How Brands Can Drive the Conversation with In-Car Voice Assistants

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I’ve always said that you can tell a lot about someone by looking at their Google history. Feeling brave? Swap phones with someone and study each other’s previous Google searches. I can sense you’re squirming now at the thought.

Well, I’m revising my mantra: You can tell a lot about someone by analyzing their voice assistant history.

It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles from NYC that I realized how much I depend on my in-car voice assistant. Driving (crawling!) for 1.5 hours a day will do that to you. For the record, I’ve categorized my actual last 10 in-car voice commands:

Navigation: “Directions to Kidspace Museum, Pasadena.” “Directions to nearest Starbucks.”

Entertainment: “Play Mötley Crüe, Dr. Feelgood album.” “The Lion King Movie sessions at AMC Santa Monica.”

Restaurants: “What time does R&D Kitchen open today?”

Communication and Utility: “What’s the weather in Santa Monica today?” “Send a text to Steph Wifey.” “Call Kenno.”

Miscellaneous: “How do you wean a toddler off a pacifier?” (The answer: patience and aspirin‑for you.) “What is the name for a phobia of clowns?” (The answer: coulrophobia.)

That’s right, I’m a coffee-drinking, 80’s-rock loving, family man living on the West Side with a binky-dependent toddler petrified of Ronald McDonald.

It’s clear that voice is the next frontier of marketing due to continued growth of two trends: connected cars and the demographics for voice assistant usage. AT&T are signing up more new connections via cars than cellular phone plans, and the typical in-car voice user is affluent, tech-savvy and 30-44. In other words, a marketer’s dream audience.

Brands are starting to realize this. With most of my 10 voice commands listed, increasing opportunity exists to better understand an audience, delivering relevant and personalized content.

Let’s start with the in-car voice itself. There’s minimal choice when changing a voice; the exception is a soothing Google Assistant Australian voice that sounds rather like Margot Robbie. However, brands have the opportunity via Waze to offer a sponsored custom voice. CBS did this successfully, allowing the musings of The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert to offer driving (crawling!) directions.

Currently, on-screen promoted advertising is limited in-vehicle due to state laws. Companies can still engage by creating their own voice application i.e. an Alexa Skill or Google Action to own and control a conversation with drivers. For example, brands like Starbucks enable users to order on the go by saying “Hey Google, ask Starbucks for a tall coffee cream and sugar.”

All in-home skills and routines can also be used on the road. HBO’s The Maze Alexa Skill allows Westworld fans to explore new content while interacting with the show’s characters in an addictive audio-experience. Imagine navigating the Westworld park via choose-your-own-adventure style scenarios, staring at the back of a truck while stuck on the Interstate 405.

Local Search ads on Google Maps, and Branded Pins on Waze offer opportunities for brands to provide personalized promoted content along the journey. This is the closest thing to direct response advertising when navigating via voice. Jack in the Box could promote content deals when a driver asks, “directions to nearest hamburger restaurant”, showcasing nearest venue locations and deals.

Finally, audio product advancements from Spotify and Pandora will soon allow drivers to talk back to sponsored audio messages. These ads will allow opportunity to find out more information about an advertised product. If targeted and tailored well, this could offer another level of personalized sophistication (e.g. “Tell me more about the Staples Center Mötley Crüe concert.”)

The fact is, many newer vehicles now come equipped with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa as standard. Given the increased availability and ease of use, consumers are adopting voice as an instinctive input to engage with smartphones and cars. And more brands are taking advantage of the convergence of these trends. So, watch this space, just keep your eyes on the road while driving (crawling!)

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