Smart speakers are showing up everywhere. Voice usage on smartphones is rising. Voice assistants have become an important digital channel with substantial reach seemingly overnight. This has brands thinking about how to best establish a presence in voice, how the new channel will impact their omnichannel strategies and what approach their voice app strategy should take. Voice apps are the skills or actions that brands can build to engage directly with consumers through Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
One way for brands to think about voice apps is an extension of other marketing initiatives, namely content marketing. There are plenty of differences between content marketing on the web and through voice apps. Three notable differences are conversational interaction, synchronous engagement and direct, instantaneous access to relevant content.
However, the core objectives are very similar. You are looking to engage consumers in a channel that is convenient for them. The timing, nature and stickiness of the engagement will largely be driven by the content you provide. Voice interactions provide an opportunity to generate awareness, stay top of mind, build trust, shape consumer thinking and capture new customers.
XAPP has launched over 1,000 voice apps and many are best characterized as content marketing tools. But, it’s not an exact match. Creating content for the web is different from creating content for voice. Three areas that content marketers should keep in mind when tackling their first voice app project are the unique aspects of voice SEO, active promotion and designing for conversation.
Solving the Voice App Discovery Problem
Voice is a paradigm shift and like with the web and mobile paradigm shifts, there will be big winners and big losers. Discovery is the biggest barrier to voice app success and this creates a huge opportunity for content marketers. Consumers are curious, and they already expect to get instant access to any information or content they ask for through smart speakers and voice assistants more broadly. Brands that have voice content to answer consumers’ questions and use Voice SEO and promotion effectively will be the winners.
Passive Discovery – Voice SEO
Core content marketing activities are often driven through owned channels such as web and mobile properties. This allows the marketer to have maximum control over the user experience and provides multiple paths to extend the engagement. The challenge is generating awareness. Yes, there are email, messaging and social channels to promote the content, but marketing to your existing audience is rarely the sole objective. To reach new consumers through the web we employ search engine optimization (SEO) as a key tool for generating user discovery. For voice apps, we use a variant called voice SEO.
One national brand that XAPP works with generates 60% of its Google Assistant Action sessions through direct referrals from Google Assistant. This is voice SEO in action and you can do it to generate new discovery of your voice app, your content, and your brand. There are three things your voice app content marketing must do to rank for a voice SEO referral from a voice assistant:
1/ Include information relevant to the request – content comes first
2/ Speech quality – length, pronunciation and grammar are important
3/ Include data in the voice app that indicates the types of queries that can be answered – the voice equivalent of keyword phrases
Content marketers power most brand websites today and are integral in drawing in consumers, creating engagement and getting them to return. There is a similar role to play in voice marketing. Voice assistant usage is growing quickly, much faster than the available content that is optimized for a voice user experience. Content marketers can take advantage of this trend by building content appropriate to the channel and by ensuring their voice app content is engaging. This is a significant gap in voice app quality today.
Active Promotion – Combining Paid and Owned Media
Another skill of content marketers is extending the consumer engagement generated by ad campaigns. The goal is to attract new customers. An ad can capture interest, but what next? Often it is the content marketer that draws the person interacting with an ad to an owned channel where other content deepens the engagement.
When it comes to voice, the basic objectives are the same but the implementation varies. You can employ existing channels that you use today for the web such as social, video and display ad formats. From mobile apps and browsers those ads can lead to direct click-throughs to a Google Action on Google Assistant. However, if you want to advertise through smart speakers or audio channels you don’t have the benefit of a compelling image to draw a prospective user’s attention. You must use sound and conversation to drive a call to action. The good news is that the ad is linear. That means it can’t be missed. Everyone will hear it and you don’t have the issue of banner blindness. On the other hand, many content marketers have never written for audio and there is a learning curve.
For example, placing the key point at the beginning of the communication is optimal for most media that is designed to be read or watched. With audio, the best practice is the opposite. You want the user to hear the key point toward the end because they are most likely to recall the last point. It is also critical to place the key point near the call to action so it has maximum impact. Paid media is a good idea to amplify discovery of your voice app, just make sure you are applying the content marketing strategy best suited to your media.
Also, just in case you are wondering, paid promotion for voice apps works. One XAPPmedia customer started a campaign in December 2017 and ran it through the beginning of February 2018. You can see in the chart below that daily user session jumped immediately upon starting the campaign and climbed steadily throughout the promotion period. After the advertising ceased, daily use leveled off far higher baseline than before the promotion. Advertising was critical for developing awareness and high-quality content was equally critical for ensuring retention of the new user. Content marketing can play a critical role in both activities.
Design for Conversation – Drawing in Consumers
Another piece of advice for content marketers looking into voice is to learn the art of conversation. Content marketing has not previously required expertise in conversation. Developing compelling, engaging content that effectively conveys a message, delivers deeper engagement or motivates action is different from conversation. These skills could be elements of a conversational interaction, but traditional content marketing assumes a one-way communication or at least a predominantly one-sided exchange.
You can use voice apps to tell you brand story, offer information about your product or current deals, but don’t just shovel content at your user. Ask them to engage. Give them some control. Take into account things they ask for but you cannot address at the time. Review your error logs to discover updates for new content that may delight users. Keep your responses succinct and design them to move the conversation forward. Think about why the user is engaging and how you would interact with them in a one-on-one conversation sitting at a restaurant. Consider how the best sales people engage with prospective customers. Don’t simply repurpose what you did for the web. Start by designing a dialogue and then figure out what content is most appropriate for the interaction.
Where do we Start?
“Brainstorm every question you’ve ever been asked by a customer or a prospect”, says Marcus Sheridan from They Ask You Answer. Once you have a list of questions, then answer those questions with the objective of educating customers in order to build trust. Take this a step further by considering how those questions and answers might continue into a longer conversation where you can add more value and users can reveal additional intentions. These are some of the basics of conversation design that content marketers can be well suited to execute with some deliberate practice.
Conversation is different. Voice assistant usage is growing fast but there is very little content suitable for the medium. Content marketers are in a position to make a big impact in the shift to conversational interactions. Brands considering their voice app strategy should consider how they might view voice assistants as a new form of content marketing. Most voice app content today is very shallow. A content marketing approach can help brands stand out from the crowd.