How Voice-Activation Is Becoming The New ‘Touch’

The adoption rate of smart speakers with voice assistants grew 140 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to a survey from music streaming service Pandora and Edison Research.

In particular, Pandora usage on these devices grew by a 282 percent year-over-year.

Wit that growth in mind, Pandora sought to get a sense of how the rise of devices such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana is opening up new opportunities for marketers to reach multiple household members in contextually relevant ways they couldn’t before.

The research bears out much of what NPR found in its recent examination of the role of voice-activation and consumers’ media usage. Roughly 65 percent of people who own an Amazon Echo or Google Home can’t imagine to going back to the days before they had a smart speaker, and 42 percent of that group say the voice-activated devices have quickly become “essential” to their lives, NPR’s research said.

Among the obvious points both NPR and Pandora’s separate studies found: listening to music was the initial reason people sought these devices for. But the use cases of have quickly mushroomed.

With Apple emphasizing entertainment as part of its marketing behind its Siri-powered smart speaker, Homepod — which is set to be released in December — the next phase of audio and voice activation may be only just emerging. But it is emerging at a rapid rate.

From Touch To Talking

As Keri Degroote, vice president of research and analytics at Pandora, notes,  it is critical for brands to align their strategies accordingly.

“Voice-activated-everything is spreading like wildfire,”Degroote says. “From what we’ve seen, yes Smart Speakers have just surpassed any fad or experimental phase. The demographics of users (particularly the high proportion of 55+) suggest that this is no longer early adopters, but has hit the mass market. And the frequency with which these devices are used amongst consumers show the true value of bringing them into their homes.”

There is still room to grow in terms of users, functionality and integration – look back on the iPhone’s launch a little over 10 years ago, she adds.

“What brand can you name that doesn’t have a presence on the app store these days?” Degroote says. “And how many brands wish they were on the top of app-store charts in the early days to secure that prime home-screen positioning? It is important brands don’t play catch up in two- or three years’ time and find themselves in the same position.”

Still, Larry Rosin, president of Edison Research, notes that the adoption curve may be different from some of the other technologies and platforms that consumers have popularized since the iPhone emerged.

For example, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, as well as fitness trackers and wearables, have tended to be driven first by younger tech aficionados. The rise of voice-activation has been driven by people who are older and more affluent.

“This is not just a ‘young people’s technology’ like video gaming, for example. It’s much broader in terms of its appeal. So the adoption curve is going to be a bit different than with previous technologies. To start, connected home devices are not the cheapest products. But it depends on how you consider them: if you think of them as a computer, they’re generally not that expensive. If you think of them as a novelty, then you might consider them a bit pricey. For people who can afford these devices, voice-activated devices are quite practical.”

Here are some of the topline findings of Pandora’s study, which was based on interviews with 444 U.S. adults who own a voice-activated smart speaker: Amazon Echo, Dot, Tap, or Google Home:

  • Voice-enabled home devices are creating a rise in audio consumption and music. On a weekly basis, 69 percent of people are regularly tuning into audio content on their voice-enabled smart speakers with 58 percent tuning into music for an average of 4 hours and 34 minutes per week.
  • We now search, make inquiries and buy with our voices. 46 percent of people are checking the weather, 42 percent get a joke, “Easter egg” or converse, and 40 percent are asking general questions on where to find a store or how to cook a particular recipe. 29 percent plan to make purchases with top items being technology, household goods and beauty products.
  • Adoption is beyond fast. While it took many years for there to be multiple TVs in the home, 1 out of 3 people already have 2 or more voice-enabled devices across different rooms in their home.
  • These devices are not just for the young and tech-savvy. 40 percent of these device owners are between the ages of 35-54 with younger Gen Z and Millennials, 18-34 (35 percent) coming in second (35 percent). 
  • Voice-activated devices are also social. 77 percent of people are listening to music on these devices with friends and family: creating new ways for advertisers to engage multiple members of the household at home.

What Does Voice Mean For Marketers?

When looking at the the most popular usage patterns Pandora’s study notes, it’s worth considering whether voice-activation is for all marketers — or just some who can meet a direct question-and-answer response that depends on a certain immediate need.

Can voice-activated assistants have greater impact on the purchase a consumer packaged goods product, as opposed to, say, buy a car or real estate?

“From a short-term perspective, yes it appears that brands that serve immediate needs (like CPG products) are best positioned to capitalize on Smart Speakers,” says Degroote. “This is another way of search functionality, only this time done through voice. Users are already turning to smart speakers and voice assistants to talk, search, entertain, shop, etc in moments where they may have used a screen in the past.

