Why the Popularity of Amazon Alexa at CES 2020 Matters to Advertisers

Why the Popularity of Amazon Alexa at CES 2020 Matters to Advertisers

Amazon

The Amazon Alexa voice assistant cast a big shadow over CES 2020, the premier annual event for showcasing new consumer technology. Amazon demonstrated a number of product integrations with Alexa. They matter because they point to a possible way that Amazon could lead online advertising.

The Battle for a Voice-First Future

Amazon is fighting a fierce battle with Apple and Google to lead the uptake of voice-based products among consumers and businesses (with Microsoft and Samsung also stepping up their own efforts). More than one quarter of Americans own voice-activated smart speakers, according to Voicebot.ai and Voicify. Amazon’s Echo leads the pack, but Google is catching up, as reported in The Motley Fool.

To win the war for voice, Amazon, Apple, and Google need to collaborate with product manufacturers to incorporate their voice assistants into product design (or through aftermarket upgrades).  And CES is where those integrations are demonstrated. For example, Bosch, the maker of smart home appliances such as dishwashers, announced an integration with the Apple Siri voice assistant. And a number of manufacturers ranging from Belk to GE announced integrations with Google Assistant, Google’s voice assistant.

But Amazon outflanked everyone. A wide variety of manufacturers ranging from bed maker Dux to helmet maker Jarvis demonstrated how they’re relying on Alexa to make it possible to use their products with our voices.  But it wasn’t just the sheer number of integrations with manufacturers that mattered – what really caught my eye was how Amazon is making it easier for people to actually purchase things.

Making Purchases Is the Holy Grail of Voice

As I wrote in a recent blog post, people still use voice to do more mundane tasks such as checking the weather. Making purchases, though, is the Holy Grail of voice. Voice commerce is a far more complicated undertaking. And at CES 2020, Amazon showed that it is up for the challenge. Amazon announced that in 2020, automobile drivers will be able to use Alexa to purchase gasoline. As Amazon said, “Later this year, customers will be able to say, “Alexa, pay for gas” to easily purchase fuel at all 11,500 Exxon and Mobil stations. The transactions for this new Alexa feature are made through Amazon Pay and powered by Fiserv, a global financial services technology provider.

The ability to pull off voice-activated purchases requires Amazon to work closely with ExxonMobil – an example of the collaboration required to make voice a reality. If Amazon and ExxonMobil can make the purchase of gasoline as easy as making a voice command, then manufacturers and retailers will be encouraged to adopt voice for purchases, too. (Think of appliance makers turning the Amazon Dash device for order replenishment into a consistently reliable voice-first experience.)

Why CES 2020 Matters to Advertisers

Why do these announcements matter to businesses that advertise online? Well, here is a telling statistic: even though Amazon leads voice, Google pretty much owns online advertising. Google commands 37 percent of digital ad spend. The next largest competitor, Facebook, has 22 percent of the market. Amazon lags behind with 8.8 percent. But – Amazon is still very new to online advertising. It did not start dipping its toes into online advertising until 2008. Within 10 years, Amazon had become one of the big three of online advertising.

Amazon is rapidly threatening Google’s and Facebook’s leadership by offering new tools that help businesses advertise on Amazon – and off Amazon. We’ve written about some of those tools, such as my colleague Samantha Coconato’s posts on Amazon Video Ads, Amazon Display Ads, and Amazon Sponsored Ads. Those ad services capitalize on the reality that Amazon has become an increasingly popular way for people to search for products – even more popular than Google.

But Amazon knows the world is changing from text-based to voice-based search. Voice search is not “taking over.” But voice is becoming more common. Per a Microsoft study in 2019, 72 percent of people surveyed had used voice search the previous month. Amazon is preparing for the time when voice will reach a tipping point, and businesses will have no choice but to employ voice-based advertising and search engine optimization tactics into their game plans.

