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.

Contact True Interactive

To make online advertising work for you, contact True Interactive. We’re an independent agency that optimizes branded interactions to drive traffic and increase sales.

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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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Three Ways to Capitalize on Amazon Search

Three Ways to Capitalize on Amazon Search

Amazon

We already know that Amazon is the Number One website for people to do product searches: according to a 2018 Jumpshot report, from 2015 to 2018, Amazon overtook Google in this area, with Amazon growing to claim 54 percent of product searches while Google declined from 54 percent to 46 percent. Now we know something more. According to Marketplace Pulse, a majority of Amazon searches—78 percent, in fact—are nonbranded. Instead of pinpointing a specific company like lululemon, say, many customers are making broad searches such as “yoga pants for women” and seeing what comes up.

This data demonstrates the opportunity that exists — indeed, just how wide open the playing field on Amazon is for businesses that sell products there. People are searching with intent on Amazon: they want to buy something. But they haven’t yet decided on what to buy. And here’s where the savvy marketer can make inroads.

Amazon Is Growing as an Ad Platform

The data also underscores just how big Amazon has become as an advertising platform. As we recently blogged, Amazon continues to grow, and is biting into other companies’ share of the spoils. eMarketer’s report that Amazon is projected to capture 8.8 percent of U.S. digital ad spending in 2019 is telling. So was the GeekWire article from January 2019, which discussed record 2018 profits for Amazon, and gave props to advertising for contributing to that success. According to GeekWire, “Fueling its bottom line is Amazon’s growing advertising arm that generates revenue by charging companies to promote their products on Amazon properties.”

Three Ways to Capitalize on Amazon Searches

How can a business take advantage of these developments? That is, what sort of strategy should businesses embrace in order to capitalize on the possibilities Amazon affords?

1 Advertise on Amazon

First of all, make sure you advertise on Amazon and that you know how to do so. Familiarize yourself with the complete listing of Amazon Advertising offerings.

And check out our blog. We’ve published numerous posts to help businesses understand Amazon’s many advertising options, including:

  • Sponsored ads, the pay-per-click (PPC) advertising approach that takes a shopper directly to a product page or brand site within Amazon. Sponsored ads are available to sellers, venders, book venders, and Kindle Direct Publishing.
  • Video ads, which complement display ads by expanding beyond a single image to tell a compelling story. Video ads can be used to target a certain audience on Amazon as well as Amazon-owned and third-party sites (e.g., Twitch) and devices.
  • Display ads, which, like video ads, can be employed to reach people in a specific target audience.

Additionally, be aware that Amazon is constantly refining and improving its advertising offerings and creating new ones. Stay abreast of the changes.

2 Make Sure You Have Good Reviews on Amazon

Reviews carry a lot of weight and can help you. According to an oft-cited 2012 Nielsen release, 70 percent of respondents had some or complete confidence in online reviews of products, whether they knew the reviewer or not. Online reviews also tap into basic human psychology. In a description of Dr. Robert Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion, the Influence at Work website describes consensus as the phenomenon where “people will look to the actions and behaviors of others to determine their own . . . especially when they are uncertain.” Note that in the case of consensus, at least online, more is more. Five hundred positive reviews will impress consumers more than three will, no matter how glowing those three reviews happen to be. Ask customers to review you.

3 Be Aware That Advertising on Amazon Is Not a Slam-Dunk

Amazon has flooded its site with its own private label products. Understand Amazon’s generic product strategy — it’s huge —especially if you are a commodity brand such as a seller of batteries, vents, or paper towels. You’ll have to work hard.

There’s a lot of money to be made on Amazon. If you already have products there, know how to capitalize on Amazon’s tools to attract customers. If you don’t, think about making that happen.

Contact True Interactive

True Interactive knows how to build your business via advertising on Amazon in context of broader online advertising strategies. Want to learn more? True Interactive can help. Contact us.