“However, data from a follow up study on the Pandora Soundboard suggests that Voice Assistants are going to be key referral sources for a whole range of consumer needs,” she adds.

Around 60 percent said that they’ll use Smart Speakers to find stores and business locations, suggest entertainment content like TV shows and movies, and make restaurant recommendations in the future.

“We can easily see this evolving to Voice Assistants being the first ‘port-of-call’ on how to maximize tax deductions, or develop a training routine or physiotherapy exercises –a perfect opportunity for more service-based industries to deliver their messaging and offer their services to consumers,” Degroote says.

Advertising And The Company Of Others

As Pandora’s research suggests, the use of voice may have a more social aspect to it as opposed to the smartphone, which has come to represent the most personal of “personal computing.”

Does that mean the advertising we’re used to seeing on mobile and social channels will need to reflect that the voice-activation experience is not necessarily “solo.” What impact is that social aspect likely to have — or should have — on marketing strategies aimed at leveraging smart speakers?

“Brands need to be aware of messaging to consumers on Smart Speakers, or any Connected Home device for that matter (Smart TVs, Fridges, Games Consoles),” Degroote says. “On Pandora, the majority of our listening is on mobile which usually dictates a one-to-one creative approach.”

If a listener is in their car listening via their Connected Dash, the situation changes — they could be with their children or by themselves, which may change the way a brand wants to communicate with them and “show them they know them,” Degroote notes.

“We estimate that over 50 percent of listening via Connected Home devices is done in the company of others, which gives brands the opportunity to reach many listeners at once during a number of moments and occasions,” she adds. “Being able to serve a contextual message to a father playing with his kids on the weekend, or a couple hosting a dinner party for their old college friends on Saturday night provides marketers a great opportunity to reach consumers at key moments that create relevance for their products.”

For Edison’s Rosin, who notes he’s something of an outlier among digital assistant owners: he has one voice-activated device in his kitchen and one in his bedroom. Most people tend to have them in their living room. And that will have a significant affect in the experience that people expect from the media and ads they receive from these devices.

“There is plenty of evidence that most people are using these devices while they’re together, as opposed to being alone,” Rosin says. “Audio has been hot for awhile, and the combination of audio and shared interactivity, suggests that voice and listening is only going to become more central in the way people use computers.”

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What Do People Use Smart Speakers For?

Roughly 65 percent of people who own an Amazon Echo or Google Home can’t imagine to going back to the days before they had a smart speaker, and 42 percent of that group say the voice-activated devices have quickly become “essential” to their lives.

Still, it’s the earliest of “early days” for this Connected Intelligence technology, as a mere 7 percent of the population actually has a smart speaker in their home, a report by Edison Research commissioned by NPR suggests.

Given that smart speakers and the connected home are only starting to reach mainstream interest — and Apple’s first speaker, Homepod, isn’t even due to hit the market until December following its June preview —  it’s not surprising that just 7 percent of U.S. adults own one.

NPR’s Smart Audio Report was based upon a national online survey of 1,620 Americans ages 18 or over, including 15 in-home interviews in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Allentown, PA.

About 800 respondents indicated that they owned at least one Smart Speaker (160 Google Home, 709 Amazon Alexa-enabled, and 69 who owned both.) 820 respondents did not own a Smart Speaker device, and were “surveyed for comparative purposes.”

Amazon Prime Time

While Amazon Echo’s dominance of the space is no surprise, NPR’s report puts it in a bit more context: 82 percent of the smart speaker owners subscribe to Amazon Prime, the e-commerce’s giant’s discounted sales and shipping membership program; 44 percent of those surveyed who don’t own a smart speaker subscribe to Prime, indicating that Amazon Echo has plenty of room to go grow — as do its rivals.

It’s remarkable to gauge the speed with which voice-activation, although it’s been around popularly through Apple’s iOS assistant Siri debuted on the iPhone in 2011, Still, it’s one thing going from using Siri to open an app on a device, to using a digital assistant to book restaurant or hotel reservations.

In 2017, 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month for sudden rise of 128.9 percent over last year, says eMarketer.

At the moment, Amazon’s Echo device has a huge lead with a 70.6 percent of users in that space. Google Home, which only launched last October, will have to catch up as it has just 23.8 percent of the market.

Earlier this summer, a Raymond James survey of 500 consumers found that 14 percent of iPhone owners are interested in buying Apple’s Homepod. To put that into perspective, three years ago, when the Apple Watch was first announced, iPhone owners’ purchase intention of that product was only 6 percent.

