The author of this commentary is senior vice president of operations at Futuri Media.
“Alexa, lay out my station’s smart speaker strategy for me.”
That’d be nice, huh? Actually, that kind of A.I. help might not be too far off. But for now, it’s up to each station to decide exactly how they’ll maximize the most exciting opportunity to come along for AM/FM radio audience growth since streaming (by the way, have you really maximized your stream yet? I digress …).
Smart speakers and voice control technology offer radio stations unprecedented ways to engage with their audiences, and the space is growing with remarkable speed.
Research agency Gartner predicts that by next year, 30 percent of our interactions with technology will be through voice control; RBC Capital Markets predicts that by 2020 (just over two years from now!), Amazon Alexa devices alone will sell 60 million units a year.
There are three key things that stations new to the smart speaker space want to keep in mind. These examples are specific to Alexa Skills, as they currently dominate the lion’s share of the space, but can be applied universally.
Think of where and when your listeners are using their smart speakers — the bathroom in the morning, the kitchen after work and the bedroom at night — and promote accordingly through clever imaging and content integration. Shown: Echo Spot.
1. Scoop your brand name, and fast!
The first thing that you need to do is claim your brand. Skills are like website domain names: the most popular, user-friendly ones go quickly. Wouldn’t you rather be “Mix 100.3” than “Mix 100.3 Kokomo,” or some other mouthful of a name?
2. Decide how you’ll use your Skill.
Once you grab your brand, you’ll need to decide exactly what you’ll want from your Skill. Will it just be an “on and off” switch for your stream? How about on-demand benchmarks, like popular morning show bits, or the ability for listeners to request a song or send a message to the DJ, all from their smart speakers without even needing to touch a phone, mobile device or computer?
If you’re committing time and effort to creating Skills, the most important thing to remember is you must integrate your brand into your voice control technology. And that’s more than just playing your stream.
3. Educate your audience.
If you’re not promoting your Skill in the right ways and training your audience how to interact with it, you’re wasting time, money and opportunity.
Of course, on-air mentions are key. Creativity and relatability must shine, with listener benefit top of mind. Just like saying “download our app” won’t help you get much audience engagement for a mobile app, simply telling people that your Skill is available won’t cut it.
Think of where and when they’re using their smart speakers — the bathroom in the morning, the kitchen after work and the bedroom at night — and promote accordingly through clever imaging and content integration.
Social media and email marketing are other key ways to educate your audience on the benefits of using your skill. Target those who you know are smart speaker users, and develop promotions that talk about your skill in a way that incentivizes your listeners (did you know that Amazon allows you to set up giveaways right through their platform? Pretty cool! For an example see tinyurl.com/rw-todd1, or type “create a giveaway” in Amazon’s search field.)
MAKING YOUR SKILL A REALITY
Futuri Media takes a holistic look at everything we do for partners, and Alexa Skills are no different. We could create a product for a partner, hand it over, and say, “Good luck!” but I have yet to meet a partner who didn’t need or want ongoing strategic consulting to ensure they’re making the most of their investment. We’re obsessed with ROI, so that’s what we do.
Technology moves fast — especially this technology. There are literally daily changes to rules in this Wild West market. My strong advice for any station wanting to take advantage of smart speaker opportunities is to have a partner who can really guide you through the experience, even if that partner isn’t Futuri. Don’t fall for the one-size-fits-all approach that some companies offer. Vendors pop out Skills in an assembly line, whereas partners are committed to helping you understand what you can get out of this technology to achieve specific goals. As a certified Amazon development partner, Futuri is well-versed in the challenges and processes of working with Skills.
Developing and executing a great Skill is an incredible new chance to build time spent listening in the home. Remember the days when radio’s TSL was more impressive? This is our chance to get some of it back. A smart speaker Skill for your station isn’t a magic bullet, but it’s a crucial opportunity that you need to exploit in the right ways to see success.
The question shouldn’t be, “Do I want to be a part of the voice control movement?” Trust me: you do. If you have any hesitation whatsoever, I strongly suggest purchasing an Alexa device for your home to see how you, and your listeners, interact with them. Then your question will be, “How can I take advantage of this for my brand and listeners today?” And hey — we’re happy to help.
Todd Thomas is SVP operations for Futuri Media, an SaaS company offering audience engagement technology and tools. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.