Conversational commerce uses interactive communications to facilitate buying and selling. It began when humans first started trading and asking questions about potential purchases. It evolved as commercial activity moved to storefronts and villagers asked shopkeepers about items for sale. Today, a growing percentage of retail sales are on-line. Conversational commerce is part of ecommerce, and voice assistants and chatbots now engage humans in conversation. Yet, artificial intelligence (AI) and automation aren’t the whole story. Because humans crave connection, personalization is paramount.

A Brief History of Conversational Commerce

According to Shopify, the term “conversational commerce” was coined by Chris Messina, a technology evangelist who invented the hashtag and helped define the consumer experience at Uber. In a 2015 article for Medium, Messina noticed that “there’s a lot happening in the communications and messaging space” and that all of the major players were now offering voice assistants. Even Amazon, a company whose original mission involved selling books, had launched a dedicated device called Echo.

“Conversational commerce”, Messina explained, “is about delivering convenience, personalization and decision support while people are on the go, with only partial attention to spare.” Computer screens and smartphone displays are all around us, he noted, but that doesn’t mean the future belongs to tapping and swiping. Through the power and convenience of voice, brands could leverage a natural language interface that supports not only selling, but also after-sale support.

Conversational Marketing Milestones

In a subsequent article, Messina predicted that “2016 will be the year of conversational commerce”. Facebook Messenger incorporated Uber, WhatsApp became free, and messaging apps eclipsed social networks in terms of monthly usage. Brands faced choices about whether to rely exclusively upon popular messaging apps for conversational marketing. They also needed to decide whether to use data detectors. Messina predicted “a fight to own the conversational command line,” but no one could have predicted the impact of COVID-19.

If 2016 was the year of conversational commerce, 2020 was the dawn of a new era. Lockdowns forced buyers to stay home and physical stores to close. Later, when traditional conversational commerce re-emerged behind masked faces, social distancing remained part of the in-person experience. Meanwhile, Amazon reported a nearly 200% increase in profits as brands moved on-line or increased their digital footprint. Some developed Alexa skills, voice-driven capabilities that support conversational commerce through a dedicated hardware device (the Echo) or a smartphone app.

The Voice of Things (VoT) and The Future of Conversational Commerce

In a report entitled “How consumers view Commercial Commerce and AI in 2020”, LivePerson captured recent changes in consumer behavior that suggest an even stronger future for voice-based technologies. Buyers are becoming more comfortable with automated programs and value them “on par with human assistance”, LivePerson reports. Moreover, instead of picking up the phone and calling with a question, consumers prefer to use conversational commerce technologies to get an immediate answer.

The challenge, however, is when buyers don’t have their devices in hand or would prefer not to use them. As Chris Messina wrote in 2015, “just because everyone has a screen in their pocket doesn’t imply that they should be forced to look at it to interact with your service”. Today, “the fight for conversational command line” extends off-line and includes voice on-demand. The rise of the Voice of Things (VoT) and the power of emotional marketing are also assets that brands can leverage.

Interactive Voice-Enabled Products

Thank you for engaging Voice Express, where we enable brands and consumers to communicate in a direct, unmediated fashion through self-playing media. Visit our website to learn more about our voice-enabled technologies like Voice Express Connect™, the marketing brochure with a built-in voice assistant. Our interactive voice-enabled products have also helped global brands like Build-A-Bear Workshop, Sony Music, Johnson & Johnson, and many others.  To learn more, we invite you to read these recent articles.

On-device voice recognition enables spoken commands without a connection to the cloud. Today, companies in the on-device space are enjoying explosive growth. Sensory, a leading player, has developed embedded technologies that have shipped with three billion products, including many from well-known consumer brands.  Yet, names like Google, Alexa, and Siri are more familiar, in part because “Hey Google”, “Alexa”, and “Hey Siri” are well-known wake words that activate devices so that users can issue voice commands like “play music” or “set an alarm”.

For brands pursuing interactive voice response, the choice between on-device and cloud-based systems requires an understanding of available technologies and their relative advantages and applications. The advent of new products for in-store shopping and the after-sale experience are also worth considering. Between 2021 and 2026, the voice recognition market is expected to achieve a compound annual growth rate of 16.8%. By 2026, this market could be worth over $27 billion (USD). For brands that leverage the power of Voice, the future looks brighter than ever.

Voice Recognition Comparisons and Wake Words vs. Commands

At a minimum, on-device voice recognition embeds wake words into the device itself. These words or phrases can then launch connections to the cloud so that users can perform voice-enabled functions that retrieve information. On-device voice is always listening, but you don’t need an Internet connection to turn on voice control. This reduces power consumption, addresses privacy concerns, and eliminates the need to pair devices. There are also on-device platforms where not only wake words, but even commands, and information are all embedded into the device itself. With these systems, no Internet connection is ever required.

