A Beginner’s Guide to Alexa Skills

Chances are, you use a smart speaker, or you know someone who does. With as many as 53+ million adults owning smart speakers in America, that’s a pretty safe bet. It’s also safe to say that these voice recognition technologies are not just on the rise, they’re here to stay. 

And as we all know, when electronic devices become embedded into our daily lives, brands will rush in. Which brings us to the next frontier in customer engagement:  Alexa Skills.

Say the magic word

Think of Alexa Skills as apps for your smart speaker. But unlike smartphone apps, each skill activates an action when prompted by voice. Examples could include anything from answering trivia, to playing games, to controlling lighting or music. To activate a skill, users must know the key phrases to speak—called “invocations”—that trigger Alexa-enabled devices to match their spoken requests. 

Join the smart (speaker) crowd

With more and more adults owning smart speakers, the use of Alexa Skills offers a subtle way to weave your brand into the day to day lives of your customers. For instance, suppose you’re a healthcare company. You could develop a skill to educate consumers on certain health and dietary risks, or remind patients to refill and take medications. A financial company could develop a skill that allows users to locate a nearby ATM or check their account balances. The opportunities for new skills are endless, and some of the planet’s largest companies are already leading the way.

Major brands like Capital One, Mercedes, BBC and Starbucks have all developed skills that work to simplify, enrich or change user experience when it comes to interacting with their brands. With over 100,000 skills already on Amazon.com, everyone’s scrambling for a slice of the pie. 

While there are competitors to Alexa Skills (more on this below), Amazon devices including Amazon Echo, Echo Auto, and Fire TV dominate the smart speaker market right now.

Before you get started…

In a market of hundreds of thousands of skills, it’s important to determine what will set your skill apart from the rest. Before you start developing an Alexa skill for your company, consider the following questions:

  1. What do you hope to accomplish with your skill?
  2. What specific need does your skill fulfill?
  3. How does your skill represent, add to, or enrich your brand?

Once you’ve decided to create a skill, Amazon makes the process easy with Skill Blueprints. Blueprints provide a set of templates to follow, allowing anyone to customize their own skills and publish them in the Amazon Skills library. 

Looking for a challenge? Amazon also offers a library of coding resources, called their Alexa Skills Kit. If you’re more into building your skills from scratch, start there. 

Alexa Skills vs Google Actions

So far, Google Actions are the most direct competitor to Alexa Skills, gaining ground in recent years. Google Actions function in a similar manner—enhancing the capabilities of the smart speaker by enabling a set of commands. And much like Alexa Skills, Google Actions have Template Actions provided with a Google sheet you can fill out to trigger certain responses.

One of the main differences between the two can be found in their programming styles. Alexa Skills make programming easy through their Blueprints guide. While Google only requires you to fill out a spreadsheet, the task might still seem a bit daunting. Alternatively, one developer’s study has argued that Google offers developers more tools and makes better use of partnerships. However, in terms of reach, Amazon’s Echo still dominates the smart speaker market.

Helpful resources

Alexa Skills can integrate your brand into the daily lives of your most passionate customers. But whether or not you choose to use this powerful new tool is entirely dependent on the needs and goals of your company.  

That being said, the possibilities for Alexa Skills and its competitors are both promising and seemingly endless. As voice recognition, voice search and A.I. continue to advance, this marketing tactic has the potential to give brands even greater opportunities for engagement. 

Like more information on Alexa Skills vs Google Actions? Check out these helpful links:

Looking for more developer-focused resources? Here you go:

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