Why the Amazon/Sizmek Deal Matters

Why the Amazon/Sizmek Deal Matters

Advertising Amazon

On May 31, Amazon said it will acquire assets from Sizmek, an advertising technology firm. The announcement consisted of three paragraphs with little detail. But the deal is valuable for Amazon as the company builds a stronger advertising platform to compete with Facebook and Google.

Amazon Advertising Gains Market Share

Amazon’s advertising business is slowly taking market share from Facebook and Google. According to eMarketer, Amazon will capture 8.8 percent of U.S. digital ad spending in 2019. This amount trails far behind Google (with 37.2 percent market share) and Facebook (22.1 percent). But Amazon is building its advertising operation from scratch, and in a short time it has emerged as a threat primarily to Google, as consumers shift their product searches away from Google and toward Amazon.

How Sizmek’s Assets Will Help Amazon

Amazon purchased Sizmek’s ad server and dynamic creative optimization tools, the latter of which helps personalize ads using data. Sizmek’s tools will bolster Amazon’s already strong warehouse of customer data with even more data from ad serving. Doing so will give Amazon more targeted ways to advertise to the millions of people who search for products on Amazon and willingly share their personal information with the company. The deal isn’t making Amazon bigger, but it will make Amazon smarter.

What Advertisers Should Do

At True Interactive, we help businesses capitalize on Amazon as an advertising platform as part of our broader digital advertising offerings. We’ve been actively blogging about the many features Amazon Advertising is developing, such as video ads on Amazon’s mobile app. Based on our own experience, we suggest advertisers:

  • Examine how partnering with Amazon Advertising will help you attract and acquire customers, even if you don’t sell products on Amazon. As The New York Times reported recently, Amazon is tapping into its rich vein of customer data to help companies create more targeted ads across the digital world – an “insanely powerful” capability, according to the article.
  • Watch as Amazon’s competitors evolve their platforms to compete with the Amazon threat. For instance, Google recently announced new features intended to make it a stronger mobile advertising platform (which we discussed here). And, don’t forget Microsoft. Its own advertising business, while small, gives businesses an alternative to the Big Three of Amazon, Facebook, and Google.

Online advertising is changing rapidly as the major players make acquisitions and develop their products organically. Advertisers will benefit so long as you remain vigilant and capitalize on these improvements. True Interactive can help you. As an outside party, we constantly evaluate new tools and ensure that our clients benefit from them with effective digital advertising campaigns. Contact us. We’d love to make your online advertising more powerful.

Coming to the Amazon App: Video Ads

Coming to the Amazon App: Video Ads

Amazon

As consumers increasingly shop online, Amazon’s app is a popular go-to destination, and the company is clearly paying heed. Recent Mobile Marketer and Bloomberg articles underscore Amazon’s sensitivity to consumer habits and the way the company is responding to what it sees: for example, by testing video ads in the Apple iOS version of Amazon’s shopping app. The move makes Amazon a stronger advertising alternative to Google and Facebook, and signals not only the e-commerce giant’s increased focus on advertising, but also its recognition of the public’s hunger for mobile ads.

Savvy and Lucrative

Incorporating video ads on the Amazon app is a savvy move. As an intent-based app, Amazon tends to draw consumers who already possess a desire to buy. The video spots, which pop up in response to users’ search results in Amazon’s shopping app, are meant to capitalize on this intention. It’s also a lucrative move for the company: though prices range depending on the ad category and not everyone pays a fixed rate, Amazon is charging roughly a $35,000 ad budget to run the spots at five cents per view for 60 days. The plan is to start with iOS, then expand to Google’s Android mobile operating system later this year.

Growing Along with Digital Advertising

As we’ve been discussing at True Interactive, the news is a sign of Amazon’s continued growth as a platform for businesses to advertise on—not just sell products on. And although Amazon’s April 25th first quarter earnings announcement reports a slowdown in that growth, the announcement also makes it clear: Amazon’s advertising business remains strong and highly profitable.