Source: NPR and Edison Research

What Are Smart Speakers Used For?

In looking at over two dozen use cases, just 13 percent of smart speaker owners use their smart speakers to find a local business, according to an NPR survey.

Again, considering the relatively small penetration, and Amazon’s particular push to use Echo and its voice assistant Alexa to push products through Amazon Prime, that low number is not a surprise. As consumers get used to the idea of using their smart speakers to connect them with places in the physical world, that number will rise quickly.

 

While most of the people surveyed said they used their smart speakers to play music (68 percent) or check the weather (58 percent), most of the uses offer additional points of connection for brands.

For example, the calendar and appointments use case (23 percent) might allow OpenTable to make better restaurant suggestions through its existing Alexa skill.

“As these platforms where people are actually spending their time adapt, and allow you to stay within the platform more and more, that, to me, is [the future],” Birchbox CEO Katia Beauchamp recently told GeoMarketing‘s Lauryn Chamberlain.

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How Patrón Used Alexa And Foursquare To Expand Online-To-Offline Marketing

For spirits marketer Patrón, every day is “International Tequila Day.”

But to make sure consumers stay connected to the brand during and beyond, the company put artificial intelligence and location targeting to extend its reach from bar-to-home.

To promote its year-old Patrón Cocktail Lab, a cocktail recommendation engine that was launched online and apps, and its bot-tender that answers the questions of home mixologists, the liquor marketer turned to Foursquare, the location intelligence company, for targeted ads and unveiled “skills” for voice-activated digital assistants Amazon Alexa and Microsoft Cortana.

For Adrian Parker, VP, Marketing at Patrón Spirits Company, the effort was about forging a direct relationship with existing and potential consumers.

“We migrated to the platform-based model that put the customer in the center,” Parker said, speaking at the Innovation Congress in New York earlier this month. “Most organizations don’t say the word ‘customer’ enough. They say ‘user’ or ‘purchaser.’ Think about Uber or Lyft, which created about 500,000 limos, or Airbnb, which has created 3 million hotel rooms. Think about Blue Apron, which has created 8 million chef’s tables.”

Patrón’s Adrian Parker at Innovation Congress

With that in mind, Could Patron Tequila create over 500,000 bars in kitchens across the U.S.?

“We think so,” Parker said. “So we started to think about making our conversations with consumers more meaningful. We started thinking about creating ‘experiences’ that we could deliver through automation and bots.”

Alexa Is Just The Beginning

To make the Patrón Cocktail Lab easier to use, Patrón became one of the first spirits brands to explore voice technology. By simply enabling the “Patrón skill” in the Alexa app on Amazon Alexa voice-enabled devices, including Amazon Echo, users can ask for cocktail recommendations, recipes and tips – everything from the perfect brunch recipe to the proper way to shake and strain a cocktail. Future voice platforms will follow.

“At Patrón we didn’t invent tequila, but we perfected it, and that includes our longstanding commitment to product and technological innovation,” said Lee Applbaum, Global CMO at Patrón Spirits. “Engaging voice communication is just another way that we’re creating simply perfect experiences for our consumers through the tools that we deliver and the tequila that we proudly handcraft. We are excited to be the first luxury spirit brand on the Amazon Alexa platform, which is really the start of a broader initiative that will leverage platforms like Alexa, Cortana, Siri, and future technologies to be able to more seamlessly deliver content to people when and how they want it. Alexa is just the beginning.”

As Parker explained, the decision to develop an Alexa skill, as well as ones from Google Home and Microsoft Cortana, was about answering the question of “how could we start to have these conversations in a way that was a little more meaningful?”

The answer was to “connect consumers to experiences” through chatbots and Connected Intelligence-based voice-activation.

“How do you even start to look into voice technology?” Parker told the InnoCon attendees of Patrón’s exploration. “How do we connect consumers in cocktail culture to behavioral analytics? It involves social intelligence and thinking of our brand as a platform.’

The Patrón Bot-Tender in action

From Static Experience To Connected Community

As brands explore the role for AI and voice as a part of their marketing programs, the central idea is to create a range of complementary and personalized use cases that reach customers at different points of their day and mindset.

For example, someone might be in one mindset at home, while another mindset might strike them as they leave work in the early evening. The idea is to continue the conversation through those stages and be ready when the consumer is.

“With Cocktail Lab as our leading ‘magic cocktail experience,’ we have consumers wanting to connect with bartenders, which is great,” Parker said. “We’re at the center of that equation, and it’s become a really new way for us to not only learn from our consumers, but use location and data intelligence to make sure they’re getting the right cocktail at the right time.”

