Talking Alexa: Be Our Guest

Are you a fan of “Beauty and the Beast?”

Before you answer, I should probably tell you it doesn’t really matter. At least, that’s what Google thought when it decided to have its virtual assistant Google Home tell everyone about the movie. When users activated the My Day feature last Thursday, they got their usual updates on the weather and any scheduled calendar events. They also heard what can hardly be described as anything but an ad for the Disney remake reminding them it was out in theaters.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, users weren’t pleased with the promotion and took to social media to express their frustrations. It was then only a matter of time until the ad was removed and Google issued an apology as follows:

This isn't an ad; the beauty in the Assistant is that it invites our partners to be our guest and share their tales.

At risk of adding insult to injury, I’ll note that even this apology subtly references the movie in encouraging partners to “be our guest.”

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions when it comes to Google’s intentions. Advertisment or not, what’s interesting here is that Google tried to monetize voice for the first time ever. And while the company may have written off its failed attempt as an experiment in a follow up to its apology, it’s clear that Google didn’t quite anticipate the outcome that would follow.

In fairness to the search powerhouse, it isn’t alone when it comes to determining how to best make money from the new channel. I recently noted that countless other brands are asking the very same question as voice evolves into the mainstream. This is a logical next step; now that brands increasingly have a following on voice, they want to make something of it.

I may not have all of the answers right now. But as a start, I believe there are a few tips that brands should keep in mind as they move forward:

1. Don’t break users’ trust

The biggest downfall of Google’s “experiment” is that it confused users and possibly lost their trust. Users had never previously encountered ads on Google Home and didn’t expect to hear them given that they were paying good money for the service. Not to mention, they weren’t given a chance to opt out. When thinking about your monetization strategy, remember that while voice adoption is definitely accelerating, the channel is still new for many users. This means that it’s all the more important to make sure your users are comfortable engaging via voice so that you can continue to leverage its potential as it becomes even more mainstream. 

2. Keep it personal

Google may try to serve the most targeted ads via search, but not when it comes to voice. Instead, it delivered the same message to everyone, even if they weren’t likely to be interested in the movie. Any marketer knows that today’s customers demand a personalized experience across all channels, and voice is no exception. By targeting your monetization strategy to each individual, it will come across less like shameless promotion and instead feel more valuable to your users.

3. Monetize where it makes sense

Speaking of delivering value to your users, think about where in the user journey it might be most natural to monetize. For example, is there a way to tell users about a helpful product or service and then offer to help them purchase it for added convenience? Could you enable your users to order ahead to avoid waiting in line? You’ll not only make your users’ lives easier but also unlock a new stream of revenue for your brand. 

As with all innovation, we learn just as much - if not more - from the failures as the successes. That’s the nature of the beast after all. Do you have any thoughts on how other brands will monetize voice? Share them in the comments below.

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