. I imagine I’m not alone in my feelings. And it’s not just the airlines. Many companies use automated voice systems for their telephonic customer service. That’s been the case for many years.

But customer service through voice assistants can – and should be – a different experience. First of all, there’s a different expectation. When I call up one of my providers on the phone, I’m expecting to reach a real human being. Even though I know that’s not going to be the case. That’s just what I expect. When I ask a voice assistant for customer service help at one of my providers, I have no expectation of talking to a human. I know I’m talking to a bot. So right out of the box, expectations are on the opposite end of the spectrum.

That said, there are limitations. As voice grows in prominence, customers are going to expect high levels of service – even if they know they’re talking to a bot. They’re going to expect conversational design – not something that is stilted & unresponsive. As Susan & Scot Westwater discuss in their “Pragmatic Talk” podcast (episode 7), providing customer service by voice can be harder to accomplish than expected. With voice, the customer is driving the discussion – because that’s the way that voice assistants work.

As the Westwaters explain, customer service via voice is sort of the opposite of traditional FAQs – because FAQs essentially are you predicting what the customer will ask. When you provide a set of FAQs, you are actually feeding the customer the questions they should be asking. But in reality, many customers don’t even know what to ask. So with voice, you can’t “feed” questions to your customers for them to ask – so you can’t fully predict what will be asked. The customer guides & drives. So voice is quite a bit different than FAQs.