There is a lot of talk about Amazon and Google when it comes to voice assistants and voice technology, but the landscape is far broader. Many of the most interesting stories around voice assistants are about brands using the technology to engage customers or extend their product experience. Voicebot’s Top Brand Leaders in Voice for 2020 provides a quick reference of 25 organizations that are embracing the technology and showing everyone else how the new era of digital engagement is going to evolve. We expect this list to shine a light on what you can do with voice to make an impact. We also anticipate these examples will inspire a lot of new innovators to both adopt models that are clearly working and even push the envelope further in 2021. Let us know what you think about this list on Twitter (@voicebotai) and who you think also deserved recognition that we missed this year.
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // Deutsche Telekom kept up a steady pace of new and updated voice technology built around its Magenta voice assistant. In June, the company debuted the entry-level Magenta Mini smart speaker as competition with the cheaper smart speakers sold by the likes of Amazon and Google. Competing with its voice assistant rivals is also partly why Deutsche Telekom added Apple Music as a streaming service option to Magenta and integrated the voice assistant more fully into the MagentaTV app. Magenta also aims to simplify use with a shortened wake word, replacing “Hallo Magenta” with just “Magenta.”
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: Deutsche Telekom
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // Comcast Xfinity makes voice a key component of its services, with its voice remote controls adding new connections and features all year. By the end of 2020, the voice remote added controls for streaming services like HBO Max and the Weather Channel’s Local Now. The voice remote also allows viewers to interact with the interactive ads being tested on NBC’s new Peacock streaming service. Xfinity also expanded its partnership with Tile this year, allowing users to activate a Tile’s sound alert instead of just displaying the last location. The voice remote can even be used to vote for singers on The Voice television show.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: Comcast
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // Swisscom created a voice assistant and integrated it into its smart television set-top box in less than a year, launching it at the tail-end of 2019. In 2020, it proved to be a winner in giving the company even more dominance in telecom services. The voice assistant in the box serves as a control center for all kinds of smart home devices and turns the television into a kind of smart display, with the weather and other information displayed along with the television programs. The voice assistant understands English, German, French, and Italian but is unique in also speaking and understanding the Swiss dialect of German.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: Swisscom
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // This year, the BBC extended its voice AI to a new level as it focused on building control over its content and user experience. In June, it launched its new Beeb voice assistant in the UK. Beeb is optimized to access BBC content, including radio, podcasts, and other audio programming. Users can even ask about specific shows, on-air talent, and when new shows will air or be available. The backend serves as a database for other voice assistant queries too. To cap off the year, BBC Global News released a text-to-speech platform with a custom synthetic voice that will articles on the website out loud to visitors.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: BBC
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // Spotify opened up new vistas and began trying out new ways to interact with its expansive audience this year. It’s success earned Spotify the Bixby Capsule of the year from Samsung. Over the summer, Spotify started running voice-activated ads in the United Kingdom for cosmetics firm Nars, with listeners told to ask Alexa or Google Assistant for a free sample delivered to their homes. Spotify also gained a huge new potential listener pool when it became available on Alexa devices in India.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: Spotify
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // Pandora grew both its library and voice interactive features this year. The streaming service widened its interactive audio ads that it began at the end of last year, bringing the question and response setup of ads to many more listeners. Pandora also upgraded its Voice Mode, which offers hands-free controls, with the ability to request specific songs and albums, rather than just favorite stations, podcasts, or recommendations.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: Pandora
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // The Food Network and Amazon first launched the Food Network Kitchen interactive cooking platform on Alexa-enabled displays last year, but doubled down twice on it this year, offering a free year’s subscription to Amazon Fire TV and tablet owners, before opening it up to Echo Show owners as well. The 2,300 live and on-demand cooking classes, 80,000 recipes, and guides for making the meals had a lot of extra appeal this year when more people were home cooking because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the free trial could open a very profitable channel for the Food Network soon.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: Discovery Inc.
