Talking Alexa: What Did I Miss?

“Alexa, what did I miss?”

Well, depending on how closely you follow the latest in voice, you might not have caught that Amazon’s virtual assistant will soon be providing unprompted notifications. Amazon recently announced that it will be giving Alexa the ability to alert users when information becomes available instead of waiting for them to ask for it.

Don’t worry - Amazon isn’t pulling a Google and sharing intrusive brand content. To receive the notifications, you’ll first need to opt in. Users will indicate which notifications they want to receive using the Amazon Alexa App. Once this requested information becomes available, their Alexa device will play a chime sound, and the ring will light up in green. Users can then ask, “Alexa, what did I miss” to catch up on the news.

Amazon said this new feature comes in response to users asking for Alexa to be more proactive. I can’t say I’m surprised. Millions of people, including myself, rely on Alexa as a key source of information, and the notifications would make her all the more useful. 

Meanwhile, in working with some of the world’s leading brands to launch Alexa skills, I also see the desire for notifications from a different perspective. I’d suggest that users are asking for the brands behind their favorite skills to increasingly engage them via voice. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that users are looking for brands to engage them via voice just as they do through more established digital channels.  

Consider how we interact with brands on mobile. Many users assume that they will receive push notifications from their news apps when breaking news hits. As for email, we often sign up for emails letting us know when our favorite retailers are having sales so that we can take advantage of discounts. SMS alerts, for example, proactively let us know when deliveries will arrive so that we can plan accordingly. Sure, this type of engagement can be overwhelming when it’s not executed properly. But, more often than not, it provides tremendous value, and we’ve come to rely on these touch points to navigate our daily lives. 

Any modern marketer will tell you that successfully engaging today’s users depends on delivering the right message, at the right time, on the right channel. Quite simply, this is the difference between delivering value versus noise or intrusive interactions versus meaningful engagement. By asking for notifications, Alexa users are telling brands that voice can be the right channel. They’re demonstrating that voice is becoming a central channel for digital engagement, elevating its status well beyond a novel means of interaction.

The power of voice couldn’t be any more clear. Now, it’s up to brands to capitalize on the potential by figuring out exactly what the right messages should be. Fortunately, this is an experiment that many began when they first released Alexa skills. It’s a question that surely became a little more complicated with the recent introduction of the Echo Show and then again with the launch of notifications. Yet with this complexity comes great opportunity - opportunity that becomes all the more promising as the evolution of voice continues to unfold.