Voice can be your secret weapon for better customer experiences
Whether it's via a smart speaker or a voice assistant on a mobile device, more and more consumers are engaging with Voice experiences on an increasing basis. Studies show usage has been increasing steadily since early March as consumers look not just for convenience, but touchless engagement and commerce.
Back in June, Scot and I covered how COVID has altered consumer behavior at VOICE Global. Because of this shift, this has become a recurring theme: Voice is an effective way to engage with your audience... in a pandemic and always.
The thing is, most conversations about the opportunities of Voice are at a high level. But in reality, Voice isn't as singular a subject as you might think. It has quite a few facets.
Because we all tend look at Voice so broadly, it's common to avoid diving too deep into one aspect. It comes from a desire to make sure ALL the possibilities for Voice are known. But, there's a downside of this monolithic view: recognizing relevant use cases becomes tougher and as a result, the value of Voice experiences aren’t immediately clear to business stake holders.
It's important to see the forest for the trees...and the trees of the forest. It's why I say this:
Every time someone stresses the importance of a killer app in Voice, a conversation designer loses their wings (just kidding).
Remember way back when...when mobile was in its infancy? There was always some mobile thought leader pontificating about that killer mobile app. So...let me ask you a question.
If those evangelists were right, why are there 1.85 million apps available in the Apple App Store and 2.56 million in the Google Play Store?
There's a belief that somewhere out there is a single, magical use case that will solve all the problems and answer all the questions about the value of Voice. The reality, though, is different.
All jokes aside, I've been thinking about this focus because it comes up a lot—especially in discussions around monetization and ROI (Return on Investment).
And so...you have to ask yourself:
Am I in the business of making Voice experiences?
Or am I in the business of making Voice work for my business?
Building Voice experiences for the sake of Voice ignores real business impact. It treats Voice like we treated mobile way back when: As a feature. A cool new tool. A shiny disco ball. (You get the idea.)
And so... to help give context to where the use cases and value lie, we think of Voice as having two distinct categories: Voice as a product and Voice as part of a customer experience.
When you identify and recognize the differences, you get a step ahead.
Because THIS is what determines the role a Voice experience plays in your business and brand. It helps you define not only the experience for your users, but also how you market and support that experience.
Voice applications and experiences can be separated into two distinct categories.
The first: where the Voice application is the product itself.
The second: where the Voice application is a part of the product or its customer experience and brand.
You want to make sure you distinguish between the two because there are nuances to how each is marketed and the value each delivers. What's more, while each of these categories contribute to conversions and revenue, they do so in dramatically different ways.
A stand-alone Voice application exists to solve a problem. To provide entertainment. Perhaps even to have its own brand.
It’s the center of the brand ecosystem so all roads typically lead to its use.
An obvious example of this are Games, and there’s a vast array of challenging and interesting games and quizzes you can play right now through Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.
But, there are also non-game Voice applications that stand on their own and provide a practical utility or service like finding a device, looking up information, converting measurements, or even providing educational content. Monetization for these types of Voice experiences usually comes in the form of in-skill purchases or transactions for enhancements or access to premium content. Here, the focus is on driving user traffic...It's for when we want more users who then upgrade to paid subscriptions or access.
Examples of this abound:
On the other side of things, there are the Voice applications that are a part of a larger brand ecosystem. When used this way, Voice plays a key role in an integrated brand experience and rarely serves as the user's final destination. These applications are not intended to be complete replacements of existing processes, rather they play more of an enhancement or augmentation role.
All of this doesn’t mean a Voice experience is a feature or expendable channel. You can find a bunch of compelling reasons to use Voice internally and externally (in fact, read more about them here). From a data perspective, more than several reports focused on consumer adoption rates indicate Voice shouldn’t be ignored (here's one from NPR that gets updated periodically to stay current).
Instead, consider how Voice can make existing experiences better. For example:
More examples are seen in:
Yet another powerful example is the Hey Mercedes voice assistant that Mercedes has integrated into some of its vehicles. It's a part of the automaker's MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) infotainment system and can help with a range of tasks like giving driving directions, checking the weather, or changing the temperature inside the car with just your voice.
Considering these vast experiences, it's easy to see how Voice applications go well beyond the smart speakers we have in our homes to provide more value than we may expect.
