How Publishers Can Prepare for Voice, the Next Frontier in Media
Several months ago, I purchased an Amazon Echo Dot. Since then, all I’ve heard my kids say is: “Alexa, tell me the score of this game…” “Alexa, let me know this…” “Alexa, play this song…” “Alexa, add this item to my shopping list…” The list of commands goes on and on and on.
What’s amazing is not that Alexa can respond to just about all of these demands. On the contrary, it’s how well Amazon’s hit product understands what you’re saying and delivers an accurate response.
Unlike Siri, which only occasionally understands what I say, Amazon’s Echo Dot (aka Alexa), Google Home, and the other voice-enabled platforms have been designed to be highly accurate when processing voices. Using advanced speech recognition, Echo Dot, Google Home, and other voice-enabled platforms are designed to recognize commands with 95% accuracy or better.
This accuracy is changing the dynamic for how users are engaging with their devices. According to a report from Gartner, more than 30% of searches will be performed using voice by 2020. Additionally, the number of voice-enabled devices in a home is expected to jump to 94.7 million over the next 3 years, according to a report from the US Census, Gartner, Edison Research, and Voicebot.ai.
It's Time to Experiment With Voice
The numbers above are clear. Voice is clearly a new frontier for the media sector. But, how do media companies find a voice in this channel?
That’s the question that every executive I talk with on this topic struggles with. From consumer brands to B2B players, they are all wondering how we can best leverage the emerging voice trend. They are struggling to choose the right voice platform, and, most important, they’re trying to find a way to leverage this new channel and make money from it.
No one has a crystal ball on the revenue front. But, there are definitely some answers on the best ways to leverage the channel and which platform to develop for.
In terms of leveraging the platform, the answer is two-fold. On one hand, we can take the content we develop today and provide it as a new feed through Echo Dot, Google Home, and the other products. Using an RSS or XML feed, media companies can get their content in the channel and start to capture audience through the voice channel.
On the other, voice can be a way to transform you your internal search engines, database products, and mobile apps. For example, Alexa can be leveraged as a tool for your site to bring natural language search capabilities to your sites. It can also be a way to allow users to use natural language searches to better search and find content in your database products.
Let’s face it. We’ve all complained about the search engines on our sites. With the help of voice-driven search, we may just turn the corner and deliver an enhanced search experience for our audiences.
Neither of these approaches is the end game from a content/audience engagement perspective. But, as responsive design did for us with mobile, the approaches above can get you leveraging the technology and, with good analytics, learning what will and will not work. Then, once there, you can continue to tweak and optimize the way you use the channel.
Should Publishers Develop for Alexa or Google Home?
On the platform front, there’s really not a good answer for media companies today. There’s no doubt that heading into the 2017 holiday season, Alexa had the dominant position. According to a recent report from eMarketer, Alexa held a 70% share of the market. But, don’t count Google out. It’s hard to walk through a major retailer without seeing a display promoting the Google Home mini product.
So, who will win the battle? No one knows the answer to that question at this point. So, we’re forced to take one of two paths. On one hand, you can pick one of the products and build a solution for it. The other is to target them both.
From a technology positioning perspective, both approaches have their pros and cons. The single-platform approach lets you stay focused from a development standpoint, but cuts off potential audience reach. The multi-platform approach, on the other hand, gives you the best potential audience reach. But, the complexity of developing for two platforms can significantly slow your development efforts.
From what I’m seeing, most media companies are picking Alexa for now and running with it. That will probably shift as Google gains more share. But, for now, building an Alexa product is a safe option.
Prepping for the Skills Land Grab
There’s one thing to keep in mind as you look at the gaining traction in the voice channel. To date, most media brands have focused on building a solution for their brand. But, the bigger opportunity may lie in developing brand-agnostic skills for the voice channel.
For example, if I ran a brand called Banking Today, it’s easy to build a channel called “Alexa, Provide Me the Latest Trends from Banking Today.” While great from a brand perspective, this approach assumes the user knows who Banking Today is and that Banking Today has an Alexa Channel.
A different approach would be to develop a channel around the more generic topic. For example the channel may be: “Alexa, Tell Me the Latest Banking Trends.” If you own that skill (more on skills on my next column), then Alexa can respond, “Here are the latest banking trends from Banking Today.”
The play to own unbranded skills on Alexa or Google Home is a bit risky. But, the reward is great – providing media companies with the chance to own an entire segment of the market. But, you have to act fast. There is a huge land grab going on today to own unbranded skills. And, at least for now, once they are gone, they are gone, just like domains flew off the shelf in the early days of the web. So, while you build out your brand-focused skill, it’s equally important to identify and capture the unbranded skills that you need to own as well.
There’s no doubt that voice will be a key channel for end users to consumer content. And, there’s also no doubt that media brands need to have a significant stake in this emerging channel. Right now, there aren’t any clear paths for success. But, that should not slow media brands from investing in this channel. With RSS and XML feeds and smart planning, media companies can get their feet wet with voice so they can position themselves for long-term growth.
Rob Keenan is the President of Keenan Media, LLC, a consultancy firm providing digital, content, marketing, and audience support to the media sector. Rob has worked in the BtoB media sector for 20 years, most recently at the VP of Online Media for Edgell Communications. You can contact Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org.You can also follow him on twitter @robkeenan11 or connect with him on LinkedIn.