Furthermore, Amazon is making inroads into others’ share of the spoils. eMarketer reports that Amazon’s advertising business will capture 8.8 percent of U.S. digital ad spending in 2019, eating into the percentage enjoyed by the duopoly of Google and Facebook (Google, while still enjoying the lion’s share of digital ad spending, is projected to drop by one point in 2019). And Amazon, though still trailing behind Facebook and Google in advertising spend share, seems uniquely positioned to step up. As eMarketer forecasting director Monica Peart notes, “Amazon offers a major benefit to advertisers, especially CPG and direct-to-consumer [D2C] brands. The platform is rich with shoppers’ behavioral data for targeting and provides access to purchase data in real time.”

It’s a good time for Amazon to expand in this way: as we discussed in a recent post, mobile ads are on the rise. Forrester reports that between 2017 and 2022, mobile will drive 86 percent of growth in U.S. digital ad spending. The digital dollars are being siphoned from other, more traditional ad spending shares, according to eMarketer: directories like the Yellow Pages, for example, and traditional print resources like newspapers and magazines. “The steady shift of consumer attention to digital platforms has hit an inflection point with advertisers, forcing them to now turn to digital to seek the incremental gains in reach and revenues which are disappearing in traditional media advertising,” Peart said.

What You Can Do

Whether or not you advertise on Amazon, the news offers a compelling reason to have a mobile ad strategy. We recommend that you:

  • Remember that mobile is its own beast. Take a page from Amazon’s book: listen to the signals of consumer behavior and shape your mobile advertising accordingly.
  • Watch for Facebook and Google to respond with more mobile ad products, and see how they do it. Watching these giants maneuver and attempt to one-up one another can be a great way to learn what works.
  • Consider how video plays into your advertising mix. Video has its own set of requirements for production and creative concepting: what does that mean for your business and the resources you have at hand?

True Interactive works with businesses all the time to develop their video advertising campaigns Call us, and see our recently published case study with Snapfish, to get an idea of the kind of work we do.

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Alexa Stars in Amazon’s 2018 Earnings Announcement

Alexa Stars in Amazon’s 2018 Earnings Announcement

Amazon

The conversation about the voice interface no longer focuses on whether we’re entering a voice-first world. The questions have quickly shifted to who will lead it and how soon using our voices to search for things and manage our lives will be as second nature as texting.

My teammate Taylor Murphy recently discussed an answer to the first question: no single firm “owns” the voice-first world, but both Amazon and Google have a strong lead. The answer to the question about how quickly voice will saturate our lives comes down to how soon people will be comfortable using voice to do tasks that require extremely high levels of trust in the device you’re using, such as buying a product or handling an emergency. Most people use voice to do mundane things like check the weather. Few actually ask Alexa or Google Assistant to order a pizza or conduct other transactions. That’s because we’re not quite ready to trust a device to interpret our speech with enough accuracy.

The major players in voice are trying to address that issue. In Amazon’s January 31 earnings announcement, CEO Jeff Bezos said, “The number of research scientists working on Alexa has more than doubled in the past year, and the results of the team’s hard work are clear. In 2018, we improved Alexa’s ability to understand requests and answer questions by more than 20% through advances in machine learning, we added billions of facts making Alexa more knowledgeable than ever, developers doubled the number of Alexa skills to over 80,000, and customers spoke to Alexa tens of billions more times in 2018 compared to 2017.”

Normally CEOs comment on high-level, visionary messages in earnings releases, such as top-line growth, major product launches, and corporate strategy. I find it interesting that Jeff Bezos decided to talk about Alexa’s accuracy, and the number of Alexa skills developed. What does this tell you? That Alexa is strategic to Amazon. Jeff Bezos already saw the voice-first world coming, and he decided to help shape it.

