0800 612 9890

Why your brand should add Alexa Skills to its content marketing mix

By Adam Christie

A new content marketing frontier is being opened up thanks to the rise of voice search on Amazon’s Alexa.

Voice assistants are undeniably growing in importance and so are voice searches on mobile phones. By 2020, it’s estimated that 50 per cent of internet searches will be made verbally instead of typed.

As far as voice assistants are concerned, Alexa is selling like hot cakes and it’s being used for all sorts of tasks around the home. Tell me the weather, play my music, tell me a story, these are just three of the simple requests Alexa is eager to undertake.

The technology is fertile ground for any brand with the savvy to engage in voice-driven content marketing or the ability to develop a verbal e-commerce app.

Alexa Skills is the app store for Alexa enabled devices, primarily the Echo speakers people use at home and the voice-operated Amazon Fire TV stick.

The Skills store is very like the early days of the app stores for Apple and Android phones, when people were making money selling extremely basic apps at 59p a time and complex apps were thin on the ground.

Browsing through the Skills, the majority are very simple – things like adventure games that remind me of those old text adventures from the early days of the home computer, except you speak your commands to help the story unfold. Top Skills include knock-knock jokes, pop quizzes, and a maths test tutor. It’s all very old-school.

Some companies have been early adopters, and Domino’s Pizza has been demonstrating how effective a Skill can be as an e-commerce tool. You link its Skill to your Echo, then if you fancy a pizza, you only have to tell Alexa to open it and order your favourite pepperoni.

The Skill deals with the rest, linking up with your pre-entered card details to take payment so that there’s no reading those crucial digits into the device. Then – hey, presto – your pizza arrives at the door.

Alexa Skills developers

It’s a model that has been repeated by Alexa Skills developers at other fast-food companies, the likes of Just Eat. And the steps those brands are taking are building trust in third-party retailers using Alexa. People might not be wary of asking Alexa to order from Amazon, but moving beyond that step to a third party can be an obstacle. Many people were dubious about ordering from Amazon on their smartphone when that became an option, something the arrival of the Kindle helped resolve.

Among the best performers are the apps that offer information instead of disposable entertainment. There are a lot of news-related Skills, with the recorded updates from the likes of the Guardian and the BBC being very popular.

These link into one of Alexa’s key functions, Your Flash Briefing. You set it up so that when you ask for your briefing, it will give you the latest from your preferred sources, the travel news for your journey to work, a weather update – whatever you consider important.

This is the kind of useful content that Alexa owners love and it’s where brands should be looking for their early inspiration. Marketers should be thinking about what kind of useful, informative, entertaining Skill they could create for their clients.

Easier for people to consume

The Echo is there to make it easier for people to consume – whether that’s ordering a birthday gift from Amazon, listening to music on Prime Music or an audiobook from Audible or a podcast (mine with my colleague Daniela Young is available there), or finding out the headlines.

It’s in the early days of its commercialisation by third parties and it takes time for that trust to develop. But while it’s growing, brands can get themselves established on the channel while they explore its capabilities – they can begin to engage with their audience by providing listeners with valuable content in ways that will ease them through to the conversion process in the future.

With no advertising on Alexa at the moment, the onus is on your integrated communications agency to produce organic content that makes people stop and listen.

At the most basic level, that amounts to producing a series of podcasts or setting up the equivalent of an RSS feed, with Alexa reading out the updates.

Building interaction

While that establishes a presence, it’s never going to cut the mustard in terms of delivering true engagement. What you want to be doing is building interaction with people – not just reading at them.

That can be as simple as offering a menu of choices, letting the listener guide their own journey with voice commands by asking a question like: “Would you like to hear news, find out about our services, or contact us?”

Psychologically, verbal responses put the listener in control so they’re no longer being marketed at but engaged with. It’s stickier, keeping the user with you longer.

From a development point of view, all the tools are there for an integrated communications agency to build this kind of functionality. Amazon supply the framework Alexa Skills developers build with, as well as the voice database.

Exploit Alexa's capabilities

It’s then up to developers to programme their Skill to respond appropriately to each of the possible verbal responses. That’s a task that’s not unlike search engine optimisation and requires a special set of statistical and analytical abilities, as well as communications expertise, to fully exploit its capabilities.

And if a brand isn’t thinking about how to exploit voice assistants than they need to know that their competitors definitely will be. They need to get in there and start developing it as part of their content marketing strategy as fast as they can. In these early days, I’d say it is important just to be doing something that’s available as an Alexa Skill.

As the format develops and matures, as its capabilities become clear, that’s when the creativity and new solutions emerge, when the ways you can offer benefit to your future customers become clear. It’s only by having an Alexa Skill that people can use that your brand can start to understand your audience and how they will work with you.

It’s early days for the technology but its rise is inexorable. Come along for the ride.

To find out how we are pushing the boundaries for voice tech, tune into our voice marketing podcasts.