One in six Americans has a smart speaker, according to a report by NPR and Edison Research. Marketers have taken notice of this powerful trend. But just as early experiments in branded mobile apps hinged on utility, success in the smart speaker space depends on brands enriching our everyday lives.
Our phones are loaded with branded apps that solve everyday problems like tracking workouts, providing transportation and food delivery. As smart speakers eat into our phone time, brands are adapting the same problem-solving capabilities to the new medium. Domino’s added ordering capabilities to the Amazon Echo. If you’re a Capital One customer, Alexa can tell you your balance. Uber and Lyft are both available via smart speaker. These are great examples of branded utility, but they’re also inherently tactical solutions to tactical problems. As a greater share of search is powered by voice (comScore predicts 50% by 2020), brands will have the opportunity to solve countless more tactical problems. But there’s one giant challenge/opportunity staring brands in the face—music discoverability.
Playing music is the number one smart speaker activity. Today’s fans enjoy the golden age of music because there’s more choice than ever before. Even better, we can listen on a variety of devices, platforms and services—often with little or no interruption. But the price consumers pay for abundance and convenience is discoverability. Voice-powered technology makes it easy to call up a song or artist, but discovery—a utility once provided by record labels and radio DJs—is now a service brands can deliver. According to a Nielsen survey, half of all music fans said they take a favorable view of brands helping music fans and artists find each other.
Curated playlists are one obvious place for brands to address discoverability. Domino’s, for example, could offer music while you wait for your pizza. Likewise, a ride-share app could pre-program a playlist for your trip. But discoverability goes much deeper than curating for a transaction because music is both a signal of identity and a powerful social bonding agent that dates back to the beginning of human history.
Consider that the average American spends 32 hours per week listening to music. We choose music to accompany activates like cooking, working out and driving, and that music is the soundtrack of our lives. What’s unique about the smart speaker revolution is that it gives consumers a voice. Right now, we use that voice to issue commands that initiate transactions and signal our activities. But in time, consumers will tell their smart speakers exactly who they are, and when they do, brands must be prepared to listen and respond.
Consumers want a daily soundtrack, but the question is whether brands can understand consumers both within the context of our communities and as individuals with idiosyncratic preferences. Because for brands to achieve real value through discoverability, they must help consumers discover their soundtracks, especially when they aren’t quite able to articulate what they want to listen to. It is a tremendous opportunity for a brand to enrich our daily lives by grounding fandom in our lived experience.