And that’s why the product integrations matter. By making Alexa the de facto voice assistant in everyday products, Amazon wants people to be more comfortable using their voices to use and buy things. Encouraging the uptake of voice among consumers helps Amazon position itself as the premier advertising partner for businesses.

Whether Amazon succeeds remains to be seen. But as Google and Apple compete with Amazon to integrate voice, it’s clear that advertisers need to be ready to adapt.

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Photo by Status Quack on Unsplash

The Big Trend in Voice for 2020: Voice Assistants Get Personality

The Big Trend in Voice for 2020: Voice Assistants Get Personality

Branding

Where is voice technology headed in 2020? That’s the question on the minds of businesses and technologists as the annual CES show gets under way in Las Vegas. I believe the answer is that voice-enabled devices will get more personality, making voice technology more approachable — and encouraging businesses to embrace sonic branding.

The Rise of Voice Search

I’ve written often about the rise of voice search. I continue to see more people using their voices to find things with their smart speakers, phones, and in-car devices. The fact that more consumers are adopting voice-enabled devices is beyond debate – but just to remind you how popular voice-based products have become, allow me to direct you to an insight from Statistica about the growth of smart speakers (which are just one type of voice-enabled product):

As consumers have become increasingly open to the idea of integrating smart technology into their households, smart speaker sales revenue has skyrocketed, growing from around 900 million in 2016 to nearly 12 billion in 2019. Growth in the smart speaker market is increasing at a faster rate than that of other smart home devices, which shows that people trust the technology and find it easy to adopt. As of 2019 an estimated 35 percent of U.S. households are equipped with at least one smart speaker and by 2025 forecast suggest that this penetration rate will increase to around 75 percent.

What fascinates me is not just the growth but how people are using their voices. This time last year, the news stories about voice tended to focus on increasing sales of products such as smart speakers that use the Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice assistants (and, to a lesser degree, Apple’s Siri voice assistant).

Voice Gets Personality

But a sample of headlines for the week of January 6, 2020, shows a shift in the narrative. Voice sales still matter, but what matters even more is how people are using voice products as this headline sample shows:

Notice anything about the top three results? They all focus on how we communicate with devices, specifically the need for voice assistants and people to do a better job communicating with each other. The CNN headline about programming your voice assistant to sound like actor Samuel L. Jackson is telling. In 2019, Amazon announced that soon, an Alexa skill would make it possible for people to have their smart devices talk to them using Jackson’s distinctive, earthy speaking style. Now the capability has arrived.

Why does this particular Alexa skill matter? Because it shows that voice is moving on from an impersonal utility to an assistant with personality. Being able to inject one’s voice assistant with the warm, familiar voice of Samuel L. Jackson should help people overcome a natural aversion to communicating with voice-based products: using a device that listens to us and talks to us in the most private areas of our living spaces. As journalist Judith Shulevitz wrote in a recent Atlantic article, “Is Alexa Dangerous?”:

Within our lifetimes, these devices will likely become much more adroit conversationalists. By the time they do, they will have fully insinuated themselves into our lives. With their perfect cloud-based memories, they will be omniscient; with their occupation of our most intimate spaces, they’ll be omnipresent. And with their eerie ability to elicit confessions, they could acquire a remarkable power over our emotional lives. What will that be like?

Amazon is not the only company making voice more approachable and comfortable by incorporating familiar, iconic names in their products and services. In 2015, KFC teamed up with the navigation app Waze to give motorists a fresh voice option for their audio directions: Colonel Harland Sanders. Google actually beat Amazon to the punch with celebrity tie-ins by making it possible to incorporate the voice of singer John Legend in Google Assistant. In October, Google announced that Google Assistant would incorporate the voice of actress Issa Rae.

Why Voice with Personality Matters to Advertisers

These developments matter very much to advertisers. Although people are getting more comfortable performing complex tasks such as making purchases with their voice assistants, for the most part consumers rely on voice assistants to do simple, mundane things such as checking the weather. Many businesses confine their commitment to voice to making their content more findable through voice search. And voice-enabled SEO is crucial.

