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The Monetization Challenge for Brands: Thoughts From Project Voice

Last week, the WillowTree team attended and exhibited at Project Voice, in Chattanooga, TN.

Watch our CEO, Tobias Dengel, present a breakout session on how to reimagine customer experiences with voice.

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNhRgEBv6ls&t=561s

Throughout the conference, we heard consistently about the challenges of monetization of voice for brands. Our key takeaways on this topic that will be important to our clients are:

  1. Voice is becoming a channel, like mobile and the web, that people will utilize in their long and complex purchasing journeys.
  2. Brands need to be verbally proficient — whether someone is talking to you via a smart speaker, in an app, or on another one of the 500 million voice-enabled devices. If your product isn’t showing up in voice inquiries, at least one of your competitor’s is.
  3. Today, efforts to “monetize” voice experiences largely miss the point.

Amazon and Google both introduced basic monetization for third-party voice applications in 2017, letting brands offer premium experiences and content for purchase within their skill. Thought leaders in the voice space predicted that monetization barriers would fall in 2018 with the introduction of these premium functionalities.

The first iterations of monetization for voice followed a similar model to Apple’s App Store, with premium apps available for purchase. However, at the end of 2019, only 10% of apps in the Apple Store and 5% of apps in the Google Play Store require payment, and the most popular and commonly-downloaded apps across the globe are free. Sure, while some people make a lot of money from selling their apps, for most businesses, that model does not capture the enormous value they get from mobile, which requires tapping into additonal revenue streams.

At Project Voice in 2020, brand leaders indicated that they continue to face monetization challenges: just like premium apps weren’t enough to create consistent revenue in the mobile app stores, premium skills won’t be enough for voice.

Voice Monetization Opportunities for Retail

The path to successful monetization may be most accessible for retail brands — research from Voicify indicates that 52% of smart speaker owners would like to receive information about deals, sales, and promotions from brands via voice. Additionally, 39% said that an interaction with a voice assistant influenced a purchase decision in the past month. Consumers want to use voice as part of their purchasing journey — understanding how voice influences consumer decisions will help brands build experiences that optimizes those touchpoints in the customer journey.

However, in 2019, it became clear that voice experiences have not yet found their place in the customer journey for brands — data from Dashbot revealed at Project Voice that while 43% of voice users made a purchase using voice in 2018, this number dropped to only 25% in 2019 with the same audience. Additionally, 94% of purchases were made directly from the marketplaces of either Amazon or Google, indicating that the purchases made using voice were mostly from the voice platforms, not from third-party brands.

Building Voice as Part of the Digital Ecosystem

Getting to the core of how voice can play a role in the customer journey for brands requires zooming out and examining the full scope of the digital ecosystem. Voice is one of many channels that customers use to evaluate a brand, and developing and designing the experience as though it were the only touchpoint a customer were to have with the brand would be misaligned with the actual customer experience.

At CES, Google Assistant’s VP of Engineering, Scott Huffman, shared a statistic from Google that almost half of the time someone uses a voice assistant, they also use a screen either after or during their voice input. Outside of the simplest use cases for voice such as checking the weather, playing music, or setting a timer/reminder, more complex interactions like making a purchase require a screen.

Though a screenless voice experience may be part of the buying decision, it becomes challenging to explore and purchase new products without being able to see them. The key to monetizing voice for brands is to create an experience within the voice channel that compliments the other channels within the digital ecosystem. For example, can a consumer view a product on a whim using their Amazon Echo Show in the kitchen, add it to their cart, and then find and purchase it later from their mobile phone?

Huffman also pointed out that brands “can start with what they’ve already built,” indicating the opportunity to voice-enable websites and apps, thereby integrating voice into the digital channels that customers are already using.

At both CES and Project Voice, we heard messages like this consistently from industry leaders, echoing our call to brands to Give Your Apps a Voice™. By creating a multimodal interface with in-app voice capabilities, brands will be significantly better positioned to deliver the experiences that their users expect by tackling the challenge of monetization for voice.

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