Brand-Owned Virtual Assistants Report
Nov 19, 2020
7 MIN READ

Brand-Owned Voice Assistants Take Center Stage in Latest Report by RAIN Agency

In its most recent report, “The Dawn of Brand-Owned Virtual Assistants,” RAIN Agency identified four key motivators for brands to migrate from a “rented voice assistant” strategy to a “brand-owned” approach. According to RAIN, Mainstream Voice Assistants (MVAs) like Amazon and Google have glutted the market with third-party app presence on their platforms in the form of “skills,” “actions,” and “capsules” that have left brands feeling like things have gotten a little out of control.

While RAIN is not advising its audience to abandon these MVAs, they have identified some significant pitfalls to putting all your voice efforts into third-party platforms at the expense of investing on custom, brand-owned voice assistants.

The report warns that brands who rely on MVAs, like Alexa, are competing with over 100,000 apps in the Alexa Skills Store, making it difficult for customers to find them and nearly impossible to build user engagement over time.

“And there’s yet further risk. Brands are beholden to MVAs and their always-evolving technical and design constraints for third parties (e.g., screen-optimized voice experiences), as well as their first party product roadmaps, where first-party functionalities (e.g. default music streaming services) could easily usurp third party apps whenever a platform sees fit,” the report states.

In the report, RAIN cites data suggesting that first party voice usage outperforms third party usage by a wide margin, with skills and actions currently lagging behind use cases like search, smart home, music, and timers and reminders. In a deeper dive into the benefits of a brand-owned voice assistant, RAIN compares custom voice assistants to “renting” voice tech from third party providers.

Owning vs. renting voice AI technology

  1. MVAs don’t provide visibility as to how your app will be recommended
  2. Brands are beholden to MVA platform updates that may require costly code updates
  3. Brand-owned voice assistants (OVAs) give complete control over data and insights
  4. OVAs allow for customized domains to meet customer needs and desires

Leveraging your data with brand-owned voice assistants

As RAIN explains in the report, voice user data contains within it the critical information brands need to better understand their customer’s needs. The data brands can gather leads to not only better voice experiences, but critical insights that can inform product and service road maps.

“But by owning more of the speech processing layer within the OVA, brands are positioned to capture not only utterances but raw audio, and to use these to glean sentiment at all points of an interaction. Over time, this information can be used to anticipate a consumer’s disposition at any point in their journey–from searching to buying, from using to advocating–and adapt all digital channels to meet these needs,” RAIN states in the report.

The report identifies retail, food service, and manufacturing as industries that could leverage the enormous amount of data collected in a single interaction. When the data quantity is multiplied by hundreds or thousands of sessions, businesses can accurately predict future user needs and begin tailoring customer experiences. 

For many, privacy and security concerns continue to limit their willingness to engage with some of the larger MVAs. When brands own their own voice assistant and control the data and how it’s used, customer confidence can be restored by communicating data collection policies with assurances that data is anonymized and not shared with other entities.

For brands, owning your data is a further safeguard against third party MVAs moving into your markets with competing products armed with all your customer information. Even though your MVA of choice doesn’t have a directly competing product with you now, it’s not a guarantee they won’t in the future—especially if the data they collect shows a growing desire for your products or services.

Multi-channel approach

Choosing to launch a brand-owned voice assistant doesn’t mean you should abandon the MVAs. Third party platforms are still good channels for marketing your product. What they don’t afford is the ability to build brand loyalty. Conversely, a brand-owned voice assistant can be designed to address the unique contexts and use cases of your customers, adding the greatest benefit to them and bringing the most value to your brand.

When natural language interfaces are added to mobile apps, voice becomes truly assistive as it replaces clicks and taps in a closed digital ecosystem. A branded voice experience allows brands to provide proprietary domain knowledge that can’t be found in the more generic third-party platform of an MVA.

When you’re ready to introduce a branded voice assistant, make it more easily discoverable by launching it wherever you’re currently doing business. A voice-enabled mobile app is the lowest hanging fruit for many brands and the customer demand is already there to support the effort.

