Conversations with Alexa: How Brands Can Engage with Customers Who Are Ready to Listen

Camille Blanchard, VP, Head of Innovation, West Cary Group

In case you haven’t heard, a large percentage of the population is about to invite someone new into their homes. This new addition will talk to people, answer their questions and tell them what they want to know. And you need to make sure your brand is what she’s talking about.

Her name? Alexa. And all signs point to her being magnificent. She was released in the U.S. in November 2014 as the virtual personal assistant that accompanies the Amazon Echo. One of the many things that makes her special is that she uses artificial intelligence (AI) to learn from and adapt to users’ speech patterns.

Of equal importance to consumers (and to brands that want to maximize their reach) is that the Amazon Echo that houses Alexa is priced at $179.99. And with the market expanding to the UK and Germany this fall, Alexa is making her global presence known.

Perfecting Her Skills

Alexa’s skills are optional features that consumers can add to Alexa-powered devices. Think of “skills” as enhancements to Alexa in the same way that apps are enhancements to smartphones. Now consider this: In January 2016, she had 135 skills. In June, developers had augmented her offering with over 1,000 possible skills. By September, that number had reached over 3,000.

Add to this the fact that Echo sales in the U.S. alone have reached three million, and you can easily see that Alexa is becoming the new voice of the home. Or, perhaps more accurately, the voice of the new home.

Potential for Brands

The possibility for brands is boundless due to the sheer openness of the platform. Amazon has granted developers unrestricted access to the Alexa Skills Kit and Alexa Voice Service through an online portal. The company has even gone so far as to create an Alexa Fund – a $100 million investment arm devoted to advancing voice recognition technology that integrates with the smart personal assistant.

But companies need to proceed carefully. This is an exciting moment in time – somewhere between early adopter and mass market popularity – where brands will need to abandon artifice and prove actual value in concert with her skills. Luckily, Alexa affords several categories in which to explore:

1.     Optimization/Productivity. Brands should focus on developing skills that make daily life simpler. For instance, appliance manufacturers should consider creating models with internet connectivity. Financial institutions can focus on ways Alexa could improve consumer money management. The travel industry might identify skills that can allow consumers to book flights or set up car service with ease.

2.     Advice. A great opportunity exists to enhance skills that inform and improve how consumers interact with the world at large. The fitness industry could consider trackers that encourage user activity. Culinary institutions could develop a skill that suggests recipes with ingredients consumers have on hand.

3.     Buddy. Don’t underestimate the value of a virtual assistant in the lonely hour. Music subscriber services can invest in skills that allow Alexa to build a playlist based on mood. The senior services industry can investigate games that serve as a sounding board, encourage motion or enhance mental acuity.

The Time is Now

In October, The Telegraph’s Technology News Editor James Titcomb called the Echo “the most exciting new gadget in years,” saying, “it feels more like the first time using an iPhone in its early days: with a massive sense of promise about what could come.”

With such glowing reviews, there’s little doubt that there will be a bevy of Echos purchased during the holiday season. WCGi thinks now is the perfect time for brands to fulfill the promise of which Titcomb speaks.

Contact us if you want a partner to help you map out a flawless strategy. We have big ideas about how to insert your brand voice into the Alexa conversation in a way that connects with your audience. 

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