But for businesses to do more sophisticated branding and advertising through voice, they need to feel confident that consumers will start responding by having rich dialogues with the brand, leading to commerce. As more businesses realize the ways voice technology can assume a personality, they will adopt more forms of sonic branding as KFC did with its Col. Sanders voice-based experience cited in this post.

Thanks to improvements in artificial intelligence, voice-enabled devices are in fact, getting smarter and more capable of managing purchases and product orders. Frankly, the market got flooded with smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home before AI was adequately advanced to make a voice-activated speaker as smart as we’d like them to be. Those days are rapidly drawing to a close, which is good for businesses and consumers.

The next big step in the evolution of a voice-first world is for voice to be more user friendly. And developments such as the Samuel L. Jackson skill are an important part of that evolution.

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Amazon and Samuel L. Jackson: The Future of TTS Technology?

Amazon and Samuel L. Jackson: The Future of TTS Technology?

Amazon

As Samuel L. Jackson character Ray Arnold said in Jurassic Park, “Hold onto your butts,” because the iconic actor’s voice is coming to Alexa. Later this year you can enable Jackson’s voice to respond in different capacities: fill you in on the weather or play your favorite music, for example. And given the colorful, expressive style of some of Jackson’s characters—FBI Agent Neville Flynn in Snakes on a Plane comes to mind—you’ll have a choice of either an “explicit” or “clean” version. (Note that Alexa won’t suddenly start speaking to you as Samuel L. Jackson across the board: he can’t help you with skills such as shopping or lists.) The new skill, which Amazon will offer at an introductory price of 99 cents (regular price will be $4.99), is an example of neural text-to-speech technology (TTS) in action. And it’s instructive for businesses examining how voice might play a role in their advertising going forward.

What Is TTS?

TTS, sometimes referred to as “read-aloud technology” or text to speech, essentially converts a digital text string to spoken word. Early on, TTS applications lacked nuance: the resulting speech, while accurate, sounded robotic. But with advances in artificial intelligence (AI), it’s becoming possible to render voices that sound more human, with all the cadences we associate with how real people speak. As a result, businesses are exploring TTS as a viable way to inject personality into voice-based interfaces such as bots, or content that requires voice-over narration. Parameters can be established, too: as noted, you can’t make Alexa talk like Samuel L. Jackson all the time. The skill is limited to whatever it’s been programmed to do as Jackson.

“Fill It With Gravy”

Common applications for TTS include educational ones, in which a tablet or computer reads words on a screen out loud to a student who might have difficulties reading or seeing. Sometimes they border on the wondrous, as when sound engineers from Scottish company CereProc made it possible for listeners to finally hear the 21-minute speech President John F. Kennedy never got to deliver on November 22, 1963: in his voice.

And there are the fun applications, as witnessed by Alexa’s sanctioned use of Samuel L. Jackson’s recognizable voice. Of course, Amazon is not the only business using TTS to make their brand more familiar and fun. In 2015, KFC teamed up with the navigation app Waze to give motorists a fresh voice option for their audio directions: Colonel Harland Sanders. Users who opted in to be directed by The Colonel got clear directions as well as humorous Colonel-isms such as, “Pothole on the road ahead. I’d fill it with gravy.” More recently, KFC celebrated National Fried Chicken Day by using speech recognition, AI, and TTS to playfully make drive-through operators sound like The Colonel, too.

Sonic Branding

TTS is in a position to create even greater impact as the technology continues to grow. Businesses are wise to recognize that potential, and to pursue voice personality as a way to differentiate themselves. Forrester Analyst Dipanjan Chatterjee notes:

Forrester predicts that 50% of US households will have smart speakers by 2022, accounting for 68% of all smart home devices. Voice will be much more than assistants and speakers. It will fundamentally alter how consumers and brands interact . . . If you don’t have a voice strategy in the making today, it’s time to move now or risk falling behind.

