Last month, I did something that many fashion lovers do each fall—I picked up the September issue of Vogue. It wasn’t long before I noticed that Condé Nast was experimenting with a new way to bring its readers even more content than its hundreds of printed pages can offer. At the end of selected articles, Vogue invited Google Home users to say “Ok Google” and give the device a command for more information about the given story. I realized that in the not-so-distant future, it could become commonplace for marketers to add more value and interactivity to print ads and direct mail campaigns by adding specific voice commands for connected speakers like Google Home and Amazon Echo.

We’ve already observed a variety of approaches to bridging print and digital marketing, such as sharing a simple URL, including social media handles, printing QR codes, and, more recently, integrating augmented reality (AR). Building AR into direct mail was all the rage in 2013, when the United States Postal Service offered a discount on AR-enhanced direct mail, and many marketers continue to include this feature in mail. Recipients of these mailers can download an app on their phone, and then scan the AR-enabled image to see additional information about products, access special offers, and more. The great aspect of using a Google Home or Amazon Echo prompt in a piece of mail is that any customers that already own one of those devices can take action immediately – no additional app downloads, picture-snapping, typing, or smartphone required.

38% of Americans are interested in a smart speaker with a digital assistant, but only 14% say they own one.

Of course, only owners of the appropriate smart devices are able to enjoy the convenience of moving from the printed piece directly to a voice command, and right now most households don’t have any brand of smart speaker. Mintel’s Fall 2017 Digital Trends US report found that although 38% of Americans express an interest in a smart speaker with a digital assistant like Google Home, only 14% said they own one. Condé Nast even acknowledges that, presently, the overlap between their Vogue readers and Google Home owners is still quite small. The customers using the application, however, are spending several minutes with it.

What we think

Marketers face a challenge in deciding which smart speakers to prioritize for this type of effort as the smart speaker market becomes more diversified (with Apple HomePod being the latest entrant). Choosing which platforms to work with will require them to gain a better understanding of the preferences of their customer base.

On a broad scale, it’s probably premature to start incorporating voice commands into lots of printed advertisements. But targeted efforts meant to reach early adopters could be great tests for tactics to employ further down the road. Certainly, in the case of Vogue, Condé Nast can glean a wealth of information about how readers are engaging with the commands, even among a small user base. As more consumers adopt voice-enabled speakers, marketers creating campaigns in print, direct mail, and beyond will have a convenient and viable way to pair visual marketing efforts with auditory content. Importantly, they will be able to engage consumers in creative, conversational ways, and invite them to delve deeper into products and services in a quick, easy manner.

Emily Groch is Mintel Comperemedia’s Director of Insights, Telecommunications. She provides omni-channel marketing analysis and competitive insights to wireless, TV, internet, over-the-top, and home security service providers across the US and Canada.

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