All of Silicon Valley wants to be The Voice of ...

All of Silicon Valley wants to be The Voice of Holland

In this series, we’ll tell you more about the four trends that will influence your customer journey in 2018. Previously, we covered the rise of mobile payments, we discussed what Europe’s new privacy regulations mean for your organization, and we dove into augmented reality, branded filters, and zapp codes. Today, we’ll brief you about the state of voice assistants in the Netherlands.

Last November, Amazon finally made a move that brings its arrival in the Netherlands closer: the Dutch can now subscribe to Amazon Music and Amazon Prime. Prime, Amazon’s video streaming service, is still no match for Netflix, Videoland or NLziet. Currently, Amazon is slowly building a repertoire of subtitled content.

Another audio or video streaming service entering the Netherlands isn’t particularly remarkable. What’s more interesting, is the fact that Amazon is exploring the Dutch market. Amazon’s move means its virtual assistant Echo could also start entering our living rooms soon. The voice assistant is already available through Amazon’s German store, but Alexa does not yet speak our language.

“OK Google, praat Nederlands met me”

Google Assistant doesn’t speak Dutch yet either. The benefit of Google’s smart voice assistant is that it’s not bound to one device. More than 400 million devices (like smartphones, smartwatches, headphones, and 6 million Google Home speakers) can already access Google Assistant. Google has not yet announced when its Assistant will learn to speak Dutch. However, Google certainly doesn’t want to lose the battle with Amazon, and it has been preparing a Dutch rollout since September. In 2018, we’ll definitely hear more about Google Assistant in the Netherlands.

Microsoft has been busy, too. Last May, it introduced its home speaker, Invoke, which is not yet available in the Netherlands. Microsoft is betting on premium audio quality by entering the market with technology from Harman Kardon. On top of that, Microsoft is making a strategic move by partnering with Amazon. Microsoft users will soon be able to access Amazon’s Alexa (‘Hey Cortana, open Alexa’), and vice versa. This way, Alexa can access Outlook calendars, or read emails aloud.

Of course, Apple can’t stay behind. Last year, it revealed its HomePod, a voice-enabled speaker that will go on sale in the US, UK, and Australia at the beginning of this year. Apple, too, is focusing on audio quality. Its HomePod automatically analyses a room’s acoustics and filters out any echoes. This feature will create a sharper sound. However, the most significant benefit of this speaker is Siri, Apple’s voice assistent. So far, Siri is the only assistant that can speak Dutch.

 Apple's HomePod speaker has Siri built in

Apple's HomePod speaker has Siri built in

But there’s more: there are indications that Facebook is developing a voice-drive speaker as well. Facebook would make for an interesting player in this market. While the other digital giants have an advantage thanks to their software and hardware, Facebook has a massive amount of social data. Their voice assistant could help out like no other when you ask it to recommend a gift for a friend. It won’t just let you play Spotify playlists or turn off your living room lights, but also facilitate interactions between people. Facebook can bring people together, but it can also connect people to brands in a way that feels human.

GAFA’s meta-platforms

2018 is likely to become an eventful year for the Netherlands and voice assistants. The big four from GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon) will compete to get Dutch consumers to their platforms. Those who open up their platforms to third-party developers can be sure that the number of available voice skills will quickly multiply, and so will the number of users.

Once people get accustomed to ‘standard’ voice assistants, more space for brands will open up. Not just for broadcasting audio, giving suggestions (for recipes or restaurants), or preheating an oven, but also for true interaction with your customers.

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No matter how you look at it, marketeers will have to start asking themselves not just whether, but when to get on the GAFA train. These four meta-platforms are the future. Google and Facebook alone account for more than 60 percent of Dutch online advertisement budgets, predominantly in social and search. In the US, their share is even higher, at 83 percent. There’s no way around it: these platforms will stick around because they have the potential to keep growing. They’re virtually unlimited.

Voice user interfaces

For marketeers, it’s important to get familiar with GAFA’s flagship innovations and the possibilities of voice user interfaces (VUIs). How can conversational interfaces improve the interaction between your brand and your customers?

As an example, let’s take delivering flowers through a voice assistant. You won’t see an image of the flowers you’re ordering. How would a good VUI solve this? Does it need to support an extra, mobile device? How can you integrate previous orders in your recommendations? And how do you prevent children from sending flowers to the entire neighborhood? These are issues you need to tackle for a user-friendly voice-enabled product.

You’re up to speed again

It’s time to wind up this series. This article was the last of four watch-outs for 2018. Use the month of January to figure out how you’ll be using these trends in 2018. Here’s a tip: start small, and validate your concept with end users at an early stage. In less than a week, a simple prototype can tell you whether you’re on the right track. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: technology moves faster than you think, and even faster than your conservative manager thinks it does. Go for it!

Validate any concept in a Design Sprint Most ideas look great on paper, but only some will make a dent in the real world. By validating your concepts early, you’ll reduce your risk of wasting time and money on the wrong projects. For a bulletproof concept, start with a Design Sprint.