The big picture Chatterjee alludes to is the phenomenon of “sonic branding”—that is, anything that uses voice, music, or sound to express a brand. In some ways, sonic branding has been going on for years: think about the brands that have hired an actor for voiceover advertising, or jingles that long after the fact still resonate. TTS is just the latest example of how sonic branding can be used effectively.

What You Should Do

As Chatterjee points out, sonic branding—specifically, voice strategy—is an opportunity you don’t want to miss. Assess the role of voice in your marketing and advertising. No, you don’t need to worry about one-upping Amazon and hiring a famous movie star to narrate your online and voice bots. But consider how you can inject personality, and even humor, wherever people encounter the “voice of your brand.”

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Hello, Instagram All Stars!

Hello, Instagram All Stars!

Social media

Instagram continues to grow by leaps and bounds. As of June 2018, there were nearly one billion monthly active users; that’s 10 times the usage the mainly mobile photo sharing network enjoyed back in June 2013. And businesses continue to flock to the site, although some are using Instagram more effectively than others. To encourage brands to do their very best, we’ve called out four who are absolutely rocking the Instagram platform.

Cadillac: The Big Reveal

Cadillac scores points for using Instagram to do a major product unveil. In September 2019, the General Motors luxury vehicle division revealed the 2020 model of its CT4 sedan, which it hopes will attract a younger demographic of possibly first-time Cadillac buyers aged 25-to-35 years old.

 

“We made a strategic decision to launch a social-first campaign to meet the customer where we know they interact,” Jason Sledziewski, Cadillac’s director of product marketing, told Marketing Daily.

The campaign incorporates an interactive Instagram story and multiple video clips meant to appeal to potential customers’ sensory nature. As Melissa Grady, Cadillac’s chief marketing officer, explained in a release, “Because the CT4 is equal parts technology and performance, we wanted to reveal it in a way that would stimulate the senses and evoke emotions our customers might feel when behind the wheel.”

Cisco: Doing Good

Technology conglomerate Cisco has used Instagram to good effect in a visual way — quite a feat when one considers that unlike Cadillac, the company doesn’t have a cool product to showcase. Using hashtags like #WeAreCisco, which highlights employees celebrating Cisco culture, and #BeTheBridge, which draws attention to Cisco’s employee giving campaign, Instagram is helping Cisco project its commitment to supporting global communities and a caring corporate ethos.

It’s worth noting that women are showcased in Cisco’s Instagram feed, significant in an industry traditionally dominated by males.

McDonald’s: Food is Fun

The McDonald’s Menu Hack on Instagram consists of fun ways to liven up a McDonald’s meal. Peppered with Pro Tips like “once you add some fries to that Filet-O-Fish, life will never be the same,” the campaign uses video to tell a story (e.g., you can put those fries on your Filet-O-Fish).

Key to the campaign are the bright, thumb-stopping visuals. Although it’s not always easy to make food look appealing in photos or videos, McDonald’s manages to pull it off.

Vogue: Sneak Peek

Already visually powerful, Vogue is using Instagram Stories to increase engagement and provide a ephemeral peek behind the scenes. It’s been a lucrative move for the fashion and lifestyle brand. For example, to promote the September 2018 issue before its newsstand release—and unveil its cover model—Vogue decided to reach out to its Instagram following to generate interest. Vogue launched an Instagram Stories campaign featuring superstar Beyoncé in a series of sparkling gowns, as well as an advance peek at the September issue cover, which featured Beyoncé. The campaign was credited with helping the issue sell out on newsstands and bringing in 20 percent of new subscribers.

Contact True Interactive

The takeaway here is that Instagram can help brands generate interest and define—or redefine—themselves for audiences increasingly drawn to visual punch. And these brands are creative with Instagram. They go beyond posting visually appealing images and video. They keep audiences engaged with lively copy and interesting ideas. They surprise and delight. They never fall into a rut. Want to know how to use the Instagram platform to extend your reach? We can help.

