-Dave Isbitski, chief evangelist, Alexa and Echo at Amazon
-Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO, Ruder Finn
-Chris Loder, VP of external communications, Bayer
-Blake McEvoy, director of global corporate affairs, diabetes, CVRM, AstraZeneca
In a world where customers are increasingly embracing the "voice-first" mindset, voice technology could be a game-changer for PR. In partnership with Ruder Finn, PRWeek recently gathered industry leaders, to discuss how PR pros are using voice to enhance internal and external communications.
Bloomgarden believes the platform can connect top management with consumers or the workforce in an experiential, emotional way and uniquely establish a one-to-one relationship.
"Voice is totally changing the experience," she explains. "When I think about how we can use voice technology, it’s really about transforming this idea from intent to experience." (Watch a video recap of the event.)
To ensure that her agency practices what Bloomgarden preaches, in 2017 Ruder Finn launched an Alexa skill called "Kathy’s Thoughts." Featuring regular thoughts and inspirational quotes from Bloomgarden, it epitomizes a cutting-edge way for CEOs to authentically communicate with internal and external audiences.
"When you hear someone’s voice, you relate to it differently," she explains. "A voice skill – or Alexa skill – helps you to connect in a much closer way. It’s not just listening. It’s engaging."
"It will become an incredibly important part of the CEO communications platform," adds Bloomgarden. "At a company that has, say, 140,000 employees in more than 100 countries, how do you make them ‘feel’ the CEO? This is a way."
AstraZeneca is among the brands to follow this lead. It recently highlighted the fun CEO Pascal Soriot was having while engaged in a voice-enabled game. As McEvoy notes, this is a simple but effective way to allow people to connect with top leaders in a way other platforms might not.
(l-r) Loder, McEvoy, and Bloomgarden
The story gets better
Voice also provides another platform for sharing stories. In the healthcare arena, for example, Bloomgarden sees voice as a way to amplify tales about patients or explain which projects researchers are working on.
Bayer is using voice technology to widen the reach of its Making Science Make Sense STEM education initiative. With scientific experiments available on Alexa’s Bayer Science Studio platform, the company now can reach young people via non-traditional methods of learning. In addition, the lessons are more compelling for kids and they address parents’ requests for experiments their children can do outside of school.
"There is a STEM crisis in America," reports Loder. "Annually, China produces 4.7 million STEM grads. India produces 2.6 million. The U.S produces 568,000. Bayer made a pledge to provide 5 million hands-on science experiences to American youth by the year 2025. The only way we can do that is through this wonderful voice tool that allows us to share these great things on a much wider scale. It’s been an unbelievable addition to our portfolio."
At AstraZeneca, voice technology is helping people learn about the science in the company’s largest trials.
"The engagement pillar was an area in which we were lacking," says McEvoy. "The platform has amazing applicability from an internal side and we’ve seen such great success with people wanting to engage. We’re building a forum that provides a modern edge, a way into pharma outside of just research. Voice technology is helping us achieve our objectives."
KEYNOTE: ALEXA'S CHIEF EVANGELIST TALKS THE TALK
The next big thing in marketing and communications is voice technology. And for some savvy brands and agencies it’s already here.
"Voice is instantaneous," explained Dave Isbitski, chief evangelist for Alexa and Echo at Amazon, during his keynote at this Ruder Finn-hosted event. "It’s in the moment. Voice is the new HTML."
While "new" often conjures up fears that older technologies will become obsolete and negatively impact people who rely on them, Isbitski is adamant in declaring that voice technology is not a replacement for other tech platforms, Rather, it’s a powerful tool that makes access to other technology faster and easier.
"It’s not replacing web or mobile," he asserted. "Think about it as [a tool to help with] customer engagement, customer acquisition" on those platforms.
One of the principal appeals of voice is the speed it brings to communications, Isbitski noted. "Voice also enables people to create content and share it without worrying about a technical barrier," he added. "It’s the next major disruption in all we do."
"It’s the first tech that’s not tech driven," said Isbitski. "You can have a conversation with your customer in the moment, every single day, on their own terms. And it’s inclusive, whenever, however. The conversation never has to end."
Learning the skills
As Ruder Finn CEO Kathy Bloomgarden noted during the panel, Alexa skills have proved to be very useful to her firm. Isbitski reported that there are currently 90,000-plus Alexa skills, with hundreds of thousands of developers teaching the device new skills every day.
The potential of voice is growing stronger as AI and cloud computing have enabled voice-tech systems to recognize signals beyond keywords and phrases so that they better understand the intention of the communication. This enhanced comprehension will guarantee an even greater accuracy in responses.
These developments circle back to how voice technology can help brands listen to their customers, as well as target them with customized messages.
"Engagement with customers is something you already know from data in your call center." said Isbitski. Voice technology can play a huge role not only in responding to questions on when orders are shipped, but marketers can now direct the "conversation" to suggesting "what’s on sale for 50% off."
Voice can boost the customer experience in other ways. "I could go to anybody and book a hotel room," he suggested as an example. "Voice can help me book a room and tell me to try this restaurant in, say, Berlin – and it can do so with unmatched speed."
The proliferation of brands that will incorporate voice into their marcomms efforts will necessitate a new focus, predicted Isbitski. "Brands will need to begin thinking about what they sound like. Does your brand sound like a person? Is that person older or younger? A man or a woman?"
In pondering the answers to such questions, comms pros have an additional opportunity to creatively shape their brands’ messages and perceptions. Yet another exciting opportunity for PR pros courtesy of voice technology.