According to a recent report by Voicebot.ai, nearly half (45.2%) of U.S. mobile users reported wanting voice interaction options on mobile devices. Another 30% aren’t sure, but may be more enthusiastic if those experiences prove to live up to the promises of ease, convenience, and increased functionality touted by the industry.

The more you control the touch points where your assistant can be surfaced, the less you’ll have to spend touting the assistant—it will simply be found by your existing customers as they interact with your brand,” according to RAIN.

Voice branding with a custom wake word

In the report, RAIN asks the question, “How do you remain differentiated and salient when you’re largely invisible?”

They conclude that since “Hey Alexa” is not your wake word, the platform doesn’t adequately represent your brand. Just as companies have worked hard to create visual elements to identify and differentiate them in oft-crowded markets, so must they expend the same amount of energy, resources, and efforts to create a complete manifestation of the brand through sound. 

Attempting to create a unique brand identity within a third party platform is awkward, at best, since the initial wake word will always be the name of the MVA. In addition, those platform manufacturers have their own restrictions about how your brand manifests on their platform. For companies seeking a custom text-to-speech voice that reflects the brand, the only real solution is an OVA.

“Brands that evolved to be relevant and memorable visually must now do so aurally,” according to RAIN.

The report goes on to explain the importance of a well thought out voice strategy that includes a well-formed voice persona. A custom voice experience begins with a wake word and continues as the sound, tone, and expressions of the voice assistant help users to get to know your brand through its unique personality. Other sonic considerations include chimes, bells, or other non-verbal cues included in your voice experience. 

The future of brand-owned voice assistants

Early adopters are beacons for other brands who are starting to read the tea leaves and look to assert more control over increasingly preferred and habitual communications modalities–voice and conversation. Given voice’s ability to reduce friction and create efficiencies, the presence or absence of this functionality–and the quality of it–will be a major factor weighing on consumers’ brand choice. OVAs can not only solve customer pain points, they can set a brand or business on a new paradigm of customer insight and service delivery,” according to the report.

The report concludes that we will continue to see the adoption of brand-owned voice assistants as seemingly small changes add up to a larger adoption picture. 

Here are 7 key elements identified by RAIN that will push brands from creating skills and actions on third party platforms to developing their own custom voice experiences.

  1. The increased use of mobile devices and the move toward interconnectivity with smartphones, kiosks, wearables, cars, and public devices will create a demand for on-the-go access with voice as the common denominator.
  2. A continued shift from reliance on third-party platforms as a brand’s main voice experience to a multi-platform approach that puts a branded voice assistant first.
  3. Brand-owned voice assistants will help companies to create better experiences across all channels and functions of the company. From mobile apps to customer service to on-premise assistive interfaces, OVAs will launch brands with integrated voice experiences into positions as market leaders.
  4. Brand-owned voice assistants will become more predominant as companies seek localized experiences that take into consideration local languages as well as cultural norms. Putting the brand reputation in the hands of a third party operator will no longer be good enough for brands with global operations.
  5. Standards around voice experiences established by groups like the Open Voice Network will make multi-platform experiences more consistent and allow brands to develop custom voice assistants while maintaining a presence on a third party platform without risking a disconnect in brand messaging.
  6. The growth of voice AI platforms that provide the full spectrum of technological services including custom wake words, NLU, TTS, and ASR like SoundHound Inc.’s Houndify.
  7. The emergence of voice AI solutions for business use. While the report focused on the importance of a custom voice assistant to make the customer journey easier, more convenient, and hands-free, RAIN sees opportunities for increasing employee efficiency and easing repetition in everyday workflows—increasing employee satisfaction and safety.

As these drivers demonstrate, what OVAs afford brands most prominently is greater levels of control. Control over data. Control over channels and touchpoints, and how to scale across them elegantly. Control over how users find and return to use your assistant. And control over brand expression, with sonic expressions taking on elevated importance,” states RAIN

To see the report in its entirety and get more detail on each chapter, visit rain.agency.

If you’re interested in exploring a custom voice assistant solution for your brand, contact us and we’ll help bring your voice strategy to life. Developers interested in exploring Houndify’s independent voice AI platform can visit Houndify.com to register for a free account.

Karen Scates is a storyteller with a passion for helping others through content. Argentine Tango, good books and great wine round out Karen’s interests.

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