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  • Writer's pictureIsabella Baldoni

Hey, Alexa: Voice Design Guide for Brands

Originally published on on July 31st, 2018


Alexa’s skill store gains approximately 51.6 new skills every day, adding to the already vast library available to the 29 million (and growing) Americans who rely on the smart speaker for their everyday tasks. Even with this rapid growth in functionality and user base, Alexa’s still the new kid on the digital block. Many brands are left scratching their heads over how to integrate voice technology into their marketing strategy—there’s no way to advertise products on the Echo, so developing a skill is the only surefire way to establish yourself on the platform. With a few Alexa skills under our belt, we’ve learned a few things about designing for voice—here are some of the most important things to keep in mind while designing a skill for your brand. Planning Is Essential When it comes to new digital tools, brands are always eager to hop onto the bandwagon. It might be tempting to get an Alexa skill onto market as soon as possible to establish your brand as innovative—but that’s not always a good idea. When it comes to Alexa, a poorly thought out action plan will do far much more harm than good. Fair warning—Alexa users are not afraid to leave negative reviews of your skill, which could reflect poorly on your brand as a whole. To avoid that situation, make sure you go into the planning phase with sufficient resources and a solid development team. Keep Alexa Human Even though Alexa’s AI, she needs to sound like a human—and who better to make her sound human than actual humans? Make sure you write the dialogue for your skill with people in mind. Keep things brief— the rule of thumb is, if you can read the line you’ve written out loud in one breath, it’s probably a good length. Avoid jargon and complex language.

Once the dialogue is written, don’t hesitate to go back and make edits. Sometimes, a phrase that looks great when written on paper just doesn’t sound right coming out of Alexa’s speaker. Be Prepared for Problems Even the most well planned Alexa skills will encounter issues—the user won’t understand the prompt, respond correctly (or even at all), or find what they’re looking for. You can’t design a skill that will suit every single person, so the best thing to do is prepare for when errors inevitably arise. Make sure you have a wide variety of utterances (phrases people use when addressing Alexa) covered in your script, and have several error messages ready for when someone says something unexpected. Redirect the user towards your original question, or ask them to clarify what they mean. Alexa is also susceptible to the occasional misunderstanding, so create a path where users can correct her if she picked up an incorrect bit of information. Plan for a variety of issues by writing paths with gentle, clear instructions to redirect the user back to known territory. Promote Your Skill With over 30,000 skills available, users probably aren’t going to find yours just by browsing the skill library. Before your skill is even released, promote it heavily through your social media and paid search efforts. Make sure it’s featured prominently on your website, with a page explaining how and when to use it. Try to make your invocation name (Alexa, ask Save The Food…) as ubiquitous as possible, so once it’s launched, users have it on the tip of their tongues Optimize Your Strategy for Voice Search Alexa skills aren’t the only way your brand will interact with Echo users—if your brand sells consumer products, they’ll likely be able to order them through their virtual assistant. Voice shopping is expected to be a $40 billion business by 2022—and if your brand wants a piece of that, you’ll have to start designing your marketing strategy with voice in mind. Use digital ads to encourage users to ask Alexa for your product and brand specifically—otherwise, they aren’t likely to stumble upon your product when voice shopping. Copy is also more essential than ever—flashy packaging won’t help you when users are ordering sight unseen. Make sure your product names and descriptions are catchy, short, and relevant to attract users towards your products without overwhelming them.

16% of all American households use a smart speaker for their day-to-day activities—a figure that’s projected to grow exponentially by 2020. Done right, developing a smart speaker skill will allow your brand to interact with customers on a daily basis, as well as establish your brand as an innovative force. Want to learn more? Check out Amazon’s in-depth Designing For Voice guide.

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