By contrast, technologies like Alexa voice recognition require a continuous connection to the Internet. Without a connection to the cloud, neither wake words nor commands will work. Because they’re always on, cloud-based platforms like Apple voice control and Google voice control use more power. They may also raise privacy concerns. Consumers may struggle to pair devices and wonder how to turn-off voice control. Finally, some speech recognition technologies favor their own branded wake words over user-defined triggers (UDT) – wake words that consumer would prefer to use.

On-Device Voice Recognition: Advantages and Applications

Sensory provides the stand-alone voice recognition that is used in LG and Samsung televisions, Poly Bluetooth headsets, Garmin dash cameras and personal navigation devices (PNDs), GoPro voice-controlled cameras, and many remote controls and appliances. Canon’s new cameras use Sensory technology, as does Honda’s new line of electric vehicles. Sensory also supports the “Hey Spotify” wake word for Spotify and “Okay Waze” for Google Waze. Even Microsoft’s Surface headphones and NEC’s all-in-one PC use Sensory. Yet, some brands are using other embedded voice technologies.

The market for stand-alone speech recognition is large, and not all applications require complexity. For example, Voice Express Connect™ supports interactive print media such as talking brochures. Users who receive your direct mail don’t have to pair it with a device. This increases the likelihood that recipients will listen to your brand’s unsolicited message. Voice Express technology is also used with in-store displays and to promote customer engagement after the sale. Imagine a consumer approaching a display, saying a wake word, and receiving the answer to a product question. After the sale, voice-activated packaging can answer questions.

Interactive Voice Response for Your Application

There are many approaches to speech recognition, but Voice Express offers low-cost, low-maintenance solutions that don’t require pairing, app downloads, or cumbersome QR code scanning. Instead, we enable brands and consumers to communicate in a direct, unmediated fashion through self-playing media. Visit our website to learn more about our voice-enabled technologies and how we help brands like Build-A-Bear Workshop, Sony Music, Johnson & Johnson, as well as many others. We also invite you to read these recent articles about the power of voice.

Brand voice is what customers see, hear, and feel when they interact with your brand. It’s the words that you chose, the way that you use them, and the emotions that they evoke. Brand voice also includes visual elements, such as a logo that’s easily recognizable. Increasingly, brand voice is audible as well. As voice assistants become more popular, they will do more than simply interpret human speech and respond to spoken commands; they will represent your brand. Is your brand ready to sound the way you imagine it?

From Sonic Branding to Alexa Custom Assistant

Sonic branding, the strategic use of sound to foster an emotional connection, has a rich history with in-store audio marketing. Now that we live in the Age of Alexa, sound is allied to artificial intelligence (AI), which uses algorithms to make decisions. Recently, Amazon announced that companies can access Alexa’s advanced AI to build their own intelligent assistants. With Alexa Custom Assistant, device makers and service providers can meet a customer’s informational needs while sharing a brand’s personality.

Fiat Chrysler, Alexa Custom Assistant’s first customer, is already planning to build a branded intelligent assistant for select vehicle models. “To create natural voice responses, each brand can choose their own unique voice”, explains Ned Curic, vice president of Amazon Alexa Automotive. “As part of that process”, Curic writes in a recent Amazon developer blog, “Alexa’s voice science experts will guide them throughout the recording process and develop the voice using advanced machine learning algorithms.”

Voice Control and Audible Personality

Sound Hound, an audio and speech recognition company, is competing with Amazon and offering a different toolset. As voicebot.AI reports, Sound Hound recently partnered with ReadSpeaker, which provides a digital voice interface creator and text-to-speech (TTS) software, to offer more natural, human-sounding voices. As of December 2020, there were more than 90 adjustable voices speaking in more than 30 languages on Houndify voice AI, the company’s platform for creating personalized voice assistants.

You don’t need to participate in a beta test to give your brand a voice. Voice Express also recently launched a new product called CONNECT™.  It’s a voice assistant in print and the company chose to use Ariana Escalante, a successful producer as well as brand spokeswoman in their promotional videos and as their voice talent. Her voice was used not only for the talking brochure but also in the companion Alexa Skill and Google Action.  Press-to-hear buttons on the product web pages launch a browser-based voice interaction with Ariana’s voice. Users who call the toll-free number (888-997-5264) are greeted by Ariana and invited to interact using voice alone. Voice Express chose to follow its own advice and create a multichannel unified brand personality with a branded voice – and so can you.

