Part Two of Building a Voice Strategy for Your Brand

Episode #038: Dave Isbitski, Chief Evangelist, Alexa at Amazon

Episode Information

In the previous episode of Mobile Matters, we heard from the Chief Evangelist at Amazon Alexa, Dave Isbitski, about what it was like to be the first person in the skills marketing organization at Amazon and launch Alexa, how every tech wave is merely building upon a prior one, and why you need to start developing brand guidelines for voice. In the second part of our conversation with Dave, we talk about why you should think about voice as a customer engagement channel and not an acquisition channel, how enterprise organizations are using Alexa, and his thoughts on the future of voice.

If you’re interested in hearing more from Dave, check him out at Twitter or at

Stephanie's Strong Opinions

  1. The benefits of voice aren’t only for consumers. You can benefit a ton from having a voice strategy because you’ll be able to get real-time insights on what questions your consumers are asking and not asking about your brand. 
  2. Enterprise organizations are using voice to provide training assistance for employees enabling them to ask Alexa questions about a recent training. 
  3. The future of voice will likely take into account voice inflection and connected device information which could enable it to provide you an even more personalized experience.

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Stephanie Cox: I’m Stephanie Cox, and this is Mobile Matters. Today, I’m joined again by Dave Isbitski. Dave is currently Chief Evangelist for Alexa and Echo at Amazon. He’s been a professional speaker, trainer, and evangelist for over two decades. He's taught full-day courses on many topics including voice design, natural language understanding, mobile, and the cloud and has also helped launch numerous technology platforms and devices while at both Microsoft and Amazon. In our previous episode, Dave shared a ton of great information about what it was like to launch Alexa, why you need brand guidelines for voice, and the potential voice has a transform the customer experience. In part two my conversation with Dave, we talked a lot about why you should think about voice as a customer engagement channel rather than a customer acquisition channel, how enterprise organizations are using Alexa for business, and what he thinks the future of voice will really look like. And make sure you stick around until the end where I’ll give my recap and top takeaways so that you can not only think about mobile differently but implementing effectively. Welcome to the show, Dave.

So one of the things that I think just kind of popped off my head when you were talking was this idea of the information you get back from customers, because a lot of times–to your point earlier–things like, you're on social media or things I hear in my customer support are typically, you know, one end of the spectrum or the other. Either they love me and they are talking my praises or they're unhappy. You don't get a lot of times the middle ground which is people that like you, continue to buy from you, but they're not, you know, advocating for your brand. But they're the bulk of where your customers tend to be. And I think your point around voice and being able to get more of that information back in real time is really helpful, like in some ways is it another way of quantitative and qualitative analysis that we just haven't ever thought of before?

David Isbitski: Oh absolutely. I mean, have you ever heard of "1,000 (True) Fans"? 

Stephanie Cox: Yes. 

David Isbitski: Yes. So it's 1,000 Fans and I'll just describe it if people haven't heard of it before. It's basically–it gets back to the 80/20 rule, right? That 80 percent of your audience, you're going to have to spend zero time on. They just follow it. They enjoy your content. And I've certainly made mistakes like this in the past to where, you know, you could spend–that 20 percent of your fans, some of them may be trolls. Some just want your time, and you can really, you can devote so much time to that and it's meaningless to your business. "1,000 Fans" is basically if you have a thousand core fans that are willing to buy a hundred dollars worth of content from you a year, that's a six-digit salary for you. Right? And so it's just, it just really hammers home the idea of the people that are continually engaging with your stuff, you should double down on and figure out what that's working and I feel like, you know, that's one of the things that voice will show, because today, like, let's say I really love a mobile app. Other than reviewing it in the App Store– and who does that, right? I've worked in multiple app stores, unless there's some kind of incentive–

Stephanie Cox: Or I'm really unhappy.

