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How GDPR is Driving Brands to Unlock the Value of Voice Experiences

Blame it on GDPR.

According to Rob Bennett, CEO of London’s voice-driven creative agency Rehab Studio, between ad blockers hiding pesky pop-ups and the European Union’s sweeping General Data Protection Regulation that tightened up rules for communicating with customers, it’s harder than ever for advertisers to reach target consumers. Case in point? Prior to GDPR, Bennett, speaking at Newark, N.J.’s inaugural VOICE Summit, said one of his friends could reach 60 percent of his email database, a figure that plummeted to just 0.6% following the May 25 date when the stringent data rule took effect.

This new reality is part of the reason some brands are diving into the voice arena and searching for new ways to engage consumers in a crowded attention economy.

“We’re trying to move away from the pre-purchase component of a relationship between a brand and consumer,” Bennett explained, “and move into the post-purchase area, like loyalty.”

There are opportunities for brands to be more creative in how they speak to customers and keep the conversation going, literally and figuratively, after an initial sale. But, Bennett said, people need a reason to want to interact with a brand. That’s where the value exchange factors in.

“I think the opportunity is you provide a utility that sits above the product or service that you’re offering,” he explained. That means not pushing your wares but providing tangential value. Using a diaper brand as an example, Bennett said an accompanying, useful voice experience could do something along the lines of targeting new parents with tips and tricks on hygiene for infants—and then offer a quick and easy way to replenish diapers.

What brands really want, Bennett noted, is the data that these voice initiatives can yield—insights that can drive enterprise value and greater revenue.

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“Nothing is a bigger opportunity for brands than to have a tone of voice in a relationship that has some familiar characteristics,” he added.

Rehab helped Nike create a “running coach” voice experience designed to attract lapsed runners or get people who’d never run before off the couch and completing a 5K. The “personalized conversational experience” gets to know users’ preferences and eventually is expected to branch out onto multiple touchpoints. Nike can link users who engaged with the running coach to their dot-com sign-ins.

Bennett would like to see the experience get to the point where it can provide truly granular value using myriad data points. If someone typically runs every Sunday, for example, Nike should be able to alert that user through a notifications feature on Friday that rain is forecast for his usual run, he explained, and would that user like to shift the scheduled run to Saturday? If the user keeps his original Sunday run, the voice experience should then initiate a dialogue about the rain-friendly gear options that could be delivered to his address by Sunday night.

“That’s where I think we can start to be more interesting and relevant,” Bennett noted, “rather than spamming any and everyone about the latest running shoe.”

Estée Lauder, another Rehab client, shared its voice experience at CommerceNext in New York City. Brand research revealed that customers are desperate for help setting better routines for themselves—even when they know they should do it—and when searching for skincare products, more often than not they are looking for nighttime options. It all plays into the red-hot trend around the power of sleep, the beauty brand’s senior vice president of consumer marketing, Tricia Nichols, explained.

The $11-billion beauty enterprise realized the opportunity to engage around its “hero product,” the Advanced Night Repair family of serums, essences, cleansing balms, eye concentrates and more, and set about redefining what it means to be “high touch in a digital age.”

“The power of innovation and storytelling is big for us,” Nichols noted. “Micro storytelling is something that you can use to create multiple doorways for people to walk through.”

Micro storytelling and voice technologies are the foundation of Estee Lauder’s two-week Night School experience grounded by a digital assistant called Liv, all of which is powered by Google. The experience lives on either the tech firm’s Home speaker devices or on users’ mobile devices and can be handed off between devices as needed.

To get started, consumers use the invocation, “Hey Google, can I talk to Liv at Estée Lauder?” Liv then guides the user into the 14-day Night School program, querying her about her goals, interests and preferences. Does she want to learn about relaxation tips and meditation techniques? Perhaps she’s curious about nutritional advice for healthier skin? Liv also asks what kind of skincare routine she can handle—not everyone has the time or is willing to commit to a 10-minute regimen, so the brand wants to be sure it’s not setting consumers up for failure. To help users stick to their goals, Liv can set reminders for consumers to successfully commence their nightly routines.

The beauty brand envisioned Night School to be a highly educational experience, so Liv keeps a curated selection of content on deck and can send articles of interest to the user’s smartphone. But, as Nichols pointed out, “Liv is not in the service of selling.” If consumers are interested in purchasing a brand product, the experience is handed off to their phones. In fact, Estée Lauder has found that people start out chatting on the Home device but then switch to mobile, which is preferable, Nichols said, “because that’s where a lot more commerce activity can happen.”

So far Liv’s engagement numbers are outperforming the standard (set by Nike’s running coach) by a factor of three. First-time users stay for 6.5 minutes and returning users engage for 12 minutes, “completely blowing Google’s actions benchmarks,” Nichols said. 7:00 p.m. is the “magic hour” that sees the highest engagement as users begin thinking about settling down for the evening.

Night School and Liv are very much a two-way street, Nichols noted. “With things like Google Home, we’re learning from consumers. We’re not actually doing as much teaching as we are learning.”