​Where Australian brands are up to in the voice journey

Local brands are lagging behind incorporating voice into their marketing strategies but there are plenty of opportunities to lift engagement and address CX painpoints, say the experts

While consumer adoption of voice technology in Australia is booming, brands are lagging behind incorporating voice into their marketing strategies, seeing it as more of a novelty, or as a gateway to sales, than as a viable branding tool.

However, it is the brands that get on the front foot of voice which will gain best advantage as the technology matures, experts say.

Fear of ‘getting it wrong’ is preventing many brands testing and working in voice. However, Starcom's national head of futures and product, Graeme Wood, said the newness of the technology makes it the best time for brands to test the water so they can be ready when voice hits the saturation levels soon predicted.

“It is difficult to look at local brands who are doing things well when it comes to voice, because the category has grown from nowhere, quickly,” Wood told CMO. “Voice is also very different from visual Web-based behaviour. The global brands that have taken a voice strategy that worked elsewhere and dropped it in here, are the ones at an advantage now. Domino’s pizza, for example, had four years to perfect its UX globally.

“However, there are some brands doing it well; NAB and Westpac have a good understanding of use cases for voice for checking balances, and recent transactions; and Village Cinemas is also getting it right.”


There are other brands in Australia keen to experiment. Nib, in conjunction with digital design and voice experience (VX) agency, Versa, recently launched a nib Skill for Amazon Alexa to better connect members to local health providers and health insurance information.

Using voice recognition technology, nib’s Alexa Skill will enable both nib members and consumers to ask Alexa to help locate a specific healthcare provider in their area. It will also provide a daily health tips and assist with questions about their general health insurance information.

Nib chief information officer, Brendan Mills, said by using the latest in technology, the team is able to create a simple way for consumers to access the information they need, just by asking “Alexa, launch nib”.

“Our Alexa Skill will help connect Australian households to our First Choice and MediGap network of providers simply by using their voice, Mills said. “This will provide them with ease of access to a broad network of doctors, specialists or dentists helping them to make more informed decisions when searching for the right health provider.”

The first phase of nib’s Alexa Skill will allow users to access over 21,000 medical providers, including GPs and medical specialists included in nib’s MediGap network. Users can also find more than 3800 ancillary providers such as dentists and optometrists, including their local nib dental and eyecare centres.

With the growth of devices such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa, Versa has identified voice experience as essential for a brand’s ongoing ability to connect with customers in a market where it’s predicted that 30 per cent of all Web-browsing sessions will be done without a screen by 2020. CEO, Kath Blackham, said even she was surprised at the rapid adoption of voice technology by Australian consumers.

“Australian consumers have caught up to the US, even though US was a few years ahead. At the moment, the brands offering something truly useful to consumers are doing well with voice," she said. "I always advise brands to think of it like building an app: The really successful apps are the ones people are coming back to time and time again because they are useful."

Entertainment is a big one. "We just had an FMCG client build a skill in voice, and they had one user use it 155 times in a week," Blackham said. "If you can get it right, and get the right use case for the right consumer at the right time, they will just keep coming back to you. We find this is particularly true of things you need when you don’t have use of your hands, like mums with babies. It needs to make life easier.”

National head of creativity for The Studio at SCA (Southern Cross Austereo), Matt Dickson, said Australian brands are starting to see voice as an area they need to play in. Yet early adopters are doing it as a means to innovation, and are not necessarily solving a pain point in consumers’ lives.

“But there are also a lot of brands that have a great use case for smart speaker skills," he continued. “With at least 50 per cent of all searches expected to be done by voice by 2020, the desire from consumers is there, but the capability somewhat lacking."

Clemenger BBDO recently won the inaugural Asia-Pacific AmazonAlexa Cup, a global competition challenging companies to strategise, prepare, build and pitch an Alexa skill with a go-to-market strategy that solves a business problem in a category. The agency's managing partner and director of interactive, Ben Kidney, said voice is set to revolutionise the way in which we engage with technology, search on the Internet, and the way people connect with brands.

“We’ve been on an enablement journey over the past 12 months to help our clients capitalise on the huge opportunity that voice represents,” he said. “Our Deadly Questions Alexa Skill for Aboriginal Victoria is a wonderful example of storytelling, user discovery and influencing culture through voice.

“We’ve seen numerous brands become aware of and prepare for voice, and we’re seeing brands across the country including voice as part of their ecosystem planning. A lot of our client partners are designing and developing websites that are voice compatible and importantly, searchable by voice. We know 30 per cent of mobile Google searches now happen via voice, so having your website optimised for voice SEO is absolutely crucial – it’s one of our core recommendations for any brands that haven’t done so already."

Kidney highlighted Aussie brands doing a great job particularly utilising voice to provide utility and service. "The ability to book an Uber, check-in for a flight, listen to a live AFL game or check your bank account balance are all great use cases for voice and will only set us up for continued success in how we use voice,” he said.

“Internationally, entertainment franchises - Westworld being the best example - are deepening engagement with audiences through voice and audio content. Brands like Johnnie Walker are integrating product and brand personality in to voice to create compelling experiences."

Head of digital and ecommerce at Salmat, Karen Lewis, saw Qantas and Virgin Australia as good examples of Aussie brands doing voice well. Both have voice apps that link to services such as Amazon Alexa, providing the user with information around delayed flights and even giving them the ability to book Ubers from a voice device.

“Coles, Woolworths, Myer, and Chemist Warehouse are also exploring voice through Lasoo List. The platform allows shoppers to create shopping lists using their voice and a Google Assistant recommends the best deals for the products on their list," she said. 

