If you’ve spent any time interacting with an Amazon device, chances are you’ve encountered an Alexa Skill.
These Skills have skyrocketed in popularity, and are quickly changing the way we market.
In this post, I’ll take you through the evolution of Alexa Skills, how they impact digital marketing, and why you should be building one for your brand.
Alexa Skills: An Overview
Alexa skills is a cloud-based voice service exclusive to Amazon, which lets brands build capabilities in voice form.
Essentially, they’re apps for voice search, rather than mobile.
Using Skills, anyone can build an experience for their audience powered by voice command – they can play a game or provide industry-specific information and information right when the user asks for it.
Like apps, they can be added to a user’s device to perform the specific task each Skill is created for.
And they’re used for a lot more than just games.
Top marketers are using Skills to connect with their audience – offering industry news, tips, even web analytics to their audience.
To launch a skill in Alexa, a user says the devices wake word “Alexa,” followed by invocation phrase of your choosing.
For example, “Alexa, open Jeopardy,” or “Alexa, I want to play a trivia game.”
Then, as Amazon puts it:
“When a user speaks to a device with Alexa, the speech is streamed to the Alexa service in the cloud. Alexa recognizes the speech, determines what the user wants, and then sends a structured request to the particular skill that can fulfill the user’s request. All speech recognition and conversion is handled by Alexa in the cloud.”
The user interacts with the skill based on an interaction model, which defines the words and phrases a user can say to make the skill do what they want.
It’s all operated by AI, which means it gives brands a unique opportunity to interact with customers on a personal, conversation-driven basis.
We’ll get into all that momentarily, but first, let’s look at the impact Amazon and Alexa have had on digital marketing.
Amazon’s Smart Speaker Influence
Amazon’s had a leg up in the digital assistant space since the beginning.
Back in 2014, Amazon introduced the Echo, the first voice assistant to operate independent of a smartphone (the very first assistant belongs to Apple’s Siri).
It didn’t take long for the rest of the tech giants to wake up to the new trend, and now Amazon has the likes of Google Home and Apple HomePod.
Not only that, but the influence of digital assistants has become part of many user’s daily lives, popping up in cars, Smart TV’s, and wearables like watches, to name a few.
By 2017, 13% of all households in the United States owned a smart speaker. And by 2022, that number is expected to rise to 55%.
The extreme popularity of smart speakers is due primarily to the overall ease of use of voice search.
Frankly, in the beginning, they were just cool.
Controlling the lights, stereo, even TV by voice? Cool.
But they’re also extremely functional. Who wants to manually set a timer while cooking when you could just tell Alexa to do it? And what busy mom can afford to take her eyes off her kids when she could just Alexa to find her directions?
These small, added conveniences have quickly become staples in users everyday lives.
In fact, 72% of people who own voice-activated speakers say that their devices are used as part of their daily routines, and 65% can’t imagine to going back to the days before they had a smart speaker.
As people become more and more accustomed to voice, it’s also beginning to impact the way people search and even purchase products.
So much so that 31% of smart speaker owners say they spend more money on Amazon/Google since getting their smart speaker.
It didn’t take long for brands to take notice.
So in 2015, Amazon stepped up and introduced Skills.
How Alexa Skills are Changing Marketing
While these voice-based apps are still relatively new to digital marketing, there’s no mistaking their impact.
Since their release in 2015, Amazon now has over 30,000 Skills in the US alone.
Their extremely popularity even persuaded Google to adopt a similar technology, called Google Actions.
We saw a similar thing happen when chatbots hit the market.
Chatbots gave people the ability to interact with a brand one-to-one, in the places they hang out the most (like Facebook Messenger).
They could talk to brands and receive updates in a way that seemed more personal and encouraged more engagement.
It makes perfect sense, then, that with the evolving focus on voice a similar feature would be created for smart devices.
But Alexa Skills don’t just mimic apps and chatbots, they improve upon them.
One of the biggest effects of Alexa Skills is that it introduced an entirely new way for audiences to interact with brands and services.
There was no need for customers to use their hands or eyes, they simply have to ask.
In short, it’s natural.
A user can say whatever they want or think, and Alexa’s user interface can understand them.
Because it’s powered by automatic speech recognition (ASR) and natural language understanding (NLU), Alexa can understand conversational language – and the meaning behind it.
And because it uses this AI, it’s constantly learning from new interactions.
Perhaps most importantly, it has the ability to drive more natural engagement with your audience.
Why Build an Alexa Skill?
There are plenty of good reasons why more and more businesses are building Skills.
First of all, as we’ve seen, voice search is here to stay.
As of now, around 20% of searches on mobile devices is done via voice, and that’s expected to rise to 50% by 2020.
And, because the technology is still pretty new, it’s a great opportunity to get in on the ground floor.
Remember, bar anything way out of left field happening, this kind of tech isn’t going anywhere. And it will a lot better if your business is ahead of the curve and one of the pioneers in voice search, rather than lagging behind.