What Advertisers Should Do about the Rise of Voice Search

What Advertisers Should Do about the Rise of Voice Search

Search

We’re living in an era in which people are using their voices to do everything from shop to check the weather. Signs continue to indicate that the rise in voice is more than a passing trend. In fact, recent data shows that businesses need to pay closer attention to voice search and the impact it can have on advertising and organic content.

What Are the Latest Statistics about Voice?

  • According to a 2019 report from Microsoft, 72 percent of people use voice search through a personal digital assistant, and 75 percent of households will be outfitted with at least one smart speaker by 2020.
  • A 2018 BrightLocal study reveals that over a 12-month period, 58 percent of surveyed consumers used voice search to find local business information. In addition, Forbes notes that consumers want voice search to help them with myriad tasks, including:
    • Making reservations.
    • Gathering price data on services and products.
    • Confirming whether an item is available.
  • According to estimates from eMarketer, more than 74 million Americans — almost 27 percent of the U.S. population — will be using smart speakers in 2019, a 15 percent uptick from 2018.

What Should Businesses Do about Voice?

In short, it’s becoming a world in which businesses must be prepared to use voice for advertising. As Jelli CEO Mike Dougherty shared with Forbes, voice will “open up opportunities for marketers and brands to get creative and interact with customers in new ways . . . The goal of any marketer is to establish a genuine connection with customers. Voice is their chance to get one step closer.”

Jennifer Hungerbuhler, the EVP and managing director, local video and audio investment, at Dentsu Aegis Network, concurs. She also notes that voice search will not only be important in the marketing, advertising, and media worlds, it will continue to evolve.

How Should Businesses Prepare for Voice?

Part of staying relevant in a world of voice search means understanding voice, and creating content that optimizes how voice works. For instance, as we have discussed on our own blog, advertisers should evaluate voice search queries and pay attention to the conversational text that occurs.

Conversational text, which tends to be more complicated than simple Google searches, is a clear indicator of how people express themselves during voice search. It can be an excellent resource when companies want to write copy consistent with how people are using their voices to search. “Who,” “What,” “Where,” “When,” “Why,” and “How” are great words to focus on. Long-tail queries that include natural phrases such as “near me” or “can I get the number for” can also be useful/telling. These queries can help identify what consumers most want to know about a company’s products or services—and how they parse their request via voice.

As Hungerbuhler notes, “Advertisers will need to get better at understanding how consumers want to find them in voice, the language they will use to do so, and how they can get onto a shopping list.”

The bottom line? Search behaviors are different when consumers use voice. Because brands, increasingly, want voice assistants to find their site, savvy businesses will tweak their advertising and organic content accordingly.

What You Should Do Next

What are next steps in this brave new world?

  • Prepare now by rethinking your approach to content.
  • Don’t panic. Realize that even though people are using voice assistants, it doesn’t mean they are doing so in droves. According to research firm Stone Temple, voice assistants still rank behind other choices such as mobile browsers or search engine apps.
  • But do act. Voice search isn’t going away. Andy Franco, the founder of Facebook advertising agency Live Surge, explains, “Just like search has become second nature to people who used to use card catalogs, voice is likely to be well used by those who are multitasking and need hands-free tools.”

Contact True Interactive

Contact True Interactive. We can help you better understand voice search as you craft your strategy.

Photo by Sebastian Scholz (Nuki) on Unsplash

Why Brands Need to Capitalize on the Power of Visual Content

Why Brands Need to Capitalize on the Power of Visual Content

Social media

We respond to images every day: an Instagram shot of a stunning sunrise, or the pictures friends text us from a vacation spent hiking in Ireland. But not everyone understands the tremendous power images wield in the business world. Just as any business cares about how its website is written or its ad copy composed, it should also treat images with the same attention and respect. Mary Meeker’s widely read 2019 Internet Trends report underlines that truth.

