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Smart Speakers Are Being Trained for World Cup

The World Cup is one giant bandwaggon that everyone is keen to jump aboard.

From official drinks sponsors to world cup salad cream (really) it’s a bonanza of commercial opportunities as well as a festival of football. So, it’s no surprise that many want to take advantage of the world’s biggest football tournament by using Smart Speakers.

Despite the interest, the results this summer have been, at best, mixed. I am left still searching for the ultimate voice-first football tool and wondering when the potential of Smart Speakers will be realised?

There is a multitude of new World Cup feature available to football fans around the globe via their Smart-Speaker and whilst some are better than others, very few offers any more than “gimmicky” functionality.

Let’s start with Amazon’s own additions to the Alexa platform. As with every major holiday or event, Alexa has been “Tooled Up” to deal with any questions enquiring minds might ask about the World Cup. From answering questions on certain formations to explaining the off-side trap (plus the usual format of ‘facts’ that seems somewhat of a Smart-Speaker obsession). She can also access schedules and scores from the World Cup which whilst useful, is hard to see how it reaches beyond the regular search capabilities of devices such as the Google Home.

Whilst facts and trivia are fun (if you are into that kind of thing) it is hard to see how this fulfils any real NEED for the user. In reality, it’s a one-time hit, something a user may try once and never returns too again. It highlights one of Alexa’s biggest challenges; user retention. Currently, the average “Skill” has 6% of its users coming back for more after their first use and these features will do nothing to change that.

I do like, however, the idea behind Alexa’s “Bluffers Guide”. Ask your device “Alexa, how do I bluff my way through the World Cup” and you get a potted round-up of the last 24 hours of action and latest World Cup news. It’s short, simple and it’s a creative way to present a daily World Cup update. There are two main issues with content, however; 1) the information is delivered in Alexa’s monotone voice (which personally I can only bare for two sentences at best and 2) Who is ever going to ask that particular question without being prompted?

Alexa interactions must feel natural and effortless and whilst I can envisage a user asking “Alexa, whats going on in the World Cup today?” (which accesses similar content) the bluffer’s guide approach doesn’t feel quite as natural – it needs a prompt.

This is why I like the way the BBC have approached this summers coverage.

If you have seen (or listened too) any of the Beeb’s Coverage of this World Cup you would have heard them prompting you to ask your Smart-Speaker device to “Take Me To The World Cup” which is the Alexa invocation term that has been chosen to access a short, daily podcast update from their team in Russia. Surprisingly for the BBC who pride themselves on high standards, the content isn’t the best. It feels like its created as an afterthought, something the programming team have to “get out of the way” before getting on with their real jobs. The phrase used to access the content, however, is perfect. This shows how picking the correct invocation name for a Skill can not only help users to find you on the device but also make accessing the content feel more natural. How much nicer does the phrase “Take me to the world cup” sound rather than “open the BBC world cup update”?

The negative with the BBC’s content is that there seems little point in the content itself. We know that Alexa is a great deliverer of audio (podcasts, radio, music) all of which is available via the BBC and all which is delivered to a much higher standard. Here, however, they have created an inferior product just to service a Smart Speaker audience. If they felt the need to create specific content for Smart Speakers, then surely harnessing more of the technologies capabilities would have been a key goal. It would have been great to hear a “multi-branch” podcast that allows a user to build a bespoke update, accessing the pundit’s opinions on exact games or even events from the World Cup. Sadly, it was an opportunity missed.

The Times have also chosen the World Cup as their opportunity to enter the arena with their ‘Times Sports Briefing’ offering a regular round-up of the action from Russia (as well as daily World Cup facts… obviously).

They see Alexa as an effective “Marketing Tool” and rather than using it as a way to simply deliver content and they are dipping a toe in the water during the tournament. For them, this is an experiment to see if they can drive subscriptions as well as potentially establishing themselves on the platform via which they may choose to publish podcasts. Times sports editors Alex Kay-Jelski explained in an interview with The Drum:

“We will mention what’s happened, we will pick out what Henry Winter said in his match report about England or put out a nibble of Patrick Viera’s column that he is doing for us, ‘Ooh, this could be quite interesting’ and they will hopefully want to buy the product in some form. When a World Cup comes around you think, we can’t just do what we always do, we have to find something to build new audience and have a bit of an experiment and fun.”

Alex Kay-Jelski | Editor | Times Sport

Alex is, of course, spot on in his assessment. Alexa has the potential to be a brilliant marketing tool and should form part of ANY brands content market strategy for 2018. He is also correct that this is a time for experimentation.

Alexa, Google, Apple and any other Smart Speakers on the market are still very much in their infancy, a new technology that no one quite knows how to master. The problem here is that all the examples listed above lack that spirit of experimentation. They lack imagination.

We know that Smart Speakers are a great way to deliver content. That is, and always will be, one of their key functions and at the centre of their appeal for both consumers and brands, but now is the time to see what else they can do! Sure, ensure that you’re audio content is available on the platform (as it should be available via every available platform) but if building Smart-Speaker specific content make sure it is just that: Content that uses the tools and potential interactivity that Smart Speakers offer.

Why is what you are doing is best suited to Smart Speaker delivery? What is it about your new “Skill” that will keep a user coming back again and again? How are you using this technology in a way that elevates it above other audio delivery methods?

If you can answer those three big questions then you’ll be in pole position to steal a march on your competitors.

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