The Cocktail Lab started as kind of a “static experience” pumping out recipes and eventually became  actually a connected community, Parker said.

Since it began, Patrón was able to attract over 270,000 users with 32,000 users interact over voice and had people engage with 110,000 bot messages.

While Parker wouldn’t reveal sales figures, he said that Patrón’s business saw “double-digit growth.”

Patrón’s Alexa skill extends its Cocktail Lab from its online site and mobile app to the voice-activated assistant.

Patrón-ing The Summer

The use of voice-activation in the home is also having an impact on Patrón’s social media and online advertising.

Throughout the summer, Patrón has been working to bring the brand’s Cocktail Lab to 30 different cities in the U.S. and U.K.

This Patrón The Summer tour is serving up drink recipes powered by local trends and Foursquare location data, Parker told GeoMarkting. The campaign launched over the Memorial Day weekend, and runs through Labor Day (Monday, September 4, 2017).

“The goal of the campaign is to educate consumers and spirits enthusiasts on the versatility of tequila, outside of just margaritas and shots,” Parker said. “This data helps us to curate unique content and bespoke recipes for targeted regions around the globe, that we know our consumers will love.”

Additionally, the cocktail recommendations are being distributed across Amazon Alexa, Google Home, as well as on a custom-built chatbot on Facebook and Twitter.

Additionally, the cocktail recommendations are being distributed across Amazon Alexa, Google Home and even a custom-built chatbot on Facebook and Twitter. Patrón will be launching on Microsoft Cortana soon.

“It’s really a tremendous undertaking championed by all of our agencies,” Patrón said in a statement. “We’re in the third year of a 5-year journey to re-imagine how spirits drinkers discover, create and consume drinks. While we’re focused on growing tequila’s share of consumer stomachs and wallets, we’re also accelerating our participation in emerging platforms like Virtual/Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence as ways to share our handcrafted production process.”

Patron The Summer map is based on Foursquare data

Putting Patrón On The Map

Patrón first worked with Foursquare in 2015 to run its first Pinpoint campaign around National Tequila Day, where we served in-app ad units promoting Patrón content guides.

“Foursquare was able to identify taste trends in over 100 markets by analyzing top flavors/tastes, cocktails, alcohol and venue preferences of 21-34 year olds in cities across the globe,” Parker said. “We also tapped top bartenders and mixologists to both create and evaluate each unique cocktail.”

For the Patrón the Summer campaign, the tequila brand tapped into Foursquare’s unique location-based taste database to uncover taste trends in more than 100 cities across the globe.

By using Pinpoint, the Foursquare ad technology, for custom rich-media ads across mobile and web to help target a core set of consumers and provide real-time recommendations, the reach goes beyond users of the City Guide app and platform.

Based on a key list of accounts identified by Patrón, Foursquare is also providing its Attribution technology to understand who has seen the targeted Patrón ads. The location intelligence provider can then measure the effectiveness of driving consumers to on- or off-premise locations where Patron is served or sold.

“One of the major benefits of the Foursquare Pinpoint technology, and what sets us apart, is that it is platform agnostic and reaches more than 150M devices,” a Foursquare rep told GeoMarketing. “Pinpoint is used to reach consumers outside of the Foursquare network based on where they go in the real world.”

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Alexa Poised To Play A Bigger Role This Amazon Prime Day

The third annual Prime Day is set on Tuesday, July 11, with the e-commerce giant promising “hundreds of thousands of deals exclusively for Prime members” with 30 hours of deal shopping starting night before – and new deals as often as every five minutes.

And like last year, many of those deals will be aimed at Amazon Echo owners through the device’s voice-activated digital assistant, Alexa.

In a press release, Amazon singles out “voice shopping”  more “Alexa-exclusive deals” for members with an Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, Amazon Tap, compatible Fire TV or Fire tablet.

“Amazon is exclusively targeting its consumers who have an Alexa-enabled device, offering early-bird access to their Prime Day deals,” notes Dina Abdelrazik, Analyst, Parks Associates. “This will mark the second year that Amazon pushes ‘voice shopping’ with Alexa-exclusive deals.”

According to Parks Associates data, 17 percent of Amazon Echo owners use the device to shop for goods and services. We expect Amazon’s newest Echo Show iteration, which features a screen, to increase voice-supported shopping further.

One other change in the way Alexa homes will be able to shop includes the first buyers of the video/voice device, the Echo Show.