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // Video game developer Zynga has jumped into voice this year, experimenting with ways to translate its word games for audio play. The developer launched two games for voice assistants this year, Word Pop is exclusive to Alexa, while Daily Word Wheel is exclusive to Google Assistant. Both are variations on the mega-hit Words With Friends and bring similar gameplay to the voice assistant platforms. Where Zynga succeeds, you can expect plenty of other game makers to follow.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: Zynga
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // Women’s lifestyle brand Meredith has been enthusiastic in incorporating some of the newest features for developers that Amazon has brought to Alexa this year. In partnership with voice app developer Skilled Creative, Meredith launched a bilingual edition of its My Daily Mindset Alexa skill called Mi Afirmación del Día. The skill, one of the first bilingual voice apps on the platform, also leverages Quick Links and Name-Free Interactions so that users can enable the skill with a click and find it just by using keywords, respectively.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: Meredith and Skilled Creative
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // Nickelodeon owns some of the most well-known and popular brands for kids, so how it engages with new technology can set a lot of precedents for other child-friendly brands. This year, the company, a Viacom subsidiary, dipped its toes into voice with both Google Assistant and Alexa. Google Assistant can read interactive PAW Patrol books from smart displays and tell stories from the company’s Shimmer and Shine properties. Meanwhile, Alexa device owners can activate the Blue’s Clues & You! Listen and Play skill and try to solve ten different mysteries.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: Nickelodeon
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // Premier League football is a central part of life for many British people. Amazon found a way to make Alexa part of the experience of watching games by becoming a kind of referee, an official source for explaining rules and gameplay to those who ask. The new information was added after a study by Prime Video, which shows the games, found that a lot of people want a quick reference for when they aren’t sure of the details of a rule.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: Premier League
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // Despite a chaotic baseball season attempting to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, the MLB took major strides in connecting to fans with voice assistants. Satisfi Labs worked with 15 MLB teams to create voice apps on Google Assistant. Users can start conversations with the Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, Oakland Athletics, and other teams to learn about statistics, schedules, team history, and the score of a game happening at that moment.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: MLB and Satisfi Labs
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // Snapchat began ramping up its voice features this year when it added Voice Scan, a voice search for filters, music, and games built on SoundHound’s Houndify voice AI. The social media app looks for lenses related to the vocal request, choosing the options based on which camera is on. Snapchat also laid the foundation for future voice interactivity as well, buying voice assistant developer Voca.ai for a reported $70 million.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: Snap, Inc. / SoundHound
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // TikTok launched an Alexa skill in August, its first voice app. It was one of the first to use the new Alexa for Apps features, enabling voice commands, hands-free recording, and voice search for viewers. A few months later, TikTok added a homemade addition to its voice offerings, enabling text-to-speech for words written on user videos. It’s an option designed to improve accessibility for those with impaired vision.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: TikTok
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST //Voice technology gained new ground in the banking and finance industry this year, and the voice assistant U.S. Bank launched this summer epitomizes the trend. The U.S. Bank Smart Assistant embedded in the bank’s mobile app allows users to carry out their banking requests using conversational language. The virtual bank teller can complete transactions and transfers, pull up bills and spending history, and manage any credit cards. Should there be a request that the AI can’t fulfill, it will connect the user with a human banker using text messages or a phone call.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: US Bank
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // Capital One’s Eno virtual assistant took center stage in the bank’s marketing push this year. Eno, which can understand voice and text but only responds in the latter, has been operating for a couple of years, but this year was featured in a huge campaign on TV and digital outlets. The ads used the premise of someone seeing questions about their financial transactions splashed across train announcements, signs in stores, and even asked by characters in a movie seen at a theater. The spots showcased Eno’s latest improvements in tracking potential fraud and sending reminders about free trials ending. After collaborating with IBM Watson, Capital One claims that Eno can now understand 99% of customer replies.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: CapitalOne
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // KFC was the first company to take up the new Brand Voice feature offered by Amazon Polly. Embracing the idea of marking their voice skill with a brand as much as any other commercial outlet, KFC Canada worked with Amazon to make its Alexa skill respond to users in a voice that is supposed to sound like Colonel Sanders. Polly, aptly named like a cliche parrot, already provides neural text-to-speech (NTTS) technology services to create more human voices for apps. Brand Voice takes that a step further by bringing in Amazon engineers to help the client design a custom voice for their brand based on recording sessions with a spokesperson. Amazon’s deep learning tech then teaches Alexa how to speak like the actors.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: KFC and Amazon
