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Starting up a business using voice assistants in 2020

Updated: Jun 4, 2020

2019 was an exciting year for anyone interested in growing or starting a business using Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. There’s have been a few prominent startups trying to utilize voice engines for things ranging from welcome frontdesk assistants, elderly living assistants, panic button services, CRM integration assistants, cinema ticket reservation services, voice assistant marketing think-tanks, discoverability tools, real estate database assistants, mortgage application assistants, Alexa car geolocation services, hypnosis services and many more. Revisiting those services a year later paints rather a bleak picture: weak user acceptance, low retention rates and monetization rates have led to low return on investment and subsequent closure of some of the above mentioned startups. Personally, I’m not surprised by this outcome. In the days when most users expect to receive some FREE stuff online for example in form of in-app freebies, getting anyone to pay for voice based services on smart speaker devices (that by the way already cost $50 to $250 to acquire in the first place) is a big ask.

Heading into 2020 you might wonder whether investing into voice technology (and I don't mean building apps or skills) to start or grow a business make any sense. Well the answer is: yes! In this blog post we will outline three potential business opportunities for voice assistants in 2020 that have already found proven acceptance with e-commerce customers or voice assistant users.

Audio enabled board games

The good news is that this has been done before and it works! Titles such as Ticket to Ride, Twister, When in Rome or St.Noire are already Alexa-compatible and according to reviews at Amazon they do prove to be popular amongst customers. At the moment the main purpose of voice assistant is either to explain the board game rules or to assist a player during gameplay by providing character voices and ambient sound environment. Can you however imagine the possibility of playing a board game with a voice assistant as an AI opponent?

Audio Advertising

Audio and streaming are by far the most popular categories on voice assistant app stores. According to current Alexa Policy Testing for Alexa Skills voice advertising is permitted in audio streams and podcasts as long as no Alexa voices (or Polly voices) are used in the advertisement. On the other hand Google Action Policy doesn't indicate any limitations or restrictions to voice advertising or marketing. This is huge for services and products promotion! One could potentially funnel users via voice ad campaigns into existing apps or web services on tablets or mobile phones. I believe that in the long run screen based advertising on Amazon Echo Show devices will get permitted and this will pave the way for new unconventional marketing campaigns using podcast or in-skill advertising. But how would one insert such an ad into an Alexa skill or Google Action in practice? For example Alexa skill "Reuters Flashbriefing" places a 20-30s ad before and after the daily news stream. As much as I find it annoying, misplaced and out-of-context at this very moment, I do welcome the fact that they are trying to figure out their in-skill ad campaigning.

Photo by Sebastian Scholz (Unsplash)
Photo by Sebastian Scholz (Unsplash)

Connected Car

The integration of Alexa into vehicles using for example this little device is a natural progression step of voice assistants into hands-free environments. Some automotive brands already announced that voice assistant apps will be included in their infotainment systems as standard. With currently only 46 connected car skills on the Amazon Alexa UK store the opportunity for innovative skills and apps is huge. One example we're very much excited about is in-app geolocation for marketing and advertising. Image pulling up to a gas station and having Alexa offer you say "50% OFF a burger" if you tank full... These kind of voice push notifications are bound to grab consumers attention since while driving mobile phones simply musn't be used. Finally some automotive OEMs could offer such services without Alexa and Google Assistant voice engines: Mercedes Benz SDK , launched in 2019, has been offering an access to certain vehicle data (odometer, refuelling and security data) to selected developers. It's a matter of time Mercedes start sharing geolocation information to 3rd parties too. This would potentially exclude Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant...

Photo courtesy of BMW AG
Photo courtesy of BMW AG

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