David Isbitski: Right. Right, or I'm really unhappy. So just like using it every day, I think people tell each other, right? Like verbally they'll be like, oh what do you use for banking? What do you use to track calories? What do you use for running? Right? Oh I use this thing, you know. And you know we're really fortunate at Amazon with our customer reviews that people do talk about and I talk to customers who shop based on Amazon customer reviews. Right? And one of the things you'll see in Skills now is Skills recommended based on your Amazon purchases. So like, I was doing, well I still am, but I go through bulking and cutting cycles and I'm on Keto right now and so I'm seeing Keto skills because I buy Keto things off Amazon, right? And I think that's a kind of a unique way of looking at stuff too. And I think brands are familiar with that especially if they are selling products on Amazon. And so that's kind of the, you know, the early–That's what you do to go back to the stakeholders to say, look, like, we're not going to get new customer acquisition here but we're going to see a engagement. And in fact we may actually see engagement rise across audiences that we haven't been doing anything to serve. And then we're gonna get customer insight into what's actually working and what they want to see moving forward. And so there are brands that have actually–they're using the customer reviews for their Alexa skills as part of their usability studies because they find it incredibly powerful, and that's where they're having new features coming from. And so that's kind of the short term, and then five year plan is, hey, when this technology continues to move along, I think ultimately as an industry–this is an Amazon thing–but if you talk to people within this space I think over time what we're gonna see is more and more personalization. Our AIs are going to get to know us more and more and we're going to have to explain less and less. But for a brand, that's incredible value then because if you're part of that journey then there's a relationship built over years and you can start to introduce those type of things too. So that's kind of like, you know, looking at five years, if you're talking business, we do have this thing, Alexa for Business, where you can actually manage devices and you can deploy and you can put people into directories and so that they have access to particular skills or skills only work within your enterprise. But one of the two interesting things I've seen internally in business: One is employee training. Every huge company has like the expert. So when a new system comes along, and I can't name any specific companies, but it's a rather large company where they rolled out something on iPads, right? And people before we're used to using it on Windows and so there was the experts all around to get hammered with questions as with helped us which becomes an incredible costs in a global organization. And so what they had was they had these echoes and you could just ask, hey if I need to file a blah blah blah for a customer, what do I do? All right. So that's a tremendous thing for employee training, and it's right there. Another area is internal comms. So imagine a flash briefing from the CEO. So you're there and you know it's like two minutes in the morning but it's that CEO being real because no one when you look through click through rates on an internal comm from an executive leader in a large enterprise, what that actually gets opened. Right? But actually having them being real and just for two minutes–because it's fresh too. Right? So it's not a prepaid plan it's like, hey I just wanted to talk about you know whatever awareness is going on that month, or the company is doing this initiative and people can be checking email and doing other things while it's playing. But it's also passing through into the ear lobes because we process audio information differently than we do visual. That's why we can listen to music and read a book or why people are watching a TV show and looking at their social media feeds right. It's that kind of thing that I'm seeing internally in enterprises. And then you get into specific verticals where voice can control physical things. Right? Which is just a no brainer when you look at like warehouses and shipping, inbound outbound and pallets, and you look at controlling machinery all that kind of stuff, right. That's just that. But there's been a lot of voice that's already done that stuff for years. But I think we're going to continue to see that rise, too. 

Stephanie Cox: So what do you want to see brands do more of? I mean, you have exposure to really everything that brands are doing on Alexa and provide some insights into brands that you think are really knocking it out of the park. What do you want everyone else to be doing?