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // MoonPie decided to leverage the snack cake brand’s popular, quirky Twitter personality to the world of voice apps this year. The MoonPie MoonMate was pitched as partly a companion during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but the Alexa skill showcased how many ways even a brand that seems totally disconnected from voice tech can still incorporate voice into a marketing strategy. The mix of jokes, philosophical comments, and slightly off-kilter compliments no doubt kept plenty of people amused, at least for a little bit this year, much like MoonPie’s Twitter feed does.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: MoonPie
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // Coca-Cola kicked off 2020 with a couple of major promotions built around voice. In Australia, Alexa device owners could ask the voice assistant to share a Coke, initiating a process to get a free personalized Coke bottle. In the U.S., people could ask Alexa for a sample of the new Coca-Cola Energy drink, a promotion the company tied their Super Bowl ad, but that ended almost immediately when the samples ran out. The corporate side of Coca-Cola is also interested in exploring voice technology for enterprise purposes. Coca-Cola’s corporate venturing platform, Amatil X, picked New Zealand digital assistant developer startup Aider as the first investment for its new fund.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: Coca-Cola
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // Beverage company Talking Rain launched a voice app for Google Assistant and Alexa this year to promote its Sparkling Ice brand of seltzer. The Sparkling Ice Maker virtual bartender offers recipes based on flavors of the seltzer or the type of alcohol desired and can offer recommendations to try. Though a modest voice app in some ways, it’s a nice way to promote the brand, which is why it won the Gold Award at this year’s MarCom Awards for voice skills and actions.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: Talking Rain
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // Nike has been quick to see the advantages of voice assistants. Last year, Nike won three Cannes Lions for its collaboration with R/GA and RAIN to run a real-time sneaker sale during an NBA basketball game through Google Assistant. The voice assistant can now tighten the laces of the Adapt BB sneakers it helped sell. If the shoes are connected to the Nike app on an Android phone, the wearer just has to ask Google to tighten them. Nike updated its Run Club app with similarly simplified voice controls, meaning asking Google to start your run will cause the app to start tracking the journey.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: Nike / RAIN Agency
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST //
The Mayo Clinic stepped up its effort to bring accurate health information to people this year, especially with regard to COVID-19. In February, the Clinic worked with Orbita to expand its voice app to Google Assistant and put its chatbot online. As the pandemic spread, they published The Mayo Clinic Answers on COVID-19 skill for Alexa, one of the first pandemic-related Alexa skills after Amazon deleted non-governmental voice apps related to the novel coronavirus. Then, in the summer, Amazon connected Alexa’s responses to questions about nutrition to the Mayo Clinic’s database to improve the voice assistant’s food advice.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: The Mayo Clinic
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // Walmart took steps to bring AI into its business model by creating a virtual assistant for all employees. The Ask Sam mobile app is now in use by employees at the more than 5,000 Walmarts in the United States. The embedded voice assistant provides answers to employees about product prices and locations, including maps, either for their own use or to answer customer questions, and gives them updates from higher-ups about policy changes and emergencies. On an international scale, Walmart also brought a voice assistant to shoppers of its Indian subsidiary Flipkart, which can take orders for groceries in several local languages.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: Walmart
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // Mercedes-Benz Automotive Mercedes-Benz has been bringing its MBUX virtual assistant to a growing variety of car models since it launched the AI two years ago, with regular updates and improvements. In December, the carmaker announced a major upgrade to the system. Though Mercedes will keep working with automotive voice tech developer Cerence, the second generation of MBUX will up the personalization and localization options, including biometric identification and multiple driver IDs that will automatically adjust the car seat and other settings and note where different people are sitting.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: Mercedes-Benz
WHY THEY MADE THE LIST // Honda debuted a new voice assistant this year, built on SoundHound’s Houndify platform. The Honda Personal Assistant took two years to build and now offers a notably sophisticated virtual assistant. It can check any informational requests against a database of previous questions and commands while using the geographic context to provide complete answers. The Honda Personal Assistant has been in the works for two years when the carmaker signed a deal with SoundHound to create the voice assistant. The agreement extended an earlier connection when SoundHound took part in the Honda Xcelerator program.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: Honda and SoundHound
WHY THEY WERE AN HONORABLE MENTION // Buick is one of several automakers that have started embedding Alexa and other voice assistants in their vehicles. But, Buick, a brand owned by General Motors, is the only one to suggest people will define the car by the voice assistant brand. The company released a television commercial a few months ago where people see a Buick drive by and some of them call the car an Alexa, sparking debates with companions who call it a Buick. There’s no Amazon or Alexa branding on the car, just the Alexa Auto SDK built into the vehicle’s software, yet the arguments escalate. Of course, the ad isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, but even the idea of advertising a car by focusing primarily on its voice assistant is a bit of a reach, at least until Amazon starts building its own car.
VOICE APP DEVELOPER: Amazon, GM