Finding Your Brand Voice 

Thank you for engaging Voice Express, where we enable brands and consumers to communicate in a direct, unmediated fashion through self-playing media. Visit our website to learn more about our voice-enabled technologies and how we help brands like Build-A-Bear Workshop, Sony Music, Johnson & Johnson, as well as others.  We also invite you to read these recent articles.

Voice assistants are more than just user interfaces for the hands-free operation of digital devices. They interpret human speech, respond to spoken commands, and can immediately and easily provide the information that customers expect. Voice assistants, or virtual assistants, aren’t limited to Siri, Alexa, Google Home, or Cortana either. For brands, this form of assistive technology provides new and powerful ways to improve everything from websites and wearables to ecommerce and automobiles. Voice assistants have also injected new life into legacy phone-based auto attendants. Plus, they’ve made obsolete the iconic “press 0 for Operator”.

The Evolution of Interactive Voice Response

Today’s Interactive voice response (IVR) systems use voice recognition and act as a type of virtual digital assistant.  They use artificial intelligence (AI) and let people use the power of voice on a variety of platforms. Customers don’t have to wait to speak to an agent or get routed to a department or specialist. They don’t have to press the right keys on their telephones either. IVR systems that are well-designed can increase consumer satisfaction and improve customer support operations. Natural language IVR technologies are especially effective because they’re flexible.

Ten years ago, however, automated voice systems weren’t so popular. According to a study at New York University, some 67% of respondents said that they preferred live agents. Even worse, over 80% of consumers reported that IVR failed to provide them with any benefits, or only benefitted the service provider. Among the complaints was that automated voice assistants were difficult to use. With the introduction of smart IVR platforms, users no longer shy away from calling for assistance, to the contrary, today’s consumer is looking for more platforms and opportunities to engage using only their voice. The world has changed and the Voice of Things has arrived.

Comparing Voice Assistants

For example, Twilio is a cloud-based platform that lets brands build IVRs for personal, contextualized customer experiences. Through powerful application programing interfaces (APIs), companies can notify customers when orders ship, provide support over the phone, and confirm reservations by text. As this video explains, brands can also communicate on the channels that customers use every day. Whether it’s through What’s App, Facebook Messenger, text, or voice, Twilio works with apps, websites, and devices.

Today, more than 50,000 companies use Twilio as their platform for customer engagement. Yet, this top-rated IVR system is hardly the only choice. According to G2, a website which helps businesses select solutions, there are plenty of Twilio alternatives with ratings of 4.2 to 4.8 out of 5. For example, both Plivo and Vonage Communications APIs (formerly Nexmo) are convergent platforms that allow enterprises to connect to their customers via voice and SMS. Companies like MessageBird use conversational APIs to engage customers.

Voice: When, Where, How You Want It

As IVR continues to evolve companies need to find ways to empower customers to communicate in a direct and unmediated fashion, using just their voice when and if they wish. Voice Express Connect™, is a smart speaker in-print and serves as a good use case.  At the end of any interaction, the Connect™ offers the user the option to call a number or send an SMS text message with a code or tag word that connects the user to the appropriate web page or help desk to continue their discussion.  Visit our website to request a sample brochure and experience our programmable voice and audio branding by listening to the brochure on our homepage.

Thank you for engaging Voice Express, where we enable brands and consumers to communicate in a direct as well as unmediated way through self-playing media. If you’d like to learn more about voice-enabled technologies, we invite you to read these recent articles.

The Voice of Things (VoT) uses voice assistant technology to inform, engage, and delight consumers as they interact with a brand. The roots of VoT were planted a decade ago, when Apple introduced a virtual assistant called Siri that used voice queries and a natural language interface. More recently, Internet-enabled smart speakers controlled by spoken commands began allowing consumers to stream music, check the weather and set a timer, all at the sound of a voice. Today, a smart speaker in a card that doesn’t require external hardware or an Internet connection is transforming brand marketing with VoT.

Brands need the power of voice, even if the Voice of Things (VoT) is just one part of your marketing strategy. In fact, the best approach isn’t Voice-First or Voice-Only. Rather, it’s VoiceAlso. Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa keep growing in popularity, but that doesn’t mean that print, apps, and broadcasts are dead. By understanding what’s happening with voice assistant technology and the growth of VoT, you can develop a voice-also strategy that leverages on demand voice along with trends in personalization and touchless technology.

