Digital Agency POSSIBLE Mobile Details How Brands Should Approach Alexa Skills

Written by: on December 19, 2017

This interview originally appeared on Kantar Retail’s blog, a fellow WPP company.


Next year looks set to be the year of voice. Kantar Retail’s ShopperScape® found that 12% of U.S. households owned either an Echo or a Google Home device by July 2017; up from 5% in October 2016. Given the strong growth, voice-controlled devices could reach 1 in 5 households by after the holidays. For those brands working with Amazon and Google, a key challenge is how to engage with these voice-controlled devices.

To help manufactures and brands navigate these interactions, I sat down with Danielle Reubenstein, Executive Creative Director at POSSIBLE Mobile (a WPP agency). She specializes in user experience, mobile, and voice-controlled interactions. Danielle shared her advice on what brands should do, and avoid, when developing voice applications (a.k.a. Alexa Skills). Here are some highlights from our conversation:

Where is the industry at with voice today and how developed is it?

When you look across voice, whether it’s Alexa or another voice platform, it is all an extension of conversational user interactions. These types of digital interactions have existed for several years. Before we had these dedicated voice devices, it was chat bots on computers or mobile devices, and in many ways they represent similar interactions. However, what’s different with the Google Home or Echo Devices (besides the Echo Show) is that the visual screen is absent.

When you look at voice from this lens, then voice is an area that’s already more mature than other rising digital trends, such as augmented reality.

When looking across brands, who is leading in voice today? 

Voice is a great equalizer, mostly because it is a very user generated experience. The consumer picks what she wants to ask; Alexa Skills won’t dominate a platform all by themselves.

The more successful Alexa Skills are the ones that offer a service or utility. An example of a service is Domino’s skill that lets users reorder pizza. A utility includes ones that entertain or let users play a game, such as Jeopardy. For brands that do not obviously connect to a service or utility, then it’s better to pair Alexa Skills with specific campaigns. These often involve connecting to a particular event, season, or type of occasion.

What are the common mistakes that you see brands make when developing Alexa Skills?

The first and biggest mistake I see brands make is trying to bite off too much with one Alexa Skill. Instead, we recommend: do one thing, and do it really well. There is no screen to help guide users through a voice interaction, so it has to be very simple and intuitive.

Amazon often talks about the “crawl, walk, run” stages of development. This is a good way to think about it. Instead of jumping in head first, focus on mastering one thing initially. Then, as users get better at interacting and more familiar with the Skill, add in additional features to further the experience in a natural way.

Another common mistake I see brands make is trying to develop Skills that don’t give users a reason to come back. One way to get around this is to constantly update and keep the content fresh. For instance, if the Skill is one that tells jokes, make sure that it frequently adds new jokes to hear. If there are not, then your core users will get bored and disengage.

Conversely, then what should brands make sure to do when designing voice Skills? 

There are four key elements that every brand should consider. It must be:

  • Natural – A skill should talk to a user in the same way another human would talk to them.
  • Conversational – Watch out for conversational dead ends and giving too much or too little information in a response.
  • Simple – Remember the ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach for incremental improvement.
  • Habitual – Give the user a reason to come back.  This is the element that folks have the most trouble with figuring out or overlook it entirely.

The other piece to consider is the differences between the various platforms. For instance, Google tends to be more personal because they can connect to a lot of user information, whereas Apple is not very “Skill-centric.” You can make mobile apps that include Siri voice, but Apple doesn’t currently have standalone voice apps. These nuances will also add some nuance to what we can do in the interaction.

And lastly, I would remind those thinking about developing a Skill that it is a piece of software. Sometimes teams overlook the importance of having a user experience designer and a developer on the team, but those roles are both key.

Where is this headed – what do you see coming next for voice?

In the near term, I see both Google Home and the Echo opening up more functionality to third-party developers. They are constantly updating what is possible. For instance, earlier this year Amazon introduced an Echo device with a screen (Echo Show) and Echo gadgets that allow for new possibilities for developers. This expansion of what is possible to build will only accelerate.

Looking further into the future, I see voice building out greater home integrations and product integrations. We will start having more everyday voice-driven interactions throughout our houses. Overall, this connected space opportunity is one that still has a lot of opportunity for growth.


Feeling behind? We’d love to see how we can keep your brand ahead of the competition with a voice strategy. Send us an email at mobile@possible.com and one of our experts will be in touch. In the meantime, learn more about our approach to Alexa Voice Service Integration here.

Robin Sherk

Robin Sherk

Robin leads Kantar Retail’s syndicated research on North American eCommerce and the Canadian Market. She is instrumental in developing the research and the framing analyses to help suppliers navigate landscape shifts, shoppers’ evolving demands, and retailers’ strategies and positioning. Robin is a frequent contributor to Kantar Retail’s various publications.
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