We have journeyed from the history of telecommunications into a world light-years in the future. We’ve established that connected voice has been in the making for decades but is only made possible today by a roster of joined forces including Google, Amazon, and Apple. An authentic Voice Internet is now available and those who are first to enter this sonic gold rush stand to benefit handsomely. The podcast revolution was fun but was merely a precursor to the rise of the Internet of Voice.
Here’s what we need to do…
Step 1. Start Using the Damned Thing
To start, I suggest picking up an Amazon Echo and a Google Home speaker to get acquainted. Choose two rooms where you’re most likely to use them and start behaving like what you are: a consumer (sometimes marketers forget this).
Step 2. Let it Grow
As with most society-transforming technologies, you’ll have moments of delight and wonder as you enjoy features imagined but never before experienced. This elation will be closely followed by frustration and despair when you consider all that the smart speaker could be but is not quite yet. Take it with a grain of salt and think back to the internet 25 years ago. Our connected lives today are a far cry from the early days of “You’ve Got Mail.” Voice Internet is in its early stages and is sure to experience an equal if not greater evolution. Recognize the opportunity, acknowledge the growing pains, and start staking your claim.
Step 3: Flash and Stream
Today, there are a couple of ways to reach the smart speaker audience. Ads can be inserted into the streams of players like Pandora, Spotify, or iHeart. As streaming goes, the experience is similar to what has been available online. You can navigate to streaming apps via voice command or, as many users do, stream from your phone using your smart speaker as an extension of your handheld device.
Much more interesting are Flash Briefings, which are emerging as the signature format for the new medium. These are daily clips of curated or original content from the providers you know and trust, e.g., NPR, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and thousands more. Once you activate the flash briefings from your favorite media brands, you can ask Alexa or Google to “play the news” and hear a bundle of 1 to 5-minute segments from original broadcasts that highlight the day’s events or provide some recurring insight in short form. I predict the Flash Briefing will be the Smart Speaker’s answer to podcast, and the gateway to spending your day engaged with smart audio. The missing ingredient today is personality, but give the talent a little time to realize the opportunity that awaits and we’ll be sure to see briefings voiced by recognizable hosts, personalities, and influencers. The Flash Briefing, still in its infancy, is rather rudimentary. However, soon interactivity will allow customization of content in a way that goes far beyond what you can currently imagine. Flash Briefings are sponsorable today and one of the primary ways you will find yourself reaching audiences in the future. So be sure to engage as a listener for a deeper understanding immediately, if you’re not already.
Step 4: Establish a Budget
How much should you budget to begin advertising on smart speakers? How long is a piece of string? Think of how you answer the question in horizontal terms instead of vertical. In other words, don’t open big with a war chest of support for a short-term test. In fact, remove the terms “test” and “short-term” from your vocabulary. That’s not what this is. In connected audio, we are playing the long game. The key is to plan your budget annually and stick to it, regardless of what typical performance metrics you might apply to other channels. If you can budget somewhere between $10,000 and $100,000 per month, you will be able to test at least a few different streaming solutions or flash briefings simultaneously. Your immediate goal is not to measure against CAC or ROAS, but let learning be your primary KPI. As you get more deeply involved and the channel continues to mature and iterate on its capabilities for marketers—you will be ahead of the curve. First with knowledge of the intricacies of this new landscape and second with response data. These learnings will be worth their weight in gold once your competitors decide it’s time to come in and you hold first right of refusal on prized assets.
Step 5: Experiment with MVP Voice Apps
Now that you are advertising on smart speakers, where do you send customers who are interested in your offerings? At some point, it will be standard for ads to allow for real-time responses that trigger couponing, special offers, or drive to deeper levels of immediate engagement. Real-time response capabilities will not only enhance connection with consumers but will also alleviate many of our present attribution woes in audio. During this “getting to know you” season, the most sturdy innovation you could extend to your smart speaker marketing efforts is to provide a next step for consumers to follow in-platform to ensure a seamless entry into a deeper level of your funnel.
The next step from your ad comes in the form of voice apps such as Skills, Actions, or Capsules. Whatever platform you’re using, they all have a different name. Don’t be intimidated. Voice Apps are akin to web sites or landing pages to correspond with your “Invocation Name,” which is like your voice URL. Voice Apps are becoming, and will increasingly evolve into, a very big business. Many companies have already wasted millions in creating sophisticated applications that hardly work. Others have only spent a few thousand dollars, creating something that gets them in the game and successfully serves a simple purpose. There is no right answer on how you should do this, as long as you don’t check your imagination at the door.
Will you create a voice web site to educate customers about your offerings with simple Q&A features? Will you create podcast-like ancillary content for consumers who want to go deeper into your story? Will you create a novelty or a utility? Whatever you do, begin with providing value to your customers and then follow your dreams to wherever your budget and your calendar will allow. Just so long as once you start you don’t stop.
Step 6: Lower your Expectations
Surprisingly, most advertising is strictly prohibited on voice assistants—at least for the time being. There are, however, certain exceptions. Moreover, the available data is sparse on where you can advertise. Perhaps it is because the numbers behind most voice apps have not reached impressive proportions and there are no major networks yet assembled to achieve scale through consolidation. So, keeping audience numbers private is a way to avoid scaring off would-be sponsoring brands with an insatiable thirst for reach. Because there is no clean listing or directory of all sponsorable voice apps, oftentimes marketers do not know where to begin. This is very similar to the podcast industry 5 to 10 years ago.
A second challenge is that while marketers do not easily realize the benefits of interactivity, the setbacks of consumers’ privacy concerns compound the stifling of immediate opportunity. In other words, as it stands, the magnificence of the opportunity this new platform presents—an interactive and trackable audio advertising experience—is severely limited. Every tactic available to drive interactivity is highly experimental at best, and media outlets which allow sponsorship remain tight-lipped about their reach numbers. This begs the question, “So what’s the point, why not just stay on the sidelines until these challenges work themselves out?”
It’s true. You can recognize a pioneer by the arrows in their back. You must ask yourself how badly you want to launch into a channel where you are certain to experience losses as you get your bearings. Perhaps you are better suited to hang back and let others pave the way. Only you can decide this. Just keep in mind that today you have the potential to realize a first-mover advantage. Your brand can be to the world of connected audio what Stamps, Squarespace, ZipRecruiter, Blue Apron, and many other early explorers were to the world of Podcast. There is no map here. This is uncharted territory. This is precisely why the opportunity looms so large. The difference here is that connected audio and the rise of the smart speaker will dwarf the scale of where podcast is today.
The low hanging fruit for marketers is to engage these platforms as a one-way form of communication, just as we have with radio for the last century. It is natural to lament that this new interactive audio platform is not yet interactive and we must revert to century-old utilizations. The point is to start dabbling today and thereby distance yourself from the pack before the power of interactivity is part of every brand’s wheelhouse.
This journey begins with a vision of what a voice connected internet could be and how it could transform your business. You, dear pioneer, will need to gather the necessary courage, means, and a few good partners who are equally invested in the space to help you on your journey. Losses will be certain, but the victory will be sweet for those brave enough to fight for it. Together, we can bring this revolution into being and find our names inscribed on the pages of history books to come—or at least mentioned in the Audible version. Hope you can join us.