Slave, stylist and parent: the evolution of voice tech in 2018

Thought Leadership
The Drum recently published this article by our Innovation Director, Tom Ollerton, looking at Amazon’s new Echo Show device and the continued evolution of voice technology. They’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it below.

A couple of weeks ago I was on a panel at the Future of TV event with OMD’s Jean-Paul Edwards who said “I took my family on holiday and my daughter was crying. I asked her why and she said ‘I miss Alexa'” – I don’t know what this says about Jean-Paul’s parenting skills but he seemed like a decent bloke who wouldn’t let Amazon take care of rearing his kids.

If the initial version of Amazon’s Echo can be a significant adult in a young child’s life despite its very limited functionality – then what role will the next generation Amazon Echo Show and Look play?

The Amazon Echo Show is the same as the original but with the addition of a touch screen. It looks a little like a portable TV from the mid-90s. The device allows you to make video calls to other Show users and it can stream Amazon Prime content as well as serve you up video content from the BBC, Telegraph and MTV.

I can’t see millions of these devices flying off Amazon’s digital shelves. This device is a stepping stone product that will make the consumer comfortable with operating devices in the home with their voice. Voice controlled kettles anyone?

If you think this product is a little needless then you have to meet its voyeuristic cousin the Amazon Echo Look. This is a voice enabled smart camera that will take a picture as easily as saying ‘Alexa, take a picture’ and it can record video to boot. Amazon’s vision for this device is that you’ll take pictures of your outfits and a fancy algorithm and some fashionistas will tell you what is wrong or right with your fashion choices. If you don’t believe me, watch this:

We Are Social has been experimenting with the Look and Show for the last few months and it seems like Amazon is expecting developers to work out what these devices are for. This approach worked wonders for Apple and its app store.

Right now, there are two clear opportunities for brands when it comes to voice – Skills and Search. There 12,000+ Skills on Amazon Echo. But there’s no pretty home screen full of colourful app icons like there is on your smartphone. A brand must have a compellingly useful skill if they want a fighting chance of users using it more than once, if at all.

Notable skills include publishers (Telegraph, Sky Sports) to fast food providers (Just Eat, Domino’s) and much more. They’re pretty straightforward to make with the right expertise.

However, just like social a decade ago, marketers shouldn’t just ‘do’ voice because they can – they need to make sure that their voice tech solution is solving a problem. They need to make sure they’re fulfilling a need for a user that doesn’t already exist. Shouting ‘Tell Domino’s to feed me’ at my Alexa is an improvement on typing it into my phone; attempting to update my energy bills using a Skill isn’t any easier than using my provider’s app.

Then there’s search. Research conducted by Experian in the US last September found that one in three Echo owners has asked Alexa to order an item. Unlike visual media, where we’ve grown accustomed to typing in keywords and getting a string of results on screen, with voice, first place is the only place to be. No-one wants a smart speaker to spout an endless list of results. They want just one answer.

The near future of brands making voice tech work will be traditional media. It’s not hard to imagine a brand using TV or print to incentivise consumers to order their product using Alexa in the home. Could brands offer ‘Alexa-only deals’ that were advertised in Sunday supplements in newspapers? Could Domino’s direct mail nudge them to use the Alexa Skill we helped them create to order their pizza?

How this actually works is anyone’s guess, but getting your audience to order using Alexa gives you the opportunity to be in a consideration set of one – long before your hard won consumer gets distracted by the multitude of options on a .com or in a physical store.

John-Paul’s daughter may be in tears at the thought of missing a fairly sedentary Amazon V1 Echo but how severe will the heartache be when Alexa can tell her what to wear before she leaves the bedroom?