David Isbitski: Oh gosh I'd flip it on its head because it's–we're in the stage now where I think it's just like it was in web and mobile where a lot of people missed that boat but I don't think it was an intentional miss because I was part of that. There was just confusion on what they could actually take action on. And so that's what I do a lot of times, is just open up the conversation of possibilities and, hey, this is the thing you can do now. So that's what I want to see a lot more brands do is to start now–and whether it's Alexa or not–I mean, just go just start doing it and start polling your audience. I see more and more of this with mobile apps, because don't use the e-mail, I don't open e-mails. But having it in a mobile app that I use every day just like a little quick thing that says, Hey do you happen to use Alexa, Google Assistants, Siri, something like that? I think you'd be amazed on the engagement because people get excited about that stuff and then you kind of go, oh wow like look at this. You know I've got over 50 percent of this specific demographic is actually using smart speakers that becomes information that's actionable. Right? And so that's the first part. The second part is we at Amazon have to create more and more APIs and we have to create better ways of allowing brands to have natural conversations. Right? We've had this conference, re:MARS–robots, Mars, machine learning,, you name it. It was just an all out...I don't want to say geek fest, but it was so like so many people way smarter than me and like all the cutting edge stuff is basically what the conference was about. And big data and voice was a part of that. And one of the things we announced there was something called Alexa Conversations, which is the idea–because I think this is really where brands want to be, is kind of asking you, because especially if you're not in the customer service industry, because I do get this from brands of like, hey, we're a blah blah blah company, and so naturally what they're going to make is like the "hello world" web page of old, right? It was just a, "Hey, I have a thing". So there's probably a scenario, though, that you know your customers are going through and so that's what Alexa Conversations. We use the example, which I think is, while it may not be common for everyone it's a good example to paint of what the problem that we're trying to solve is, let's say we want to go out and see a dinner and a movie. And so you know how many people that want to go with you. You have an idea of that. And you know the kind of movie you want to see, maybe you know the name of the movie and maybe you polled everybody, you got an idea of the type of food, right, but you haven't settled on a time, you haven't settled on a location, and in fact those other parameters may affect the time and the location if there's reservations available for food that everybody else was is excited about, but if it's a different time then I need to move my movie around and solve those type of things, and so that's basically what it is, is a night out. And you have a conversation with Alexa back and forth of the movie you want to see, but you can switch times, then you can book the actual tickets through Atom, and then you can book a ride through Uber. So you can schedule all of that and then you can go ahead and you can actually book a dinner reservation with Open Table and you're doing this by having a conversation. It's not like you're going into each one of these individual apps which is the way that we work as human beings, right. We're kind of figuring things out as we go, especially making plans. 

Stephanie Cox: That needs to be the next commercial! I was just thinking about when you were talking about that, I was like it's basically Alexa is your day planner. 

David Isbitski: Yeah. Yeah exactly. And think about all the brands that have skills today and what Alexa is really doing is Alexa's having the conversation to get the relevant information up front and then passing it on to those brands, because that's what the brand wants at the end is, like, you know, if I'm Open Table, yeah, I care about, you know, are you happy today? But ultimately I want to be able to do something for you. And so if you do know the exact time the exact location and the type of food you want, just tell me that and I'll be more than happy to go ahead and book that. And so that's the ultimate idea, and there's a there's a video maybe it's up on YouTube that kind of demonstrates what that will look like. And then, you know, you can think–there's lots of scenarios that are like that but I don't think travel is that kind of scenario, right? Because it's like, it's usually doing it way in advance. And so for me I think even when I when I travel and I'm just going to leave an open day because I love sightseeing and I have no idea what I feel like eating. I have no idea where I'm gonna ask that we were to pick me up and, you know, so it's more of like a spontaneous in the moment type of thing that I think the scenarios are gonna be incredibly compelling.

Stephanie Cox: So if you're thinking about talking to brands and you could give them one piece of advice for what they should be doing on voice, and it's just one thing, what would that be?

David Isbitski: So what I tell people to do is go right now to Click on the category that you're in and then see who's successful, because we're now five years in and there's over 90,000 skills It's funny seeing people's reactions to, especially if you're in like a C-level meeting, they're like, "why didn't you tell me blah blah blah was doing this?" And then the rest of the meeting I've lost them because they're just reading reviews. 

Stephanie Cox: And now they're sucked into it. 

