Why Super Bowl 2020 Ads Humanized Voice Assistants

Why Super Bowl 2020 Ads Humanized Voice Assistants

Advertising Amazon Google

Last month on this blog I predicted that in 2020 we’d see companies such as Amazon and Google inject more personality in the way people interact with voice assistants. During the Super Bowl LIV advertising derby, I definitely saw some personality shining through with ads for Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Google Assistant. As businesses embrace voice-first approaches in their advertising and organic content, they can learn lessons from Amazon and Google. People crave a human touch with voice technology.

Amazon: “Before Alexa” 

Amazon relied on humor to make Alexa seem funnier and cuddlier, a tactic that Amazon has been using in recent Super Bowl ads. During Amazon’s Super Bowl 2020 ad, Ellen DeGeneres asked, ““What do you think people did before Alexa?” which triggered a bunch of vignettes of people throughout history asking other people to answer everyday questions, resulting in hilarious outcomes. We saw the Queen of England demand that a hapless jester named Alexi tell her a joke. A man in Dickinsonian England asked a newsboy named Alex, “What’s today’s news?” to which the kid replied, “Doesn’t matter. It’s all fake.” The ad circled back with Ellen DeGeneres asking Alexa to play her favorite song.

With this ad, Amazon wanted to remind us that talking with a machine is as natural as, well, two washerwomen in Medieval days passing the time. We’re just having a conversation, as natural as can be.

Google: “Loretta”

 

Google won over the internet with a touching ad in which an elderly widower asked Google Assistant to call up photos and memories of his late wife, Loretta. Through the man’s gentle instructions, we learned of his life with Loretta, including the favorite movie they shared (Casablanca) and a memorable trip they took to Alaska. At the end of the ad, the man said, “I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

This ad was emotionally powerful without being sentimental, and it turns out that it was based on the experiences of the grandfather of a Google employee; and the grandfather actually narrated the ad. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s going to be hard to find an ad in 2020 that tops this one for making voice assistants approachable and human. Here, Google Assistant acted as a friendly utility, helping a man remember a loved one.

Voice Assistants Get Personality

As I wrote last month, although voice assistants are growing in popularity, we’re not quite at a place where people are willingly using voice to manage the really important tasks such as making purchases and getting directions to the hospital. We need to trust voice assistants completely in order for voice to make that kind of breakthrough. 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?

But during Super Bowl LIV, Amazon and Google showed us that we have nothing to fear from voice assistants. They are as natural and human as we are.

The takeaway for businesses: as voice-based advertising and customer experiences take hold, showing personality and humanity in your content (paid and organic) will resonate.

Contact True Interactive

To succeed with online advertising in 2020, contact True Interactive. Read about some of our client work here.

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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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.

Contact True Interactive

To succeed with online advertising in 2020, contact True Interactive. Read about some of our client work here.

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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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

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Photo by Sebastian Scholz (Nuki) 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.

 

CES 2019 Reminds Advertisers about the Power of Voice

CES 2019 Reminds Advertisers about the Power of Voice

Marketing

In 2019, more than 74 million Americans will own smart speakers, up 15 percent from 2018. So it’s no surprise that the annual CES, occurring this week, has been showcasing products powered by voice interfaces. Within the first few days of CES, Google alone made a slew of announcements intended to show why Google Assistant is catching up with Amazon’s Alexa as a leading voice assistant. For instance, Google Maps now incorporates Google Assistant, and Google is working with Lenovo on a voice-activated alarm clock/visual display. Not to be outdone, Amazon announced a relationship with technology firm Telenav to make Alexa a more useful voice-based navigation tool in automobiles.

So where do these developments leave advertisers? After all, it’s not as if people are using their voices to buy products and services online. For the most part, consumers use voice as a way to find music and get weather forecasts. And most people do not use voice to search for anything online. But here’s the thing: people are using voice, and more than ever. They might not be using their voices to interact with your brand just yet, but the day is coming when they will. For a number of businesses, that day is here.

For quite some time, we’ve been advocating that advertisers prepare for a voice-first world. As I noted in a 2017 blog post, advertisers can do a number of things now to be savvy about the rise of voice. For instance, advertisers should evaluate your 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 . . . ” Use these queries to understand what consumers want to know about your products or services. That’s because consumers exercise a more natural and conversational language when they use their voices, thus altering their search behavior. You can then gather those learnings to strategize a personal user experience for voice searchers.

CES should serve as a reminder that a voice-first world is coming. You don’t want to be a laggard in that world. Contact True Interactive to make your online advertising flourish.