Colin Morris of Adobe: Voice’s Impact on the Customer Journey Is Bigger Than People Think

I’ve been to Vegas so many times already this year I’m thinking about going for a DJ residency at The Palazzo.  Maybe Wayne Newton can put in a good word for me. But I digress.

The Impact of Voice Technology

One of those trips to Vegas was for Adobe Digital Summit, where I had an opportunity to talk with Colin Morris, Director of Product Management for Adobe. I spoke with Colin in the past about how things like smart speakers and voice assistants are potential game changers for how companies engage customers and prospects.  

But now I think it’s safe to drop “potential” from that statement as it’s clear the game is already changing. Colin shares just how much the game has changed, because many people out there might not know the magnitude of the change — and the magnitude of what’s to come in the not too distant future.

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.  To hear the full interview watch the video or click on the embedded SoundCloud player below.

A Look at How Voice is Changing Customer Relationships

Small Business Trends:  So how is voice impacting the customer journey?

Colin Morris: I think it’s bigger than a lot of people see right now. And the reason I say that is we’ve done a number of very large surveys to brands, to consumers, to understand beyond just our own behavioral data, kind of how they perceive it. And not only are the sales of home speakers, it could be connected televisions, things with voice assistance on top are growing. But consumer behavior and reception to using it more and more is also getting deep and deeper. And we see it all over, right? In the sessions that people are interacting with and kind of the areas they’re interacting in. One of the things that excites me about voice is that it’s really … it’s a medium that sits on top of devices. It’s not just a mobile app. Right?

Small Business Trends:  Right.

Colin Morris: You can talk to your car, you can talk to your television, you can talk to your toaster, right? And especially if you can link those experiences together they can provide you a better experience, that’s a very powerful thing.

App-Only Businesses Lead the Way

Small Business Trends:  So are you already seeing your customers dive in full bore? Are they dipping their toe in? How are they starting to move towards incorporating voice as a channel that they’re engaging in with their customers?

Colin Morris: I think the people that are diving in the most, just like on the beginning days of mobile apps, are the developers that have an app-only business. Right? And that’s where gaming analytics came from. That’s where a lot of the big businesses that came out of the iPhone originally. So a lot of those even voice-based games right now are pretty hard core on those, whether it’s Alexa or Google Assistant.

Brands Use Voice as an Exploratory Channel

I think a lot of our brands use it as an exploratory channel to understand, okay, can someone convert on ordering a pizza over Alexa in a home speaker. Right? And if that’s the case then, well what does that mean in terms of their lifetime value? Do they drive more conversions elsewhere? How does it link up to the bigger picture? That’s really what they’re trying to understand, you know?

Even if someone doesn’t necessarily transact or make money over a voice speaker or over a connected television, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t influence another channel. Right? To the extent that they can say, “Okay, it actually is worth us doubling down on this.” That’s really where they’re at. And they’re taking baby steps, but because the data’s there, and because they know their customers’ there. It’s becoming more of a priority.

Voice Impacts the Customer Journey

Small Business Trends:  I remember reading one of the reports you put out probably a couple months ago. At the time people were mocking shopping with Alexa, but what you just said kind of talks about maybe they’re not doing the final transaction, but it is having an impact on the customer journey.

Colin Morris: Totally. It’s all about attribution, right? And that can be paid media or just your own operated channels, you know? And it also allows companies to expand beyond their existing confines, right? Like all of a sudden, a cable provider with an OTT service can now have a voice assistant that interacts with the consumer in other parts of their home, and it allows these businesses to offer other services they’ve never been able to before, and they can link that experience. That’s a big deal, because all of a sudden the cable providers of the world now have a totally new way to be able to expand their businesses and provide better value.

Same thing on the car. Automotive companies can now leave the car, and provide an experience outside of that, ’cause they’re all going to be in services anyway soon enough, right? And so it’s like any of these things, where the brand extends beyond the hardware. The experience gets better for the consumer, and it’s a fun, rich world of experimentation right now. That’s actually why I love this stuff, ’cause I haven’t been a project manager and built this stuff in my past. It’s really fun to see it at scale.

Podcasts Return to Prominence in Voice Marketing

Small Business Trends:  We had a chance to talk, geez, months ago. And one of the things I remember discussing was the impact of things like podcasting, creating content that actually goes well with smart speakers. And the impact that creating that content and being able to analyze the effectiveness of the content, how that’s starting to change the way that companies engage customers. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that.

Colin Morris: I think that there’s a few different things going on. There’s new mediums and new types of content that are catered to those mediums, right? Like a podcast, if you think about the ads served on a podcast, it’s usually read by the person who’s delivering the podcast. Now that commands a very different CPM than say, a display ad would, or pre-roll would on video.

That means that their opportunity for driving cost down and driving profit from those particular things is new and interesting. It also means that you can persist that over different experiential channels. So I could start a podcast on my app. I could finish the podcast on my connected television, or I can bring it to the in-car experience in the head unit.

Businesses Get a More Complete Picture

That allows them to really put together what consumption really looks like. And especially if it’s an enriched experience where there’s a dialogue between the voice assistant and the consumer.

All of a sudden, hitting the server and getting personalized experiences or reacting real-time gets much more interesting than just delivering static content, you know? So it’s kind of like find the right people in the right place with the right content. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s true. Look, if they see a pattern of me commuting to work, and they know I have a certain amount of taste and a certain type of content that is released at a certain time, you can pretty much put something in front of somebody at the right time and be able to make sure that they know that I, as a consumer, am going to like that then. You know?

Adobe Focuses on the Future

Small Business Trends:  Yeah. Well, and that’s part of what you guys do is help folks understand how using data, using analytics, just how effective and impactful this channel is currently. And maybe with an eye towards, well, what it might be in the not too distant future.

Colin Morris: Yeah. That’s where a lot of the machine learning and the Adobe Sensei features in AI come in, I think. Because we’re trying to layer on top of the customer intelligence and the behavioral data the propensity for what’s going to happen going forward, right? So it’s kind of like, yes, we provide a lot of marketing engagement features at Adobe, but the analytics should theoretically tell you where to be taking the customer journey, and then to tell you whether it’s working or not, right?

AI and Machine Learning Become Critical

And so a lot of the AI and a lot of the Sensei features really are helping us take a lot of the burden off of data scientists and a lot of people that come from the more traditional BI world, which is a very kind of offline asynchronous … offline is probably not a good term, but you know, asynchronous way of putting a bunch of stuff together. This is more of the idea of getting towards real-time decisioning, and you’ve heard a lot about the real-time profile in the CDP aspect. I mean, that’s really putting together the building blocks for these sorts of conditions to happen.

Small Business Trends:  And I guess with Adobe’s offerings with the whole experience cloud, but now you have the commerce cloud and the other pieces, you’re really able to kind of see exactly how this channel impacts transactions, basically.

Colin Morris: Absolutely. And again, it’s like which channels are the ones that really affected that in transaction? Now that you can really bring that transaction natively into everything else, what does it mean to optimize that, right? And then you start to get the whole funnel, right? No matter what sort of business you are, you can get the whole funnel of the data, start to see what affects it, make good decisions, and then get into new business models if you want to, right? Because if you had the end-to-end piece, all of a sudden the flexibility is there. And you see it. You know, there’s media companies becoming retailers, there’s OEMs becoming banks. There’s all sorts of different things that are changing at this front, and you need that underlying data and the ability to be able to confidently put a good consumer experience in front of the people.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.