With the growth of the smart speaker and virtual assistant market that happened over the past few years, we’ve seen new types of voice experiences and audio content emerge. Apart from podcasts and audiobooks that have been around for a while already, there are Alexa flash briefings, voice-controlled games, microcasts, voice blogs, even voice-first social networks, and messaging platforms. What kinds of voice experiences will stick? How can brands use audio content for promotion? How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect the voice tech? We addressed these questions to Clint McLean, Founder, and Voice UI/UX Designer at Budgie.
The “evolutionary flow” of the voice industry
It’s still early days and the average consumer or business is still getting their head around voice tech. So some companies have already found their calling and are concentrating and marketing accordingly. Certain B2B, health care, and education use cases are solidifying. But many startups are still trying to determine what the “killer apps” are. Some will pioneer, while countless others will copy. There are also third-party developers who are using their initial offerings as a peek at what’s under the hood. Whether that be an in-house development tool, agency capabilities, or educational packages.
Voice experiences made to stick
As smart displays quickly grow in popularity, voice gaming is starting to feature more visual elements. So far we’re mostly seeing animated visuals, but the video will surely become more commonplace, including live feeds. As voice becomes more integrated into TV viewing like FireTV, Chromecast, etc, this style of voice-first gaming will surely grow in popularity. I’m excited about the growing popularity of flash briefings and the habit-forming involved. Aside from providing news and info, I see the potential for gamification as a means of product promotion. Also flash briefings with a very specific audience, whether that be for a school’s morning announcements or daily updates of a game’s leaderboard. On a personal level, I listen to podcasts constantly and while it may seem like a crowded space, there’s still lots of room for a niche within a niche, Inside Baseball types of content.
Device-agnostic vs. device-specific audio content
There will be considerable device crossover for many basic applications, such as questions, music, and gaming. But certain experiences will prove to be better suited for at home, in the car, certain work settings and more. As the usage numbers become clear, attention and marketing will be put against those use cases and further their growth. We’ll also start to see more examples of multiple voice assistants being contained within the same device.
Promotion with branded audio content
Brands can promote themselves and provide value to their customers in a variety of ways within the voice industry. That can be an “own the moment” experience, a flash briefing that falls within their niche, games as fan service, free samples, or simply removing friction from a regular occurrence. As well, many brands already have a considerable back catalog of content that can be repurposed for voice in a variety of fashions.
As the direct to consumer market accelerates, there are countless ways for brands to provide more instruction and/or “surprise and delight” moments to customers while also potentially gaining further sales or customer information within those interactions. Similarly, this will be an opportunity for bricks and mortar operations to continue the in-store experience at home through exclusive offers and samples, curated music, and more.
Voice-first messaging platforms and voice-first social networks
Voice-first messaging makes complete sense due to the lack of friction and speed of use. Typing is becoming more antiquated by the day. Future generations won’t even consider it as an option. Voice will be ubiquitous. With Clubhouse becoming the new darling of Silicon Valley, a surge of voice-first social networks seems inevitable. It’s potential remains somewhat unproven outside of a few celebrity appearances, but it’s definitely more humanizing than a text conversation. This is likely leading towards voice-first dating too. Which begs the question of whether visual accompaniments will be required or will a less superficial, more personality-based dating app emerge?
Budgie’s Detective X and other success stories
Budgie is seeing considerable positive feedback from the public, press, and industry alike for the launch of our new interactive fiction (available on Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant). The game features multiple voice actors, sound effects, and an original soundtrack to create an immersive environment that goes beyond the typical voice game. This type of high-production experience is becoming a recurring promotional tool for media brands like HBO and Warner Bros and could easily be applied to any number of fictional franchises.
The user testing stage of Detective X definitely had challenging moments. We released a beta version this spring and started reaching out to other developers and early adopters for feedback. While no one enjoys their shortcomings being pointed out, it was a critical step in finalizing the game. As a developer, you can start making assumptions about how others will interact with your voice app. So user feedback is of the utmost importance.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the voice landscape
The data shows that smart speaker usage has grown considerably during the pandemic. Being at home lends itself to feeling more comfortable speaking aloud, experimenting, and making mistakes. The sudden proliferation of video chatting surely has a bleed over as well. On a broader scale, the need for more touchless experiences is leading to rapid voice innovations in everything from health care to elevators. The pandemic has definitely sped up the adoption rate of voice tech in both the home and a variety of industries.
The future of the audio content industry: 2020 vs. 2023?
It’s easy to get in an echo chamber and assume that the majority of the population now understands voice tech’s potential. However, certain shortcomings have led to many users sticking to the music and weather basics. But as discoverability and word of mouth grow, so will the usage of third party experiences, which should lead to the more financial upside, which will in turn lead to more technical and creative types entering and evolving the space. The podcast industry will continue to consolidate and concentrate on content exclusivity. In turn, as third party voice experiences grow in popularity, so could the potential for exclusivity deals on voice assistant platforms. The business world is being affected by voice two-fold: as a marketing and conversion tool for companies’ products and services. But also, as businesses realize the potential time and cost savings associated with voice, custom industry-specific interfaces will grow in popularity and cover a variety of use cases.