But the relative newness also brings other benefits; namely, it’s still free to get in.
Again, as voice searches grow, many expect businesses will have to pay to get higher placements in the SERPs.
Not only that, but as Skills and Actions increase, Amazon and Google may push to monetize the feature, or at least give preference to those brands willing to pay a fee.
If you can build an audience for your skill early on, you won’t have to pour as many dollars into helping people find you in the future.
And of course, the earlier you can get in on a trend, the more authoritative you’ll seem to your audience.
Thought leaders stay on the cutting edge of new technology, especially technology that will likely change the future of search and customer engagement.
And at the end of the day, an Alexa Skill is another feature you can push to fans, and another way to engage with your audience.
It’s a great way to provide real, actionable tips and advice to your audience.
Remember, like apps and chat bots, Alexa Skills will be best used for audience awareness and engagement, not direct sales.
Because of that, the brands that can figure out a way to educate and provide solutions to their audience’s pain points will find the most success on voice.
Examples of Brands Using Alexa Skills
Wondering how an Alexa Skill could fit into your marketing strategy?
Take a look at how these brands did it for some inspiration.
The stain remover doesn’t exactly scream customer interaction, does it?
Surprise for you: it’s killing it on Alexa.
Its Skill, called the Stain Remover, will walk you through how to remove over 200 stains.
And it’s actually pretty brilliant.
No one reading this can claim they haven’t been on the other end of a wine, chocolate, or mud stain – with no idea how to handle it.
That’s exactly the need Tide fulfills here, in an easy, hands-free format that allows people to take direction and get to work at the same time.
So think about it: what need does your product or service fulfill, and how can it translate to voice?
Another one that may surprise you, Zyrtec’s Alexa Skill is an all-in-one resource for allergy information.
Daily AllergyCast is a Skill that’s designed to update users daily on with personalized information like a pollen count and predominant allergens that’s specific to a user’s location.
It also gives a Personalized Allergy Impact Score, which is designed to let users know how different environmental factors will hit them.
Again, Zyrtec’s Alexa Skill is speaking very directly to their target audience. And while they’re not directly pushing the product, by letting users know peak allergy times and impact scores, they are suggesting the best times for their audience to start popping a few Zyrtec pills.
Slack for Voice
You may be familiar with Slack, the chat software designed primarily for business communication.
You may be less familiar with Slack for Voice, their official Alexa Skill.
It works very much like the actual app, only it’s powered entirely by voice.
You can post on different channels, send direct messages, and request that Alexa read any incoming messages to you.
It’s a great example of a how a B2B service can be integrated with voice and make services like these even more efficient.
Getting Started With Alexa Skills
Before you get to building, remember: make sure you have an objective and a full conversation flow ready to go, starting with addressing the needs of your customer.
You’ll also need to decide on the type of skill you want to build:
- Custom Interaction – this allows you the most control over the user’s experience, and can accomplish virtually any action
- Smart Home Skills – these are pre-built skills that can control home devices
- Flash briefing Skills – these are used to provide content for customers flash briefings (or quick updates, such as “tell me the news”)
- Video Skills – enables you to provide video content
- List Skills – these enable users to add items to lists
In most cases, you’ll likely be building a Custom Skill.
Though Amazon stats that you can build a Skill in a few hours, it will require the work of an IT team or outside consultant.
Amazon lists the process out in the following six steps:
- Design a Voice User Interface
- Set Up the Skill in the Developer Console
- Use the Voice Design to Build Your Interaction Model
- Write and Test the Code For Your Skill
- Beta Test Your Skill
- Submit Your Skill for Certification
Amazon has detailed how-to’s and guides for each step, which you can find here.
When you begin building a Skill, you should keep a few things in mind.
First, you want to make your Skill as easy to find and use as possible. That means accounting for invocation phrases that your audience will use when trying to find a solution – not just your brand name.
For example, you would want to include “Alexa, open Tide Stain Remover,” but you would also want to include “Alexa, remove a wine stain.”
Beyond that, you should:
- Make it clear when the user should respond
- Keep your responses brief
- Explain any complex Skills
- Clearly present all options, and avoid overwhelming the user with too many
Amazon also has an in-depth overview of best practices for building your Skill. For anyone new to building Skills, it’s well worth a thorough read.
Once your Skill is set up, you can track performance over time in the Measure section of your Amazon Developers console.
There, you can track metrics around sessions, utterances, unique customers, etc., to help track engagement over time.
Wrapping it Up – Are Alexa Skills Right for Your Brand?
As we’ve covered above, there are many benefits to building an Alexa skill.
And while many brands will likely jump on the bandwagon, not all will succeed.
Those that do will have a clear objective, a clear voice, and a natural conversation flow.
They’ll also know what to include in a skill (think engagement – tips, how-to’s, industry updates, etc.) and what should be left to the sales team.
Those that do the above will a great chance to succeed in an industry that’s shows no signs of slowing down.