Smartphones and Smart Speakers

Smart speakers like Amazon Echo™ are voice-first or voice-only devices that require a voice interface. In the last five years, they’ve become what voicebot.ai™ calls “the biggest consumer electronics product success story”*. At the beginning of 2020, nearly 35% of U.S. adults had a smart speaker at home. Moreover, these consumers used their smart speakers frequently, and in parts of the home (such as bedrooms and bathrooms) where usage becomes a part of daily routines. Whether it’s to find information or to play music, “Hey Google” or “Alexa” are heard along with “good morning” and “good night”.

As popular as smart speakers have become, it’s a multi-modal and non-device specific voice interface that’s driving even greater voice assistant adoption. “Smartphones are THE ubiquitous personal devices,”** voicebot.ai explains.  Today, smartphone voice assistants can be general-purpose or mobile-app specific. There are also smartphone peripherals and smartphone OS-specific devices. But what all of these voice assistant technologies have in common is that they need hardware and software. In other words, without a smartphone handy and the voice assistant installed, consumers can’t leverage on-demand voice and the Voice of Things (VoT).

Amazon Basics Microwave

Amazon Basics Microwave

Introducing The Voice of Things (VoT) with Voice Express™ Connect™

As products with a voice interface become ubiquitous, more manufacturers will integrate voice into appliances such as refrigerators as well as microwave ovens. In turn, users want access to on-demand voice whether or not a device connects to the internet. Voice Express Connect, a marketing brochure with a built-in voice assistant, makes this possible. Our voice-also solution doesn’t require external hardware or software or even an Internet or Bluetooth connection. With Connect™ Direct Mail and after-sale engagement packaging, printed materials will play media when opened and also “listen” for spoken prompts. The voice interface provides each user with a unique experience tailored to personal interests and requirements.

Unlike the audio promotional brochures of the past, Voice Express Connect isn’t limited by navigational buttons. And it doesn’t require touch, an advantage in the age of COVID since viruses can be transmitted via surfaces. Importantly, brands can use Connect™ to increase discovery and  leverage their existing smart speaker initiatives. Along with every  Connect™ campaign, Voice Express offers a companion Alexa Skill and Google Action. The interactions available on the Connect™ smart speaker in Print may be finite, but the interactions available through a companion smart skill or app are infinite. Moreover, they can be refreshed regularly. If you’re ready for the Voice of Things (VoT), we’d like to talk to you.

VoT Voice of Things 2

Samsung SmartThings Refrigerator

VoT and the Future of Voice Assistant Technology

For over 20 years, Voice Express has been designing and developing Voice of Things (VoT) technology. In particular, with solutions such as self-playing print marketing collateral. If you’d like to learn more about voice-enabled technologies, we invite you to read these recent articles.

Thank you for engaging Voice Express. Where we enable brands and consumers to communicate in a direct and unmediated fashion through self-playing media. If you’re looking for a way to provide a high-impact experience, we’re here to help. Contact Voice Express to get started.

Additional Market Research

*Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption Report: Executive Summary (April 2020), voicebot.ai

**Smart Phone Voice Assistant Consumer Adoption Report: Executive Summary (November 2020), voicebot.ai

Fairfield, CT, November 19, 2017 – Voice Express Corp. introduced Voice Express Connect; the first self-playing print brochure with built-in speech recognition.

Voice Express has been at the forefront of providing self-playing media products in the toy, packaging, display and marketing spaces.  For direct-mail and trade magazine publishers, Voice Express has produced printed audio and video brochures which enabled brands to deliver self-playing audio and video to targeted audiences such as Doctors and Financial advisers.  With Voice Express Connect, such printed cards will not only play media when they are opened but will also “listen” for spoken prompts and play media personalized to the interests and needs of the recipient.

Unlike audio and video cards of the past, the media contained on these brochures is not limited by a finite number of PLAY buttons or mediated by a cumbersome interface using Fast-Forward or Next to navigate. Voice Express Connect can store and play-back a limitless amount of media covering diverse subjects and addressing a multiplicity of interests. The only tool necessary to access relevant content is the user’s own voice.

“Amazon Alexa and Google Home have forever changed user expectations and are found in more and more homes because of the way they engage consumers. Now Voice Express Connect will become the optimal way for brands to engage high-value prospects and re-connect with existing customers.” said Geoffrey Stern, CEO and Founder of Voice Express.  “Speech is the most direct form of communication and the most natural interface.  With Voice Express Connect, brands will be able to deliver their media message and at the same time listen to users and provide information personalized to their interests.”

Voice Express Connect™ is perfect for brands wishing to engage with upper management and other high value prospects that are hard to reach through traditional media, e-mail, social media or text.

For media inquires or to create a Voice Express Connect™ campaign contact info@voice-express.com