So what does all this mean to businesses that advertise online? It means that before you know it, we’re going to turn the corner with voice accuracy. Consumers will use their voices for e-commerce. So it’s important to prepare. For example, as noted previously by my colleague Taylor, advertisers should evaluate their search queries and look for conversional text (“Who,” “What,” “Where,” “When,” “Why,” and “How” are great phrases to focus on). Also, pay attention to any long-tail queries that include a natural phrase such as “near me” or “can I get the number for . . . ”

The above advice applies not only to optimizing content on your websites but also preparing your paid media, such as paid search campaigns. Thinking like a customer might be the most effective way of ensuring your digital marketing efforts are visible to RankBrain – part of Google’s core algorithm that employs machine learning to draw the most relevant results from a search query. RankBrain collects multiple data points like keywords and the searcher’s location in an attempt to identify the intent of a search to then pair the query with the most relevant and valuable result.

Remember, voice isn’t just about using Echo or Google Home. It’s also about doing voice searches on devices where ads appear.

If you sell products on Amazon, the sense of urgency to adapt to voice is even greater. Amazon is clearly using its own retail platform to sell more Echo speakers, and more Echo speakers means more people using their voices to find and eventually buy things on Amazon.

You don’t want to be a laggard in that world. Contact True Interactive to make your online advertising flourish.

 

Advertiser Q&A: Amazon Video Ads

Advertiser Q&A: Amazon Video Ads

Amazon

Earlier this year, advertisers complained in a Digiday article that Amazon lacked a robust video ad platform, which made Amazon less attractive to Facebook and Google as an ad platform. Amazon must have been listening. The company launched video ads as part of a broader reorganization of its ad offerings under Amazon Advertising. In recent weeks, I’ve been blogging about various Amazon Advertising products. Here’s a brief overview of video ads to help you understand them.

1 What is Amazon’s Video Advertising Solution?

Amazon’s video offerings are very similar to their display offering in the sense that they use specific audiences with custom creatives to target people on Amazon as well as Amazon-owned and third-party sites (such as Twitch) and devices. Unlike the display offerings, there isn’t a self-managed option – so you must work with a team throughout the whole process.

2 Why Would an Advertiser Use Video Ads?

Video ads are a great way to tell a story. They complement display ads by sharing the same sentiments but with the ability to expand beyond a single image to show the entire story. Video ads are mainly seen as a branding play, but by using highly specific targeting available on Amazon, video ads can also drive people to complete a purchase.

As reported in Digiday, Lego tested video ads in search results on the Amazon app in the United States in 2017. And Lego liked what it saw. James Poulter, Lego’s head of emerging platforms and partnerships, told Digiday, “The test reiterated the importance video and rich media can have when it’s part of the buying journey, especially when 70 percent of all purchase journeys start on Amazon. Surfacing your content in the same place that people are having those journeys has the potential to widen the funnel.”

3 Are There Any Limitations to Video Ads?

As with Amazon’s Display ads, the main limitation with Amazon video ads is the price. Amazon requires a $35,000 budget for both video and display ad campaigns. This hefty price prevents smaller advertisers from being able to test out these advertising features.

4 How Can Advertisers Maximize the Value of Video Ads?

Maximizing the value of video ads requires a goal, good story telling, and smart targeting.

  • Goals – Since most advertisers on Amazon are selling a product, getting a consumer to complete a purchase is the most obvious goal. Generating brand awareness and recall is another goal that would work well within the Amazon universe.
  • Stories – Visually show someone how purchasing a product will solve a problem for them. Walk them through a product demonstration, but without it feeling like a sales pitch. Showcase testimonials and reviews. Create an instructional video illustrating specific features of a product.
  • Targeting – Leverage Amazon’s targeting options to find highly relevant audiences. Take what you know about your customer and match that up with products they buy and shows and videos they watch. Be very specific to the product you sell.

If you’re interested in Amazon video ads, but don’t know where to start or need assistance strategizing and managing them, please reach out to us at True Interactive.

Here are the other posts in my series about Amazon: 

Advertiser Q&A: Amazon Display Ads 

Advertiser Q&A: Amazon Sponsored Ads