At this point, you may be thinking, "Great...these examples are focused on the B2C sector. What about B2B?"
And, I have good news. There are absolutely opportunities for B2B audiences in Voice.
That's so important, I'll say it again: There are absolutely opportunities for B2B audiences in Voice.
Voice experiences can provide important information needed during the Awareness and Consideration phases of the path to purchase. They can drive lead generation and help close business deals. (In fact, the Sonic Brand Answers Voice app Pragmatic Digital created for Sixième Son does both!)
While these are general guidelines, there are some situations where a Voice experience or application can exist either as a stand alone experience or as part of a larger brand one.
Entertainment and lifestyle content can blur the lines, as can smart speaker game enhancements (e.g., the Assassin's Creed's cross-promotion on Amazon Alexa is a prime example of the crossover). In these cases, it's more about the role the Voice experience plays rather than its actual classification.
Because of the range of ways a Voice experience can expand a brand, there are a variety of ROI scenarios. Some—like increasing sales or reducing cost savings—are more direct; others—that help create a more robust and responsive brand experience—are indirect ROI contributors. All in all, this is remarkably similar to how tactics like advertising and social media might not have a direct line to a final sale or a retained customer, but certainly impact final purchases, future purchases, and decisions to stick around perpetually.
Regardless whether impact is direct or indirect, the imperative for ROI should always be a consideration in your Voice strategy and roadmap. If showing ROI quickly is a must, then starting with a basic-but-scalable Voice experience is preferable to a large-scale, complex initiative that requires significantly more resources and effort to design, build, and launch.
Another key consideration many downplay or skip altogether is allocating enough time up front for plan research and validation before starting to build. Taking this simple, but critical step instills confidence you're truly on the path to improve a customer experience or address a real business problem.
Because there are distinct differences between Voice-as-a-Product versus Voice-as-Part-of-a-Product, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing and supporting a Voice experience. Strategies and tactics frequently change depending on business goals and the specific phase of the customer journey being addressed.
Before we jump into differences, let's review the few things that don't change no matter the role of a Voice experience.
When it comes to standalone Voice experiences, the goal is typically going to be focused on traffic volume and usage. Without users, there is no revenue. Adding to that challenge, with Voice experiences, you don't have a physical product in-store that gives you immediate customer communication touch points. Paid tactics can drive significant traffic, but it's the owned and earned channels that really will expand the reach of your message.
When a Voice experience is part of a larger brand ecosystem, there are typically more places to talk about your experience: packaging, websites, CRM, on-premise, and off-premise to name a few. You even can include a simple callout about your Voice experience in advertising campaigns and promotions.
When a Voice experience is part of a larger brand ecosystem, there are more places to talk about your experience: packaging, websites, CRM, on-premise, and off-premise to name a few. You even can include a simple callout about your Voice experience in advertising campaigns and promotions. Make sure you're think about all of your touchpoints (paid, owned, and earned) as part of an integrated campaign so you maximize your effort.
If you've gotten this far into this article, odds are you're interested in getting started with Voice. In fact, you may already have started the work with the key information used to develop your product and messaging. Have no fear! That information will be helpful for developing useful and usable experiences that deliver value.
Here is a list of questions we use at Pragmatic Digital to identify this critical information:
Who is your target audience?
What are they trying to do?
What information do they need?
What are their pain points?
What content are they already viewing and engaging with frequently?
What does a typical customer journey look like for your product or service?
What is your current sales process?
What are your business's pain points?
What is the value proposition your brand offers?
What is your brand’s persona?
Voice experiences are here to stay. Your successful adoption of them depends almost exclusively on the action you take... starting now.
*Source: Iqbal, Mansoor. "App Download and Usage Statistics (2020)." October 9, 2020. https://www.businessofapps.com/data/app-statistics/#2.3
Susan Westwater is the CEO and co-founder of Pragmatic and an expert in advising innovative brands on Voice and conversational AI. With 20+ years of experience in top tier agencies and corporate, she helps clients expand their brands into conversational experiences. She is an expert on Voice, conversational AI, and emerging technologies in marketing and business strategy and has published works on the topic. She is an Ambassador of the Open Voice Network, an instructor at the AI Academy for Marketers, and co-author of "Voice Strategy" and "Voice Marketing" (2023).
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