“The successful brands in the space have addressed voice as a way to assist situations that make the lives of consumers more convenient, either while they are multi-tasking or not able to pick up a device. Brands in the US that leverage Amazon’s Alexa to integrate shopping into the connected home experience are also seeing success by partnering with the retail giant.”

Where are local brand missing the opportunities?

But while voice is very much a growing technology for consumers locally, the adoption rate by brands in Australia is slower when compared to the US or the UK.

“Many brands are not considering being on the front foot with voice as they don’t know how to integrate voice in their marketing strategies,” Lewis said. “But there is a great opportunity for brands willing to consider voice, especially when it’s from a consumer-centric perspective that looks at making lives easier and more convenient.”

For those brand who don’t think there's any opportunity for voice, Blackham recommended building something that is truly useful and speaks to what their brand is about.

"There is great opportunity to say a lot about your brand and provide real utility, brands just need to think laterally. It’s rare I find a brand where there isn’t something in voice that gets to where the heart of the brand is. Create something that surprises and delights, and makes it easier for the user,” Blackham said.

“It’s important to get your foot on the ladder now. At the moment, it doesn’t have to be amazing, just do something useful without all the bells and whistles. If you come in later, it will have to be amazing to compete.”

Kidney told CMO there are a plethora of opportunities for brands to engage with their customers via voice that are unexplored.

"The experience may not be perfect, however, the opportunity for brands right now in a lot of verticals is to be first. I don’t believe that brands are experimenting and learning as much as they could or considering how prevalent the medium will be," he said.    

“Also, not enough brands are developing an immediate, medium or long term [12+ month] voice strategy. We should ask ourselves how our consumers are adopting voice and how we can solve frictions or add value to them through this channel. We know that life stage, moments in time, and specific use cases can be particularly relevant.”

Up next: How to get started with voice-based marketing and devices

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Getting started

Wood said it’s important for brands to understand they are not going to be letting expectations down if they pick a few things and do them well.

“The most important thing is to be active and testing and working out what are the simple things we can do right now. The voice interaction itself is still at an early stage, the intelligent agents are not yet that smart, but this will follow the law of accelerated returns," he said. "Those agents three years from now are going to be fully capable of understanding what household usage and preferences are, and they will be able to predict those with amazing accuracy.

“So start testing and get skills and get basic CX right... Look at the question you are most asked by consumers: What are people asking about your brand or asking you in the search functionality in your own site? From there, what value can you create with that?

“If you are not doing this, you are missing an opportunity to learn. Making mistakes isn’t going to be a problem, because the category is so new."

As we move forward, Wood cited two exponential shifts. The first is the development of the intelligence of the agent, while the second is the development in the home network.

"Soon genuinely smart, networked home will be in mass adoption, by mid to late 2021, so brands have a couple of years to understand what voice’s role is and who their consumers are," he predicted. “The platforms that will grow up and win the third era of connectivity are the ones with trust and privacy at their core, and that create value for members of a household."   

To get to the next level, voice needs to be seen not as a novelty, but a useful long-term brand building tool, Lewis added.

“Brands really need to consider if a voice app assists the user in a way that a browser or mobile search wouldn’t. It sounds obvious, but  understanding your customers has  to be at the heart of any marketing strategy – and with 32 per cent of Aussies considering buying an in-home voice assistant, voice is going to continue to be a huge part of the consumer path to purchase in the future,” she said.

“Leveraging the connected home experience is also a way for brands to reach consumers through voice, as this often offers consumers a solution to a problem that regular devices may take longer to solve. For example, Whirlpool launched a voice-activated washing machine that offers the consumer convenience by allowing them to use Alexa and Google Assistant to check on the status of their laundry.”

Blackham advocated a test-and-learn approach, as well as self-education.

“Understand what your consumer wants, what works, and what doesn’t work. Brands don’t have to spend a lot to do a proof of concept, which will allow you to see if it’s something that resonates with consumers. Pick a smaller proof of concept idea, develop use cases, build it out, and put it out there,” she recommended.

“Another opportunity that comes with getting in early is you can own the invocation. It doesn’t have to be your brand name, it can be general words. Once you own the invocation name, no one else can own it. It’s like website domain names in the early days, but certainly you can own a territory with voice now. You can be the first in your category.

“Get educated about what it means, because it’s coming whether you want it or not. When voice is ubiquitous and in the microwave and car and fridge, that is not the time to start. By that stage, the chance to make mistakes and learn will be harder.”

Dickson saw a wider missed opportunity around brands not thinking about their audio branding, and lacking audio guidelines about how their brand sounds or communicates with people.

“Some brands are hesitant to get involved because it’s a hard area to unpick. However, audio branding isn’t difficult once you know what best practice is. Around 86 per cent of brands don’t have audio guidelines, which is alarming given how easy and cost-effective it is,” he said.

“So some consideration into an audio brand asset stable would be a first step to get into voice. Figure out what the brand’s tone of voice is, also an mnemonic device which makes it easier to remember is important. There may be a reason to undertake audio branding now because of smart speakers, but there has been a reason to do it for 40-50 years, simply because a fluent audio brand will pull all your other assets together.

“Audio has a unique relationship with the brain, it makes it easier to recall things. If you ask people to draw a logo, it’s unlikely to be accurate, but if you ask them what a big brand slogan is, they’ll be able to recall it from 20 years ago."

Voice is ultimately a medium that will reward exploration and trial, Kidney concluded.

“There is so much to be learnt from launching something and seeing how consumers adopt and use our experience," he said. "As for the future of voice, the future today institute predicts over 50 per cent of all interactions with technology will be engaged with via voice, so I don’t think we can overstate the importance and potential of this technology.”

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