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How-to: Content Marketing with Alexa

Voice marketing is becoming more and more relevant. Find out here how companies in this sector can get off to a good start with their own Alexa skills.

Language assistants such as Alexa or Google Assistant are enjoying growing popularity. For companies, they represent a new marketing and communication channel that is receiving more and more attention under the term voice marketing. Marketing expert Sinan Arslan, and software developer Ziad El-Jayyousi, of the digital agency Neofonie, point out why Voice belongs to the future marketing mix. They describe the development in five steps at the example of its own project.

Voice as an interface to the customer

In spring, Amazon announced that it had already sold more than 100 million Amazon Echo devices worldwide. The distribution of language assistants is also enjoying growing popularity in Germany. Around 15 percent of all Germans with internet access use Amazon Echo, Google Home or a HomePod, according to "Trendmonitor Deutschland". Amazon Echo with the artificial intelligence Alexa ranks first, followed by Google Home and the Google Assistant running on it. The first car manufacturers are also delivering Alexa, for example Audi in the e-tron. Further models are to follow still this year.

From Blogcast to Alexa Skill

What "apps" are on the smartphone, is called "actions" in Google Assistant, and "skills" in Alexa. The possibilities range from simple skills for information to more complex ones, such as shopping skills. With the help of skills, companies can offer their potential customers more service, simple ordering options, relevant information or a direct line to support are just a few examples. Language assistants also offer excellent distribution channels for content marketing. In the specific case of Neofonie, this is about the distribution of blogcasts, the soundtrack version of blog posts that are currently "only" audible via Spotify, iTunes and Soundcloud. But how does the audio content come to Alexa?

Step 1: Determine the degree of individualization

At the beginning it must be decided whether the skill is to be developed individually or on the basis of a "template". Alexa Skills Kit is a collection of tools, documentation and code examples to help developers get started. With the Skill Blueprints there are also extensive templates with which Alexa can be taught new skills even without programming knowledge. For our skill "Neofonie Blogcast" we used a mixture of templates from the Amazon Web Service (AWS) portal and an individually developed solution. In this way, we shorten the time to go live and can flexibly implement future changes according to our own wishes.

Step 2: Develop the skill

If companies decide to work with a blueprint, this process can sometimes be completed in just a few minutes. Depending on the complexity of the application, the process can take several days or even weeks - our blogcast skill took about three to four days.

To create a skill, developers first need a free Amazon Developer Account. In the development environment so-called Developer Console, Alexa has its own area. Developers have the choice between different models. With a "one shot model" Alexa is activated and executes the defined function in the same step - an interaction does not take place. These skills are useful for querying individual information, such as the weather forecast or the time of day. Dialogue models in which the user and skill interact with each other are somewhat more complex. Specific "intents" must be defined, i.e. all events that can take place in the conversation - user statements and questions - and how the assistant should react to them. Some intents are mandatory, e.g. to call up help or to end the conversation. Our Blogcast Skill is also a dialogue model and contains the Audio Player interface for Alexa to play the mp3 files. We have therefore implemented intents that allow users to switch back and forth between the different blogcast sequences, for example. Once the dialog models have been defined, the skill has to be hosted. With AWS-Lambda, Amazon also offers an in-house solution for this.

Step 3: Put your skills through their paces

In this phase the skill is extensively tested. Different test environments and usage patterns can lead to different results. For this reason, a skill should be tested by neutral users who were not involved in the development. The "Developer Console" offers a testing area where up to twenty users from the developer community can put the skill through its paces and identify sources of error that have so far gone unnoticed by the development team.

Step 4: Complete information

Once the skill has proved its functionality, only a few formal details need to be completed: A short description as well as a detailed explanation, information about the developer and the sender. If the skill contains further functions, such as in-app purchases or monetized advertising, further information is required. The application must also be assigned to a specific category in order to make it easier to find. Shortly before the application is sent, the point in time at which the company needs to define the appropriate voice command to activate its skill is also determined. We have chosen "Alexa, start Neofonie Blogcast". The command should be catchy and easy to remember - so users have it ready quickly, which increases the likelihood that the feature will be used multiple times and not forgotten after a single use.

Step 5: Release for publication

After sending via the AWS portal, Amazon automatically carries out a short diagnosis. This usually takes no longer than a quarter of an hour. The company checks whether all the necessary information has been filled in and carries out an automated quick check of the software. The skill is then manually checked by Amazon employees with regard to the terms of use, dialog options and software functionality. After a few days the application is "live" and can be used by all owners of an Amazon echo.

Conclusion: Make your first experiences

Language assistants are becoming more popular and used more frequently. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's quote from 2014 has long since proved true: "Human language is the new interface". Companies should rather think today than tomorrow about how and to what extent they want to use voice marketing and integrate it into their marketing mix.

Voice as an interface to the customer has certainly not yet reached the masses, but it is well on its way. Reason enough to start initial test projects with digital language assistants and gain initial experience - preferably before the competition does.

Photo by Rahul Chakraborty on Unsplash

This blog was translated from the following article:

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