My wife and I have a cat. He’s very hungry all the time, but we only give him wet food at 6 PM when we get home from work, and a snack before bed. Our system is that whoever gets home from work feeds the cat, but if one of us feeds him then goes out, he will pretend to be starving when the other one gets home. We have fallen for this act many times.
To address this problem, I found an Alexa skill called “The Cat Feeder”. The premise is simple: you ask “Alexa, has the cat been fed?” and she says “yes, the cat has been fed” or “no, the cat is hungry.” You do have to remember to tell the skill each time you feed the cat, obviously.
The system worked well, until one day when I came home, fed the cat, went out, and my wife came home and fed the cat.
“What happened?” she asked me when we realized the cat had been fed twice. I had to admit it: I forgot to use the skill.
The problem is that with our phones, we see the apps that we have installed, and they provide visual reminders. If something requires our attention, our phones provide a notification that we can glance at quickly to see the app that’s requesting our attention, and this provides a visual reminder.
With smart devices that lack screens, however, there isn’t a visual reminder of those apps. But in my case, even with the visual reminder of a very hungry cat, I still forgot to tell Alexa the cat had been fed.
I thought I might be making a bigger deal out of this issue than necessary. Then my in-laws invited us for dinner, and I saw something on my mother-in-law’s cabinet — Post-it notes with Alexa commands. From this, I realized the problem was two-fold: simple commands are not easily remembered, and commands to invoke specific apps (also called skills) are not easily remembered either.
There are two specific ways to think about the solution to this problem:
1. It’s up to the ecosystem creators (Amazon, Google, etc.) to address. The ecosystem creators need to address discoverability by focusing on making the system highlight the interesting and compelling apps and skills.
2. It’s up to the Creators of the app/skill to address. The creators need to address discoverability by focusing on getting the word out on their own — pre-launch, during launch, then on an on-going basis.
This is a problem for Creators, whether they are solo-preneurs or large corporations…whether they’re launching an Alexa skill/Google action from scratch with a tool like Botmock, or recording short-form content like flash briefings and delivering via smart speakers. For instance, nearly 2 years ago, McDonald’s launched a way for job applicants to use their smart speakers to apply for jobs. There was tons of press coverage about this for a couple of days — then the coverage stopped. Fast forward to now, and Amazon.com shows 164 ratings for this skill, but 0 customer reviews. Apparently, even if you have the marketing budget of a Fortune 500 company with all the press coverage in the world — it might not be enough.
If you think that promoting your creation pre-launch, during launch, and post-launch is not a good use of time, or is too hard, or too expensive, or is not for you — you may be right — but it will be required for your work to grow in popularity. Unless Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant change the way they handle discoverability for their third party ecosystem developers, this applies to everyone, no matter how famous or popular they are already.
Think for a moment about famous actors. Pick someone like Brad Pitt, who is a recognizable name as a box-office draw. When he has a new movie come out, what happens? Of course, there are movie trailers, marketing posters, and other promotional activities. But personally, Brad Pitt goes on talk shows and promotes his movie. He’ll go on late night talk shows like Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, or James Corden, sometimes alone or sometimes with his co-stars — all in the name of promoting the movie. Think about that — one of the world’s most famous actors still needs to go out to individually promote his movie, often multiple times on multiple platforms.
By contrast, consider another Creator — Volley.fm. They are a voice agency and have multiple games available for smart speakers, particularly Song Quiz, which is the most fun game I’ve played on a smart speaker to date. I asked one of the members of the Volley.fm team, Riyadh, “what is the secret to getting apps discovered on smart speakers?”
Riyadh explained that there are 3 key points that any smart speaker creator must focus on:
1. Voice assistants are already a niche audience so the end product must be a simple but big idea with universal appeal
2. The idea presented should resonate in one sentence,
3. Add as much personality as possible, to help balance between informational and entertaining.
I wanted to take that answer a step further, so I asked Riyadh “how would you recommend creators achieve repeat usage on smart speakers?” He gave me 3 simple concepts again:
1. Make the experience so great that users must tell their friends
2. Give them a reason to come back daily
3. Grow an ecosystem/alliance of some kind
But neither of these address the root problem: how someone finds your voice app in the first place, and how someone remembers to invoke it routinely after that.
So how do you actually remind users your app or skill exists if they don’t have a visual indicator?
There are 3 ways I would recommend to stay top-of-mind for your audience:
1. Use email to share information regularly.
2. Use a podcast or a micro-cast (called a Flash Briefing on Amazon).
3. Use social media for conversations.
As an example of a regular email with information, Katherine Prescott sends out “VoiceBrew”, a daily email with tips and tricks to get the most out of Amazon Alexa. Her daily email goes out to over 50,000 subscribers, and since her emails are so packed with tons of great information, she has an extremely high open rate. This is an ideal way to stay top-of-mind for your audience — they’re seeing a message from you every day with information they can use.
Recently, Katherine partnered with Witlingo to launch a micro-cast, or Flash Briefing, on Amazon Alexa as an audio version of the high points of her daily email, called “Your Tip of the Day: The VoiceBrew Flash Briefing”. This gives her audience a chance to hear content they might have missed in email, or digest it in their preferred method — visual or audio. Personally, I often consume her content twice per day — in my Flash Briefings, and via my email — because it’s so valuable.
Social media is a great way to find your target audience and to continue to remind them that your voice app exists. There are two components to social media — publishing relevant content for your potential or existing users, and having conversations with those users.
However, because of the number of social media platforms, it can be overwhelming to figure out which one to start with. I recommend using a tool like Buffer, which allows you to easily publish content to multiple social media platforms with just one button. You can also schedule content in advance, so you can batch your content at once.
As important as publishing content is to remaining top-of-mind for your audience, it’s even more important to look for conversations about your topic that you can contribute to. Although it’s tempting to just broadcast messages to the world at regular intervals that are the digital equivalent of saying “hi, we exist!” it’s much more important to start conversations with those people who would potentially use your app.
For instance, if you realized that your target users would-be pet owners with cats, using a social tool like Tweetdeck (from Twitter) would provide you a mechanism to track the questions and conversations that are happening around cats, their weight and their food. Participating in these conversations in a helpful manner would give you a perfect opportunity to provide value to your target users while reminding them that you and your skill exist.
It’s not easy to keep your skill or action top-of-mind for users — but with these pre-deployment thought strategies and after-launch engagement tools, you can minimize the time and effort required for you and your team to remind everyone that your offering exists.