David Isbitski: That's the first thing you can do. And then I'll I'll give you a bonus. The second thing they can do is look at their analytics for mobile and social and figure out what their customers are actually doing there. Because I can guarantee, like, even if you only have like 10 things, I guarantee the top three are things that people want to do faster. And so then you have your voice. It's, continue to just do that, but if all my customers were asking for this one thing in the mobile app and they're actually logging in to get that, then why don't I just give that to them in my Alexa Skill and then add on from there? Just continue to iterate and improve upon that. But don't lose track of, you know, when you're looking at that entire skills catalog, make sure you at least have baseline for what other people are doing in your industry too. We're at the time period now where you can't launch without having the things that people are leaving five star reviews for, right? Which is just typical what you see in any kind of technical way that's in the beginning you could just launch with being like, "Hi". But that's not the case anymore because people are using these things, they're engaged with them. You know there's over 100 million Alexa enabled devices. So it's like, you know, it's just there are plenty of people using skills in your category today. And so that's where I tell people to look.

Stephanie Cox: So last question: When you think about the future of voice, I know you've talked a little bit about where we're at today, what maybe you should think about in five years. But, you know, five or 10 years from now, where do you think it's headed? 

David Isbitski: It's so hard to predict and I totally stink at it. And at the same time it's so easy to predict because nobody can predict it and nobody's going to go back and check if I was right in 10 years anyway right. What I have found the safe bet for me that where I've always found success if you want to predict the future in tech is to focus on the things that human beings find valuable. Like the shift to mobile over desktop isn't hard to figure out why people wanted that, it was faster and they could do it anywhere. I think if I had to give a progress report, I would say across the industry we're now understanding people OK. But even if we can understand them OK we don't necessarily know the full intention. Human beings don't necessarily know the full intention. This is why we must communicate with each other, right? What we said may not always be our intention. And so I think we're just starting to have that but there are plenty of computers–Oh gosh I mean I remember this decades ago, computer vision, right? Understanding human emotion. All of those type of things over time really come down to again focus on the human being what would that mean. It means you understand me better. Maybe the tech can see me better and it can understand my emotions better. But ultimately what you want from that is to understand me better. And so when I come home and I'm talking to my assistant and I'm really snarky, it's a: "Dave did you eat?" Or "did you have a rough day?" And maybe I'm playing music or maybe it's like I've given my–and this is all future stuff by the way I'm not saying Alexa-specific but let's say your assistant like in the car actually understands traffic and other patterns and stuff and so then it's talking to your home your smart home knows that you just sat in an extra half an hour of traffic, it knows–I'm big into wearables like I said I have my Fitbit I also Run Fit, it's basically a chest strap I use when I'm running so they're all that data is there–and if I gave access to it, it's like, Wow. Not only did Dave sit in an extra half an hour of traffic but he was really upset about it because his heart rate's through the roof, his cortisol levels are probably up. So when I come home my house is actually changed the lighting, right. Like maybe–I grew up the Jersey Shore. So it's like maybe it's blue because all the LCD lights it's like blue sky and ocean and I hear waves and I walk in the door. Right there as a human being that's gonna change how I'm feeling, right. And you know it's like, "oh and by the way I already ordered your favorite take out it'll be here in 15 minutes, and I just looked up all these new streaming things or maybe I found this really cool YouTube channel. Would you like me to play it?" And then I'd just say yes. And so I've gone from walking in from like a sucky experience to suddenly across all of my different kind of senses, I've got this pleasurable feeling and it's changing my frame of mind so that I can be a decent human being to other people. Right? I think that's kind of where it will go and I ultimately think when you get down to speed, too is that we'll just associate with like our favorite AIs, but there'll be hundreds and thousands of AIs. And so you know I'll be like whatever A.I.–for me it may be Alexa right, for somebody else maybe someone different–I'll be like, "go figure out what's wrong with my car". And that day I will talk to the car and then the car will talk to the mechanic and then we'll all work something out. And they'll also be AIs on my behalf out there just in the web trying to figure out things because today I think this is the reason why people are scrolling through social media feeds is we're all those agents. But imagine if I had thousands of AI agents out there that are looking for stuff I'm interested in but also know what I've said before. And here's the other thing because I think this will do incredible benefit for humanity is that the problem with today is that people are less likely to change their mind, and it's so important to not be afraid to change your mind. I mean, that's how I've learned everything I've learned through life is because I've changed my mind. And how do you change your mind is with new information. So imagine like there's a topic that I've felt the whole time, I'm like, I've always had the same opinion about. I can imagine an AI–at least for me, this is what I would want–I would be like, go out there and find stuff that's going to change my mind. And so now this guy knows me, it knows what I've said, it knows what I think and what I think. And it goes and finds new information for me to kind of process and think about my ideas and things like that, right? It's it's so important. And so I think that's where you'll see all of these things to go. But again it's about human beings. At the end it's almost like an existentialism there. It's going to help people reflect more on themselves by going out and finding, and here's the other interesting thing. When I speak to people now even today when they go through, like, why are my recommendations looking like this? And it's like that's because those are the type of videos you've been watching! Everybody's angry! So every YouTube video in your home feed is angry. It's like ,change it up. So we might find more about ourselves. It's like holding up a mirror, right. Our AIs may learn more about us than we even thought about and help us to become better human beings. And so I'd like to think that's what the future looks like 10 years out. 

