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Why Google is a REAL threat to Alexa’s market dominance.

Since it’s arrival into the marketplace 3 years ago, Amazon Alexa has held the lions share of the Smart Speaker market. The cost, availability and some ferocious marketing from Amazon have all helped it to grab a dominant market share which has, at times, been up above 70%.

Now, for the first time, that dominance is under threat.

There are now a plethora of Smart Speaker and Personal Voice Assistant devices on the market, with even more on the way, but it is the Google Home Pod that is emerging as the true pretender to the crown.

Whilst Alexa is in no way ready to relinquish its market share crown yet, a new report from Strategy Analytics has revealed that Google is catching up in terms of new device sales. The numbers for both are impressive, with the overall market pretty much doubling Year on Year.

During Q1 of 2018 Google shifted around 2.4 million Google Home Devices (they sold 0.3 million in Q1 2017) compared to Amazon’s 4 million. Sure, they are still way behind but, at the same time, are now the fastest growing “Smart Speaker” producer and are catching fast. Its further proof that although Amazon’s platform is a great toe-in-the-water for any brand or company wishing to experiment with Voice First technology, its competitors cant be ignored for long.

Part of the improvement in Google’s fortunes has been its effort to improve the service it offers. It still lags behind Amazon in terms of Skills/Actions (the varying terms for Voice-Apps) that it has on offer and is not as compatible with as many smart-devices in the home but there is massive improvement in both these areas. Plus, the success of “Android Auto” in new cars could help Google Assistant become the default voice assistant whilst we drive.

The REAL winning aspect of Google Home, however, is far simpler.

At HIVE Content we have always said that the key to making successful Voice-Apps is creating a frictionless, natural communication – and this is where Google Home really wins.

Amazon Alexa’s combination of wake-word and invocation-phrases can make for awkward interactions. Long, unnatural sentences are commonplace and its a problem. Amazon is working to fix this and their recent addition of “Follow Up” (a fix that enables you to ask Amazon follow up questions without repeating her wake word) is a big step in the right direction. Google, however, has a secret weapon… and its Google!

Not only does the Google Assistant boast the worlds most advanced and powerful search engine to interpret and return results but it also has the tech-giants very own natural language processing algorithm built into its architecture. This enables it to understand much more complex phrases and enables a more natural two-way conversation with its user.

This isn’t the only reason that Google is catching Amazon in the Smart Speaker race (and there are still plenty of areas in which Alexa remains No1) but its an interesting example of how a natural-conversation stream can improve a technology and, when designing Voice-Apps, lead to a much more user-friendly experience.

Further Reading:
If you liked this blog then you might also be interested in: “Smart Speakers Must Learn To Talk Smart“.

Radio is “tuning-in” to Voice Activation.

In the last few months, radio stations in the UK have started to gaze curiously at that white cylinder in the corner of their kitchen.

The recently published RAJAR figures have shown that the emergence of Smart-Speaker devices have helped to drive up the consumption of digital audio to a level where more people now listen to the radio via digital means (App, DAB and Personal Voice Assitance) than they do of the via FM and AM frequencies (49.1% vs 50.9%). A milestone that has been helped by the adoption of such technology.

I’ve personally noticed a concerted effort from some radio stations to inform their audience that can now be found on Amazon Echo and other such devices. Global’s Radio brands even using an “Alexa-style” voice in their Top of Hour production. But now is the time to start thinking about what these devices can do beyond simple audio streaming.

Matt Degan, radio blogger and creative direction at Folder Media, recently wrote an (excellent) blog on the Smart-Speaker revolution being the potential “Saviour” of radio. Whilst he isn’t convinced that it’ll be the magic formula to save traditional radio he does recognise the potential of Voice First if radio stations think creatively about how to use it.

“If you want to be successful digitally you need new products. You need to use the money you make from, and the talent that makes your linear broadcast to build out new products. Where is your expertise – local, music, comedy, news – whatever it is to build out a suite of audio products and use your linear channels to kick start them and grow your scale. Podcasts, flash briefings, short-form clips – it could be anything.”
Matt Degan | Folder Media

The potential of Smart Speakers is so much more than just another way to listen. Whilst owners of these devices do consume more audio and it makes perfect sense to be available “everywhere” (particularly with the life-span of FM radio coming to an end) it’s equally important to explore the added value they can bring.

Global Radio, who owns Capital Radio, Heart and XFM amongst others are in a prime position to explore this area.

A recent study from DAX, the digital audio exchange created by Global, has revealed that not only have voice-activated devices driven change in the way that people listen to audio but also in the way advertising will be planned, focused, created and sold in the UK Marketplace.

The study showed that 79% of advertisers had a focus on reaching new audiences via Alexa, Google Home and such other devices with some creating advertising specifically focused on a Smart-Speaker audience.

“This new study is definitive proof that advertisers are tuning into the benefits of digital audio with 84% planning to invest more in digital audio in 2018.”
Mike Gordon. Cheif Commercial Officer, Global.

So, there is clearly a recognition and appetite for this new channel.

The ability of technology such as DAX to plan, trigger and map a listeners journey becomes even more powerful when combined with Voice Activated technology. The potential for a user to instantly respond to an advertisement to make a purchase is one thing but Voice Activation also provides the option for a user to ask questions and find out more information all without leaving the providers echo-system.

Smart Speaker users have been slower than expected to make direct purchases via their devices but over half of users (according to research from First Insight) use their devices to conduct research and ask questions about products they might wish to buy in the future. For me, this is where radio can really excel. Creating branded content for audiences to access “on demand” via their Smart devices.

Voice Activated technology offers the chance for audio to “branch” in different directions and offer different content depending on a listener’s requests. Sponsored audio packages (like mini-documentaries) can be accessed via the technology with just a word. Just heard an advert for the new Seat Ibiza on Capital Radio? How do you fancy hearing what happened when the Breakfast Show team took a road trip to Ibiza? Just say the word… literally.

Radio stations are great at making content and targetting audiences and these areas combined is exactly where they can capitalise on the Voice Activated market. It’s great that the radio industry is starting to take notice. Now they must explore the potential!

If you want help harnessing Smart Speaker technology for your brand or radio station then get in touch with HIVE Content.

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