Images are on the Rise

Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report is an annual thought bomb with considerable influence. According to Meeker, consumer usage of digital continues to increase overall:

With that uptick, there’s been a climb in image creation. Images hold a lot of power. People respond to them: not only the pictures they take, but other people’s, too. And as image sharing becomes more popular, perhaps it’s no coincidence that Instagram use is soaring:

As Meeker points out, Twitter content with images gets more tweet impressions:

And artificial intelligence tools are making images more sophisticated, in the process rendering them more powerful as communication instruments:

What Does The Rise of Visual Storytelling Mean for You?

Her findings are a reminder that businesses need to treat images as critical assets in both paid and organic content. What should your response be? Here are some tips:

  • Capitalize on tools that make your digital advertising stand out, such as Google Shoppable Ads. As we noted in this post, select retailers are experimenting with a format that allows them to highlight multiple products for sale within a sponsored ad appearing in Google Images results.
  • Make Instagram part of your game plan. Instagram is trending, becoming increasingly popular for both business-to-consumer and business-to-business brands, as advertisers become aware of—and ever-more curious about—the opportunities the platform affords. We’ve written about some of those opportunities, including Instagram’s Branded Content Ads, which makes it possible for businesses to use Ads Manager to promote branded content as an ad in their Instagram feeds.
  • Use strong images in your organic content. In a recent post, Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media discusses how images can improve your search rankings. As he points out, “Now we know that visuals are an SEO’s (search engine optimization’s) best friend.” Perhaps that’s because visuals, like well-crafted text, can speak volumes with a minimum of fuss. “Just as you wouldn’t miss the chance to turn a paragraph of items into a bullet list, never miss the chance to use a visual to explain a concept,” Crestodina says.

We agree. And one area where you can make the most of strong images is your Google My Business (GMB) page. That’s because a company’s GMB page, as noted in moz.com, is the single most important way for a business to be found through local searches.

Images hold power. Want to learn more about how to capitalize on that power? Contact us.

Instagram Creates Its Own Customer Journey with Checkout

Instagram Creates Its Own Customer Journey with Checkout

Social media

Instagram describes itself as a platform for people to “experience the pleasure of shopping versus the chore of buying.” It’s designed for people to browse for ideas and then shop as opposed to visiting with an express intent to buy and leave. On March 19, Instagram took one step closer to making itself a strong shopping destination by launching a checkout function.

Available on a limited basis, Instagram checkout makes it possible for Instagrammers to buy what they want on Instagram. As Instagram said in a blog post, “Checkout enhances the shopping experience by making the purchase simple, convenient and secure. People no longer have to navigate to the browser when they want to buy. And with their protected payment information in one place, they can shop their favorite brands without needing to log in and enter their information multiple times.”

Charter businesses participating in checkout include Burberry, Nike, and Revolve. In coming weeks, more businesses will participate, including Adidas, H&M, KKW Beauty, Kylie Cosmetics, MAC Cosmetics, Michael Kors, NARS, Oscar de la Renta, Prada, Uniqlo, and Warby Parker. (It’s interesting to note the number of upscale brands creating shoppable experiences on Instagram – a comment on how luxury brands have adapted to the times by becoming more accessible via digital.)

Checkout seems like a natural move for Instagram. As Vishal Shah, Instagram’s head of product, told The Wall Street Journal, “People were already shopping on Instagram. They were just having a hard time doing it.” The platform previously launched shoppable features such as product stickers in Stories. Vishal Shah  told Bloomberg, “Over time, as we are creating value for people, this could be a significant part of our business.”

The launch of checkout positions Instagram against Amazon as a platform for searching and shopping although Amazon clearly has an advantage with its scale. Enabling commerce on Instagram also makes it possible for businesses to create more integrated advertising experiences that connect the customer across the entire purchase journey, from awareness to conversion – with the entire journey occurring inside Instagram (instead of sending customers to an advertiser’s website to make an actual purchase). This is the kind of experience Amazon is creating – a self-contained customer journey where you can search and buy on one platform.

For more insight into how to create successful digital advertising on Instagram, contact True Interactive. We’re here to help.

Image source: Instagram