Digital Transformation

Smart Speakers Are The Latest Content Channel You Should Care About

Alexa, Siri, and Sonos. They could be members of a post-punk girl band, but most people know these names belong to everyone’s favorite smart speakers. These days, one in six Americans have a smart speaker at home. Thirty percent of smart speaker owners say that the device is taking over time they’d otherwise spend watching TV.

With the rise of podcasts and audio storytelling, this isn’t altogether surprising, and smart speakers mean a rise in audio advertising. But this rise is shaping up differently than the traditional radio ads many of us tune out in the car. So what are early-adopters doing? And what do marketers need to be aware of before proceeding full steam ahead?

Educational content

Smart speakers are a way for both B2C and B2B companies to get information across to their listener. Purina’s “Ask Purina” feature encourages consumers to ask Alexa what type of dog breed is right for them. Instead of dishing out a traditional Purina ad about ingredients and dietary benefits, Ask Purina is fun, informative, and a more personalized experience. It’ll also relay beneficial or fun canine facts (Why do dogs lick people? To show that they accept your role as the pack leader). Once the user adopts a breed that their smart speaker recommended, the idea, of course, is that they’ll feel loyal to the brand of dog food that brought dear Fido into their lives.

Motivational career advice

Alexa’s Marketing School by Neil Patel and Eric Siu gives marketers who own smart speakers 10 pieces of actionable advice each morning. (For example, make sure you blog consistently to hold your audience’s attention, but don’t try to publish at a rate that you can’t keep up with.) It’s simple, sure, but it gives the audience a different way to interact with you in space that’s not as saturated as marketing blogs. Also, content that is specialized and engaging will perform better than generic audio ads, no matter how catchy the tagline might be.

Remove sales friction

The Smart Audio Report by NPR and Edison research found that sixty-one percent of smart speaker owners think of their speaker as someone to talk to, rather than just a technological thing that exists in their house. (Her was clearly ahead of its time.)

Since so many consumers take purchasing recommendations from friends and influencers more seriously than brands, might a seemingly personal relationship with a smart speaker help influence shopping decisions? The Smart Audio Report certainly thinks so. According to the data, 57 percent of users have ordered something through their speaker, however, 65 percent of those buyers say they only meant to put the item in their cart to review later.

This is true across a variety of industries: Domino’s has streamlined its ordering process by offering a smart speaker plugin that lets you order your favorite Domino’s pepperoni and green pepper combo with a simple, “Alexa, order a pizza.” Of course, Amazon is primarily a shopping site, so they’ve made purchasing Amazon products via an Echo virtually seamless. Customers can ask Alexa to order something new or reorder a previously purchased product with a single command. Afterward, Alexa confirms the brand, quantity, and price, and complete the purchase with a single “yes” from the user. For brands worried about shopping cart abandonment, this lack of sales friction could be huge.

Wider reach

One of the biggest impacts of smart speakers is how they make audio a social activity again. Thanks to earbuds and headphones, and how easy it is to multitask while listening to a podcast, listening to audio has been a fairly isolated activity during the past decade. Smart speakers change that. Forty four percent of owners claim their speakers help them spend more time with the other people in their house, and sixty-six percent use the speaker to entertain family and friends by asking it questions and interacting with it.

Additionally, families actively engage with Alexa or Echo, as opposed to the passivity of putting on a movie or background music. So when done right, branded stories could reach a larger number of people. Most importantly, those listeners will associate the branded content they hear with a positive social experience.

Ethical questions

As some brands have already realized, smart speakers offer a novel way to talk to prospective customers. Burger King rolled out a fifteen-second TV ad that intentionally connected to viewers’ Google Homes to tell them more about the Whopper once the commercial ended.

Google was less than thrilled about the hack. Since Google Home syncs with Wikipedia, people started editing the Wikipedia page for the Whopper to say its ingredients included a “medium-sized child” and poison. Smart speaker owners can avoid this sort of rogue advertising by setting their speaker to only respond to their voice, but the potential for brands to take advantage of the technology without paying to advertise is ethically questionable, to say the least. The fact that Burger King banked on so many households having a Google Home shouldn’t be lost on advertisers.

While Burger King’s stunt garnered attention and got people talking, the overall negative press probably wasn’t worth it. For brands looking to invest in educational content, however, there’s still an opportunity worth taking. Thirty percent of speaker owners say the device is replacing time they otherwise would spend with the TV, a percentage far too high for advertisers to ignore. Even though it’s an unusual image, we may not be that far away from a world where people spend nights gathered around Alexa, listening to what you have to say.

Image by Piotr Cichosz / Unsplash
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