Talk to your car voice

Why voice?

Time, that is the one item that we all have in common as a species. You and I have the same 86,400 seconds in a day that Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates do. And you know what, I just queried that magic number through a simple voice command, “Alexa, how many seconds in a day”, and in a whiz came her reply. That is the true power of voice – it is fast, it feels natural and second to no other medium, and saves me the effort of pulling my mobile from my pocket, opening the calculator app and doing the math, or even typing the keystrokes for this search query in Google and waiting for it to spit out the answer. Not only that, I did it while I was sipping my coffee and looking out of the window at my son playing cricket. I for sure couldn’t do all three at once with any medium, other than voice. Yes, voice lets me multitask. It is the exact same reason why podcasts have started getting so popular – stuck in your daily commute, you can drive and “safely” listen to news, people’s opinions or whatever your interests be, not just making your ride more comfortable, but putting that idle time to some good use. Now imagine, asking the voice assistant in your car, whether that is Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri or something else,  to order groceries or pay the utility bill or turn on the air-conditioner of your living room while you’re making your way home. Once again, you can’t safely, and definitely should not, do this by punching keys on your cellphone while you are behind the wheel. So guess what, voice just bought you extra time on this planet that you could spend with your family when you get home.

Celebrated marketing guru, Prof Scott Galloway of NYU, in his blog wrote, and I quote, “Any company that creates more than $10 billion in shareholder value does one of two things: extend time (more time, saving time) or enhance time.” The big four – Google, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft, each with about a trillion dollars in valuation, all have their proprietary voice assistants that are at various levels of smarts and sophistication. Google Assistant gets you all the information to your “ear not-finger tips”. Alexa has the most prominent voice ecosystem with their Echo branded smart speakers and Alexa Skills. Siri has more attitude and chutzpah than any of them, and Cortana, well she’s all about productivity. Not only is their Natural Language Processing (NLP) getting more and more advanced by the day, they are now available in various vernacular languages as well. In addition to English, Alexa speaks in a total of 15 languages including Spanish, French, German and Hindi, while Google Assistant is available in 44 different languages including Arabic and Korean. While the first billions consumed the internet through PC’s and phones in English, imagine what happens when the remaining billions get to consume it through voice in a language of their choice. For those with very little ability to read and write, and believe me, there are quite a few, voice lends a medium that instantly gets these have-nots on a level playing field with the rest. Just look at some of these trends to see how the world is lapping up to voice:

  • In 2020 alone, more than half of all smartphone users are engaging with voice search technology (ComScore).
  • 65% of 25 – 49 year olds converse with their voice-enabled devices on a daily basis (PwC)
  • 52% of all smart speaker owners place them in a common area such as the living room (Google).
  • 30% of all web browsing sessions this year will be screenless (Gartner).
  • 11.5% of smart speaker owners make purchases using voice monthly (Voicebot).

What this tells us is that voice and the voice ecosystem is going to explode. While entry level devices like the Echo Spot and the Google Home Mini are getting better sound fidelity at impulse-buy price points, their bigger cousins such as the Echo Studio and those by OEM brands such as Sonos and Harman are replacing full-fledged music systems inside homes. As awareness to physical and mental health issues due to screen-time stigma grows, these smart speakers are edging forward to fill that void. Already, a lot more music is now consumed through smart speakers as opposed to smartphones. Being a device that is always plugged in has its own benefits over that with a constant fear of discharge.

Now let’s look at some of the popular use cases in voice. As stated earlier, playing music is the number one use case when it comes to smart speakers. On Alexa, while the default music service is set to, surprise surprise – Amazon Prime Music, users can set the default to any of the third party streaming services such as Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, Deezer, Gaana, Saavan, etc. Likewise, news and podcasts are other categories that are quite popular. Since children are amongst the most prolific users of Alexa, skills such as bedtime stories, puzzles and games are widely used and have great return engagement metrics. Fitness skills that provide guided workout or yoga invoke daily use and form part of users’ routines. A routine is a collection of skills or actions that users can program their voice assistants to trigger with a keyword or a phrase, such as, “Alexa, good morning” or “Hey Google, I’m home”. So a phrase such as ‘good morning’ can be programmed to trigger a set of skills such as turn on the lights, open the curtains, play the news followed by a guided yoga or a meditation skill. Speaking of meditation, a number of skills are available on Alexa that just play soothing music in a loop such as sounds of nature or instrumental tunes – essentially music that helps to calm or set the mood for meditation or relaxation.

While a large chunk of these skills are indie, i.e. created by independent developers, brands have started taking note of voice as a medium and have started putting out skills that provide at the minimum, a secondary mode or touch point for their products and services. Whether it is news brands like BBC, FMCG brands like Crest toothpaste or gig-economy services such as Uber, more and more brands have started making voice as a part of their go-to-user strategy. Some of these have already tasted early successes with engagement and are either in the process of or have already rolled out subsequent versions that provide even more functionalities on voice to their users who are getting more and more accustomed to the medium. With Alexa for Business rolled out into mature markets like the US, it has opened up a whole new ecosystem for productivity related skills for organizations.

So how can your brand get on the voice bus when a large portion of this still sounds like one big lorem ipsum? To begin with, think of having your own voice website. Think of all the useful information that your users today get by clicking on menus and diving into nested internal pages, now available through a single query – “Ok Google, ask Fortis Hospital to book an appointment with a cardiologist” or “Alexa, ask Audi what is the clearance under new A6?” While the voice assistant can pull information from a source such as Wikipedia, there is no guarantee that the accuracy and relevance of those results for the specific query by your users might be as high compared to that information given by your own voice website. This so called voice website or voice app is called a custom Alexa Skill or a Google Action. You can either find a qualified Alexa skill developer or a Google actions developer or go through online tutorials to build your own. Either way it is important to get your voice design right at first.