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Consumers are adopting voice technology at record rates — and brands must keep up or risk losing out to competitors. Jared Belsky, CEO of advertising agency 360i, shares how he helps brands utilize voice assistance technology to deliver customer experiences that are actually helpful.

Many brands understand that more and more people are turning to voice assistance. But what they may not appreciate is just how quickly a shift in consumer behavior is happening. Consumer adoption of voice technology has been faster than any product since the smartphone, and we’re expecting to see 91 million people in the U.S. using this technology once a month by 2018, according to eMarketer.

Given the velocity at which this revolution is moving, it’s imperative for brands to begin experimenting in the space now. At 360i, we’ve been guiding organizations through adopting this technology right from the beginning. I’d like to share with you some of the things we’ve learned along the way.

Take a customer-first approach to voice assistance

Daunting as it may sound to delve into a nascent ecosystem, it’s really no different from any other marketing strategy. The first thing you have to do is understand and satisfy the needs of your customers.

Because voice technology is so new, the key is to harness multiple data sources to get reliable, usable information.

If you can understand how, where, and why your customers use voice, you can find natural connections between your brand and their needs — and provide meaningful assistance. Because voice technology is so new, the key is to harness multiple data sources to get reliable, usable information. This way, you can deliver personalized, tailored, and frictionless experiences when people need them most.

It’s also important to push boundaries and think about new ways to use the technology. Brands that put a stake in the ground and experiment with how voice can improve people’s lives will be ahead of their competitors.

The project we worked on with National Geographic is a great example of this. We worked with the cable channel to promote their scripted drama series, “The Long Road Home,” based on the real-life stories of returning military service members. Using interviews with mental health professionals and veterans to understand veterans’ mental health support preferences, 360i created ”Bravo Tango Brain Training,” an innovative voice app utilizing Google Assistant to provide resources and treatment methods to veterans in a comfortable and private setting.

We saw an average of 400 unique visits per day, with thousands of visitors spending an average of 10 minutes with the program, furthering the real-world impact of “The Long Road Home” and helping make it one of National Geographic’s highest rated scripted premieres in 2017.

Help more people find you with voice

As more people turn to voice, we frequently organize collaborative workshops with clients to help them pinpoint critical consumer insights and build a voice strategy that makes sense. One thing we do is ask clients to consider the kind of explicit or specific phrases consumers might use when they’re searching, such as “Play the Today Show” or “Give me a recipe for roast chicken.” Equally important to think about, however, are open-ended or implicit commands, like “I want to watch TV” or “What should I have for dinner?”

To help brands uncover valuable insights into how voice prompts are being met by voice assistants, we developed the Voice Search Monitor (VSM). With VSM, we’ve been studying the responses on leading voice assistant platforms for nearly a year, analyzing thousands of questions and commands people are asking of these devices and how the devices respond. As a result, VSM gives us a deep understanding of how these intelligent agents are communicating with people. This understanding helps brands know they are responding in an assistive manner to any given prompt, so they can be there across the whole consumer journey.

Delight high-value customers with voice assistance

Voice technology enables brands to develop relationships with key audience segments in more meaningful and natural ways, which ultimately drives business growth. Our recent partnership with whiskey brand Jameson is a wonderful example of this.

We helped Jameson create a voice app for one of their most valuable audience segments — people actively seeking celebratory, spirits-related content during the holidays. The result was “The Jameson Bar,” a voice application that provides a step-by-step guide to making a cocktail or sends an email of the recipe so people can craft the beverage in their own time. It helps people create Jameson-inspired cocktails and find unique Irish toasts, perfect for their holiday celebrations. The results: 14.9 million paid and earned impressions, and a 57% action rate on the recipes provided.

Not sure how to get started? Here’s what you can do today

At 360i, we know that developing a voice strategy isn’t easy. There is generally no precedent for voice technology at most organizations, and no two companies are exactly alike in their branding, consumer base, level of infrastructure, etc. But we’ve developed some resources that can help and put together a list of considerations to get your brand started.

  • Think about your competition: How is your brand uniquely positioned to assist consumers via voice technology? 
  • Understand your consumers’ behavior on voice: Optimize content for how people use voice. Smart speakers give one answer at a time, so if you’re not first, you’re last.
  • Respond to consumers with answers related to your business: This includes prompts that are both informational (“What is the best brand of paper towel?”) and action-based (“Order more paper towels.”).
  • Ensure digital assistants have accurate, real-time information about consumers: Powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning, these machines should be fed with multiple data sources so they can gain a complete view of the consumer.
  • Build a strategy for the entire customer journey, from discovery to action: How can your voice app be assistive throughout the entire customer journey and across both explicit and implicit prompts?
  • Test and learn: Keep testing and iterating to ensure your voice strategy is driving real business results. Encourage a culture of experimentation, because that’s what will put you ahead of competitors.

We truly believe that voice is the future of marketing. Brands that want to see long-term gains tomorrow must start investing in voice technology today.