Pre-orders for the $299 Echo Show began last month with, promising consumers “everything you love about” its voice-activated assistant, Alexa, along with the ability to watch video flash briefings and YouTube, see music lyrics, security cameras, photos, weather forecasts, to-do and shopping lists, and more.

While the Echo Show has been a top-selling electronics device on Amazon (naturally) for the past month, the numbers of those shoppers will not have a perceptible impact in terms of actual sales numbers on Prime Day.

However, the use of the Echo Show, and Alexa generally, will certainly influence the shape how the mix of voice- and visual shopping grows.

As Google and Microsoft’s Bing expand the power of visual search as yet another way consumers can find and shop for products, the complementary aspects of voice and visual queries to generate specific responses, as opposed to a list of hypertext links, will force retailers of all stripes to further reconsider their omnichannel marketing strategies.

“With a screen, Echo Show users can visually see what items they place in a cart and make choices based on the displayed selection of goods,”Abdelrazik adds. “Amazon’s other Alexa devices lack that ability – a limitation that has hindered some consumers from voice shopping on devices like the Echo.”

 Prime Mystery

Just how big Prime Day really is remains a well-kept secret, notes Deborah Weinswig, managing director of Fung Global Retail & Technology, in a blog post.

Last year, estimates of the day’s sales ranged as high as $2.5 billion, Weinswig says, citing figures from Internet Retailer.

“Amazon reported that orders increased by 60 percent worldwide and by 50 percent in the US on Prime Day,” Weinswig writes. “Even in 2015, Amazon commented that its Prime Day sales exceeded its Black Friday sales in 2014.”

In a comparison of contrived shopping holidays, Prime Day is way below China e-commerce hegemon Alibaba’s Singles’ Day, which saw $17.8 billion worth of gross merchandise volume last year.

“The shopping holiday serves several purposes,” Weinswig says. “First, it offers exclusive deals for Prime members, rewarding them for their membership. Second, it drives Prime membership, as nonmembers are offered free trial memberships.

“Amazon figured out long ago that Prime memberships represent a virtuous circle for the company: signing up Prime members and providing them with exclusive benefits encourages them to renew their membership the next year and encourages others to sign up for the program who will then renew their own membership,” Weinswig says.

The relative success of Prime membership shopping programs could mean that a saturation point is fast approaching. There were 80 million Prime members in the US in March 2017, twice as many as two years earlier, according to Weinswig. That represent 64 percent of US households.

As rivals like Walmart expand its own responses to Amazon’s e-tail dominance, Amazon’s ability to reduce fees and offering more deals and still make the program worthwhile has to hit a wall at some point in the near future.

So as rival retailers at all levels gird themselves for Amazon Prime Day’s onslaught, the time is right to fine-time their own responses and personalized marketing tools.

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Why Amazon Took Over Times Square With A 79-Foot Echo

Amazon has unveiled a billboard compete with a 79-foot-tall 3D replica of its Echo speaker in Times Square as part of a campaign to promote awareness for Amazon Music — and and subtly encourage users of its Alexa intelligent assistant to use more integrated Amazon services.

In addition to the 79-foot Echo — the largest installation by an advertiser in Times Square — the billboard reads, “Alexa, play the song that goes… ‘love is all you need.” Per Amazon, “our goal is to increase awareness for Amazon Music,” Josh Fein, head of partner and brand marketing for Amazon Music told AdWeek. “To highlight one of our unique and innovative Alexa voice features, the lyrics search functionality, we chose iconic lyrics that promoted positivity and togetherness through the power of music.”

Indeed, it’s possible that this lyric search functionality might cause more users to turn to Amazon Music to play tunes — after all, who can remember the song name every time? But it also displays a keen awareness that, as voice-activated searches continue to skyrocket, users often ask their Alexa-powered devices to play music from Apple music, Spotify, or other services. As interest in — and ownership of — connected devices of all stripes grows, Amazon is smart to draw a connection between the Amazon Echo and Amazon Music itself, even as the Echo’s functionality remains broad.

Times Square Takeover

There exists also, of course, the simple branding aspect of the installation. Much like when Snapchat did a Times Square takeover without geofilters, Amazon’s display simply aims to be different and to represent the tech giant’s rise to “connected intelligence” importance to both consumers and marketers.

And as OUTFRONT Media — which powered both the Snapchat and Amazon installations — said last year, “we can’t comment on the cost [of ads], but will say there’s incredible brand value in taking over one of the world’s most iconic, high-traffic locations,” Senese said. “OUTFRONT is proud to partner with Snapchat and other fast-growth companies [like Amazon] to provide a unique way to drive huge impact for their business.”

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