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Hey, Alexa! 4 Insights from Amazon’s Chief Evangelist for Alexa and Echo

With over one-hundred million Alexa enabled devices, it’s not breaking news that Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant has opened a new world for both brands and consumers. But… how does Alexa work? And, how can brands survive and thrive in the voice-search revolution? I recently sat down with Amazon’s Chief Evangelist for Alexa and Echo, Dave Isbitski, as part of our LEADERS podcast to get answers to these questions and more.

His insights will provide you with a glimpse into the future of voice as a marketing channel.

1. Alexa is Not A Search Engine… It’s AI

When marketers describe optimizing for voice, I’ve seen them often bundle both Alexa and Google Home into the same conversation. Dave pulled back the curtain to reveal the two devices are not the same, and require different tactics. For Google Home, Google uses its decade-long search engine dominance to answer your questions. So, brands should use structured data and optimize for Google’s position zero. These rich results are often used for answering Google Voice search questions.

In Alexa’s case, the optimization answer is not so clear. According to Dave, Alexa is artificial intelligence — not a search engine.  So, how does Alexa learn? Dave made a point to keep his answer very open. He shared that Alexa gets smarter every day based on a variety of inputs and learns in different “data driven” ways.  So, what are those inputs exactly? That’s one question Amazon isn’t willing to answer… at least not yet. In reference to Alexa’s data inputs, Dave explained, “Maybe they are websites…maybe they are conversations with experts in the field.”

So, when it comes to Alexa, optimizing your website for search may or may not help. At this point, what seems clear to me is that there is one surepath way for brands to optimize for Alexa: Create an Alexa Skill.

2. Skills Allow Brands to Have a Voice on Alexa

If a brand wants to invest in Alexa as a voice search marketing channel, the most direct way is to create an Alexa Skill. With over 80,000 skills available today, an Alexa Skill gives customers a direct connection with brands. According to Dave, the exciting opportunity here is that brands can meet their customers where they are “everyday, on their terms.”

When creating an Alexa Skill, brands can also unlock valuable data and insights about their customers. Take the bank Capital One for example. After introducing their skill to patrons, they were surprised to learn the types of questions users asked. They also received valuable feedback from user reviews. Because of that feedback, Capital One launched car payments through their Alexa Skill at the request of their customers.

Another benefit of building a skill is that brands don’t have to worry about the nuances that come with building an app or website — ongoing updates. Dave explains, “Voice never needs to be patched.” If you bought an Amazon Echo in 2014, it’s the same today.

The importance of brand loyalty also remains the same.

3. Brand Loyalty is Up to the Brand, Not Amazon

According to recent data, 85% of voice search shoppers will choose the default option and order it. For example, if you ask Alexa to replenish your supply of paper towels, there’s a good chance that you will accept the paper towel choice Alexa recommends (which could be an Amazon product).

Dave responded that Alexa tailors her answer to each individual request. She provides recommendations based on user reviews and other data points which help indicate the solution that makes the most sense for each user. This is a nice way of saying that if a customer isn’t asking for your brand by name — your customers will be playing a game of brand roulette.

That’s not Alexa’s fault. With voice search marketing it’s on the brand to inspire loyalty and encourage customers to ask for your product by name.

4. Embrace Being Human Again, and Win

Since Alexa was introduced to the world, Amazon has noticed how comfortable people have gotten with their speakers. In the beginning, users referred to the new platform as The Amazon Echo. Within six months, people began referring to it by its name, Alexa. With every evolution, the context is clear. We are becoming more comfortable with Alexa as a person that helps us, rather than seeing the platform as an impersonal technological tool.

According to Dave the more human you can make your brand, the better. Connecting with human beings is what brands and customers really want. This can work especially well with online brands that don’t have a brick and mortar location. Now Alexa can serve as the human behind the counter. Humans most natural form of communication is speaking, it’s fast and intuitive. Alexa and other voice speakers give brands the opportunity to connect with customers in their daily lives with low barriers to entry.

In Conclusion

Language is incredibly complex for machines to understand, but leaders like Amazon and Google continue to make leaps and bounds forward in this space to create technology that we can interact with in the most natural way — through talking.

My conversation with Dave was incredibly enlightening and provided valuable insight into a marketing channel that is ripe with opportunity for brands looking to connect directly with their customers within their daily lives.

The future of voice search continues to evolve and grow, companies looking to position their brands for the future should quickly adapt to this new marketing channel.

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