As voice technology continues to proliferate and become the preferred interaction medium of our times, we see brands adopting it for content, utility, entertainment and commerce. However, beyond engaging through listening, the medium has yet to be made truly social. While Facebook has launched their new smart speaker Portal devices, there is surprisingly not much ‘social’ about it other than the core video calling experience. Aside from Alexa’s ability to call (or ‘drop-in’ as Amazon named the feature) from device to device and their push to make the Echo Look device integral to their Spark experience, there hasn’t been much emphasis on bringing social media to the world of voice.

When Unilever approached RAIN to create a voice strategy for their suite of personal care brands across hair and skin care, we sought to create a first-of-its-kind voice experience that could bridge the gap between an entrenched social media practice and the new world of voice assistance.

After exploring a few avenues to bring this brief to life including gamification of the morning routine and a searchable branded tip library, we landed on the creation of the Rise and Shine Alexa skill experience.

The Rise and Shine pilot program brought together a select group of expert influencers from the hair and skin care industries to provide users with daily tips and take part in their morning routines. Influencers were selected from Unilever’s existing roster of brand partners and inclusion was based not only on their following, but on their depth of their expertise and the ability to translate their content and personality to the new voice medium. Top influencers that were featured in the skill experience included: skincare expert Ingrid Nilsen, beauty and lifestyle vlogger Jasmine Brown and celebrity hairstylist Justine Marjan. Taking cues from successful influencer campaigns on traditional social media channels, we created a voice-first experience that accounted for three critical components.

Self-Supporting Ecosystem:

One of the challenges in building voice experiences today is organic discoverability. Although there are now established practices using coordinated media and SEO strategy to aid in this area, earned media has yet to be truly tested as a driver of visibility. The choice to create an influencer-led experience for Rise and Shine was made to help create a self-sustaining discovery vehicle.  Influencers promoted the experience on their well-followed social channels while the experience itself generated emails for users that drove to products and additional influencer content. This created a unique, Voice-led approach to earned and owned media, designed to continually drive discovery and influencer affinity.

Native Voice Content:

As voice continues to mature its multimodal capabilities, it’s essential that the auditory experience be digestible and compelling. With this in mind, RAIN and Unilever worked with the influencers to create short, 1-2 minute sound bytes that could be easily heard and understood while the audience was multitasking during their morning routine. To help break up the audio pieces and make the experience more dynamic, we deployed a multiple personality format leveraging a ‘host’ MC for the skill experience, the influencers themselves and the Alexa AI voice. Each voice played a distinct role in the skill and helped users easily move through interactions and engagement points.  

Programmatic Distribution:

Much like a good social campaign, a voice experience with a variety of custom content needs to be planned and placed into an editorial calendar to ensure the experience stays fresh for users and that content aligns with seasonal transitions. Working with Prismic, RAIN designed the experience to ‘unlock’ a new influencer’s content each week while allowing new users to go back and hear prior content they missed. This approach also provided a valuable lens for measurement as RAIN and Unilever were able to track engagement with the experience over time and by influencer to understand each expert’s impact.

What We Learned

The Rise and Shine pilot was live for 7-weeks from late August to mid-October 2018. Throughout the program, the experience:

  • Had over 12,000 users
  • Saw 14% of users provide information to the skill including email and 10% opt-in to future marketing from Unilever
  • Prompted ~2% of users to signal purchase intent via a product ‘add-to-list’ feature.

Evaluating the program has led to valuable learnings for future voice experiences which should be considered as brands continue activating in the space.

  • An Influencer-driven voice experience model worked, but also created retention challenges. To foster engagement, influencer-led activations should allow for long periods of access to influencer content and a broad roster of individuals for users to engage with.
  • Email information capture was successful via voice with a high conversion rate. However, product purchase intent was not a common behavior. For now, content-focused experiences (vs. shopping-focused) should be designed to drive engagement and data exchange with users.
  • Approaches to incorporating products into voice experiences should continue to be tested. New ways to promote products could include using extension channels more heavily to drive purchase, tying in-skill engagement to purchase (i.e. ‘reward points’), or creating a separate section within an experience specific to products and promotions.
  • Design experiences to drive toward personalization. Dating back to early skill testing, users expressed an interest in being able to dictate what content they would receive and have it increase in relevance. This should be the aspiration of all voice experiences moving forward.