Stephanie Cox: Well when you're were talking about that, and you're saying, you know, if I'm talking to a Alexa in an angry voice it starts to make changes based on that all I'm thinking of is when Alexa knows I'm being snarky, can it, in my ideal world, it automatically like summon Uber Eats and brings me a McDonald's Coke? Because it knows that that will help. 

Like I said last week's episode there really isn't anyone better to learn about voice from then Dave. He's been talking about voice strategy since the very beginning of Alexa and it's honestly a wealth of information on the topic and how many times do you need to talk to the leader at Amazon about one of their most well-known brands? Talk about a dream guest. Now, let's get to my favorite part of the show where we take the education and apply it to your business.

There are so many great insights from my conversation with Dave that can really transform how you think about marketing. Let's dive into my top three takeaways. First, while voice will definitely provide consumers with an easier way to engage with brands, we can’t overlook what voice is going to provide us as marketers. We're going to get access to real-time information from consumers at an unprecedented level compared to what we've seen before. Think about it for a second. We're going to find out what questions consumers are asking about in real-time and what they're not also not asking, that's going to provide us with a wealth of information that will be so valuable and improving your overall customer journey as well as the voice experience for our brand.

Next, did anyone else get extremely giddy like I did when Dave started talking about Alexa for business? I know I was absolutely floored about some of the examples he shared, especially the one of a large corporation enabling Alexa for the business to answer training questions. That was a lightbulb moment for me. I hadn’t ever thought about using voice for business and that one example would be so helpful to so many midsize enterprise organizations. You could actually think about providing a trainer in the room with a new employee or when you roll out a new program by using voice and they can get answers within seconds and you're only creating the content once and making it available to really an unlimited number of employees. It makes me start to wonder if this is what the future of training will look like. 

Finally, the future of voice is so exciting and I think the idea of Alexa being able to know my mood based on the inflection of my voice and combine that with connected devices such as my car or Apple watch and then provide me with a better arrival experience when I get home is a game-changer. It's also what I think will cause people to start seeing the real value of what a connected life can bring, plus just personally I think it'd be pretty awesome if it delivered me a McDonald's Coke every time it noticed stress in my voice. Game Changer, which leaves me wondering how long until this is actually possible. Now, here’s my marketing challenge for the week. It’s a two-part challenge this week. For starters, find out what Alexa is saying about your brand if you don't already know then I want you to go to Alexa’s call for other companies in your industry. What are they doing? What are they getting five-star reviews on? These are the first ones you're going to need to implement because they're now table stakes for your industry. And that's just how you can get started with your voice strategy today.

I'm Stephanie Cox and you've been listening to Mobile Matters. If you haven't yet, be sure to subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. Until then be sure to visit and subscribe to get more access to thought leaders, best practices, and all things mobile.

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