The growing popularity of digital voice assistants such as Alexa, Google Home, Siri, and Cortana are changing the way we communicate, search for information, conduct transactions, and more -- both in our personal lives and in the workplace.
According to Ovum’s “Digital Assistant and Voice AI-Capable Device Forecast: 2016-21,” by 2021, there may be almost as many voice assistants as people. With their friendly names and intuitive and conversational interfaces, digital voice assistants make connecting with technology and accessing information easy for people across all generations, from the very young to senior citizens.
Even my own 4-year-old son, Matthew, talks with Alexa in our home every day, asking her the time, the weather or to play his favorite songs. Most importantly, he holds me accountable by having Alexa set an alarm to make sure I wrap up my work by a certain time and play with him.
To be indispensable in today’s increasingly dispensable economy, communications professionals must closely track and understand emerging technologies that provide new channels for connecting with customers, employees, and other key audiences.
So, how can we capitalize on digital voice assistants in our internal and external communications strategies? Here are four ways, spanning both the business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) realms:
1. Enabling New Forms Of Advertising
Although few of the 40,000 Alexa skills available today have built-in advertising, that will likely change. In the meantime, businesses can use these skills to monetize news and entertainment content by providing limited access for free and then charging a subscription for premium content. They can also increase sales of consumer packaged goods (CPGs) by sponsoring certain skills or building in the automatic reordering of household products.
For example, Amazon recently debuted an Alexa-enabled microwave that can automatically reorder popcorn when you run out. Similarly, Domino’s created an Alexa skill that allowed customers to quickly and easily order their favorite pizza using a simple voice command. No need to get off the couch or even pick up the phone and risk missing a minute of the big game.
In the future, I see CPG brands sponsoring the “skills” associated with voice-activated stovetops or other kitchen appliances to promote their products or helpfully suggest recipes based on the ingredients you already have to solve the age-old question: “What’s for dinner?”
2. Strengthening Brand Loyalty
I believe that voice-enabled search will be the way in which we seek information and engage with brands throughout our customer journeys. By leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and advances in natural language processing (NLP), voice assistants can remember customers’ past inquiries and deliver much more relevant, personalized and useful information than traditional keyword searches. Thus, optimizing your business for voice search results will allow you to raise brand awareness and strengthen customer loyalty.
Here’s why: Voice assistants often answer a user’s question with a very brief “featured snippet,” which is usually derived from the first or most relevant search result. By optimizing your website for voice search, you increase the chances that your content is tied to that featured snippet. This helps position your company’s brand as an expert authority on the subject and raises the likelihood that the user will seek out additional information on your site.
For example, dog lovers can ask a variety of questions about their pets using the “Ask Purina” Alexa skill. By positioning Purina as consumers’ go-to source for all dog-related questions, the skill not only builds brand loyalty but also helps the brand reach new dog owners who have not yet established loyalty to another brand of dog food.
3. Driving B2B Sales
Voice technology is also transforming the enterprise, driving B2B sales, improving internal communications, and even enabling organizations to network with overseas partners using translation features.
For instance, Salesforce recently launched its own digital voice assistant that allows busy salespeople to verbally interact with the customer relationship management (CRM) platform. They can input notes about clients and receive daily briefs on upcoming meetings or action items, all by speaking rather than typing -- an especially helpful capability for salespeople who spend much of their time driving from one customer site to the next.
Marketers wanting to capitalize on B2B voice search should optimize for conversational, long-tail keywords and position their organization as an industry expert on those targeted keywords. Therefore, you should begin working these long-tail keywords into your content marketing materials now. Just make sure they sound natural and conversational when read aloud.
4. Improving Employee, Customer And Partner Collaboration
As everything in our lives becomes increasingly voice-enabled, it will not only drive changes in consumer behavior but fuel new trends in the ways we work. Millennials in the workforce (not to mention the up-and-coming Generation Z) often have different expectations for how they consume information and collaborate with their co-workers compared to previous generations.
AI-powered digital voice assistants designed for the enterprise enable employees to easily set up virtual meetings using telepresence technology, find and book available rooms, suggest relevant documents ahead of time, enable screen sharing, record discussions, and take meeting notes. At Cisco, for instance, our artificial intelligence-powered digital voice assistant for the enterprise is called Spark Assistant.
Whether used internally with employees or externally with customers and partners, these powerful voice and video technologies improve communications and allow dispersed teams to collaborate more naturally. As a bonus, this helps spark new ideas, build trust among team members, speed decision making and ensure everyone is on the same page.
Just like my son, Alexa is only four years old but is already creating massive change. I am convinced that digital voice assistants will change the course of history. With their real-time, interactive capabilities, they will further democratize access to information and provide a direct and intuitive communication channel with customers. In addition, their conversational, hands-free functionalities encourage greater engagement with various audiences.
Make sure your organization is strategizing how to leverage these new technologies for new forms of advertising -- strengthening brand awareness, driving sales, and improving collaboration. I might even start using Alexa to remind my son to brush his teeth before bedtime!
This article originally appeared in Forbes.com on November 29, 2018