Yes, we (169 Labs) have been to the Alexa Conference in 2018. Some of you called us a Chattanooga O.G. 😅 We remember the blizzard in Georgia in 2018 that lead us to share an Uber from Atlanta to Chattanooga. A 2-hour drive that we shared with Octavio Menocal from Nicaragua, another #VoiceFirst enthusiast. We spent 160 dollars and a cozy back seat in a Honda Accord. We knew Octavio only from Twitter – and back then this platform was already a valuable source to get in touch with other voice tech people!
Finally we decided to share a Uber with @omenocalc from ATL to Chattanooga! Twitter made it possible 😉 In approx. one hour we‘ll arrive in Chattanooga. 24 hours on the road!— 169 Labs (@169Labs) January 18, 2018
After skipping last year’s Alexa Conference (now: Project Voice) in Chattanooga we decided to get back in 2020. Together with Vera and Raphael from Digital Souls we represented the German voice movement. As an Alexa Conference attendee I observed that this event has become a lot bigger and more professional than two years ago. With 500-600 attendees it’s surely one of the biggest voice-focussed events in the US. Only Voice Summit in Newark (this year in Washington D.C.) is larger.
From my perspective I really like when events try to keep a more intimate atmosphere. That means that you have still the feeling that you could potentially talk to everyone from the other visitors during the conference days. You don’t do that – normally – but it feels comfortable, private and more profound. Don’t get me wrong – I also love big events, they are impressive and as a conference organizer (»All About Voice« in Germany) I can only imagine how much work it is to organize a mega-event at a scale of multiple thousands attendees.
Getting back to #ProjectVoice – the program with multiple focus tracks invited me to jump between tracks and sessions. My observation was that not only individuals from the community shared their insights, more and more companies from different verticals and with different sizes took the chance to share their journey in the voice ecosystem. A proof that voice is getting traction – from a more strategic angle. Good to see!
My personal highlight was the session where I shared the stage with other European voice professionals. Together with Adva Levin (@PretzelLabs), Jeroen Vonk (@jeroenvonk_), James Poulter (@jamespoulter) and Kane Simms (@kanesimms) we discussed »Voice Tech Abroad« – means we shared the current state of Voice in different European countries. It felt great to talk about the challenges but also the achievements of each country.
The dream team before our #voicetech abroad panel at #projectvoice – full video coming up #voicefirst @PretzelVoice @kahle @jeroenvonk_ @jamespoulter pic.twitter.com/3qpDPclrAq— Kane Simms (@kanesimms) January 14, 2020
Ok, but here are my five key takeaways from spending almost a week in – this time – sunny Chattanooga.
1) Voice Assistants will get out of people’s homes
In 2019 we’ve seen a few headlines related to the idea of getting Alexa and other voice assistants out of the safe-zone of people’s homes. Car manufacturers announced to support Alexa, Google Assistant or to provide custom voice assistants in their next-gen vehicles. I still remember the amazing Super Bowl Commercial of Mercedes-Benz. And then there was this crazy hardware event from Amazon where they announced a bunge of new device (categories) which will be Alexa-enabled. At Project Voice I’ve heard people talking about these on-the-go-situations for voice usage a lot. At least adapting to the users‘ context was a key message in several sessions. That doesn’t only include to have voice assistants in new hardware, it also means to take care of voice experiences beyond smart speakers. I shared my excitement for cars as the next habitat for the new generation of voice assistants and I faced a few proofs for my vision in Chattanooga. The guys from Mercedes Benz demonstrated their #HeyMercedes in an all-new GLB at the accompanying fair, the commute-gaming startup Drivetime shared their story in a dedicated session, my friends from What3Words showed up and design for in-car voice experiences was covered by a few voice professionals such as Braden Ream from the Voiceflow crew. 2020 could be the breakthrough for voice assistants in cars – and with 500.000.000 active monthly users of the Google Assistant voice assistants seem to work pretty good on mobile phones as well.
2) Rise of marketing campaigns with Voice assistants
In Germany we learned not to wait for new features to be released for our local market. We had to work on our own solutions and workarounds to keep track with the innovations on voice assistants. You never know if a feature will make it to your market and if the user experience is matching your aspirations. We did so as ISP has been announced in the US – we came up with the idea of a online-shop where you buy voice codes which can be entered in an Alexa skill to unlock hidden features. We knew that there’s friction in the funnel but we thought: „At this stage it’s the only way to sell digital goods via voice. Let’s give it a try.“
At Project Voice we’ve seen large corporations and also specialized providers of integrated marketing solutions where voice meets the world of smartphones, emails and customized landing pages related to your recent conversation with a voice assistant. I love it! With voicesales.io we tried to push the boundaries of voice marketing starting in 2018 and now we see that other professionals found even more, new and innovative ideas to make voice assistants part of a user journey. Way to go!
Sam Warnaars from Merkle in the Netherlands demonstrated some of these new approaches. Another example comes from Whetstone Technologies who also found ways to monetize voice traffic with their SoniBridge tool.
3) Yes, you can live from running a Voice business
Voice developers and professionals in the US are in the voice game for more than 4 years now. In Germany look back on more than 3 years of experience. There are still a lot people who think you can live from this business solely. Project Voice showed once more the opposite. Studios like Matchbox.io, Labworks, a lot of individual developers and agencies like Vixen Labs and our own business 169 Labs are maintaining a serious business out of Voice technologies. Some of us are already managing a team of 10+ people.
4) SaaS & solutions providers thriving for momentum in voice
Walking through the exhibition area at Project Voice was stunning. Compared to 2017 or 2018 we see that voice impacts many verticals – like at Voice Summit – the expo was packed with platform providers (e.g. Alexa, Bixby, Soundhound), voice over providers, solutions provider (like Voiceflow, Whetstone, etc.), studios, agencies, car manufacturers (e.g. Mercedes-Benz) and many more. For us it’s amazing to see that the effected markets are flourishing.
5) Europe is close to US market development
The discussion at our »Voice Tech Abroad« panel kept my mind busy when we left the stage. On one hand we see a lot of technical limitations to build compelling voice experience as UK and US developers are able to. On the other hand I noticed once again that Europe is very close to the US state of voice when it comes to strategy, execution and creativity! Unfortunately there weren’t so much nominees or winners from the European market during the Awards celebration on Wednesday evening. The reason – from our view – is not that there aren’t many successful developers or executed cases. Sometimes a closer look to the markets abroad are missing – that’s too bad in our opinion. Let’s replace one of the 31 one categories with awards for other markets (Europe, India, China, …)?! What do you think?
On the last day of the Conference when people where chatting about VoiceFirst.community and it’s collaboration with the Open Voice Network the dutch guys Maarten Lens-Fitzgerald (@dutchcowboy), Jeroen Vonk and Sam Warnaars (@warnaars) and me were having a related lunch discussion (somewhere next to the airport of Chattanooga – amazing Tex-Mex food) with one main outcome: let’s go on with a periodically European „panel“ (Online, In person, at conferences,. …). We’ll definitely keep you posted about our idea to support and push the European exchange of knowledge, best practices and general market updates.
Conclusion: I (Tim) really enjoyed being at Project Voice – it is always an outstanding experience to see so much enthusiastic people who are „all in“ for a shared passion. To run into people who already know what you are working on (Agency, Conference, etc.) and who show you their appreciation is balm for the soul! Thank you guys. We’ll see you at Voice Summit and next year’s Project Voice – hopefully with more German and European participation. We are still spreading the word here!
And two more pro-tips for your next conference experience:
Tip 1) Grab some people and do something completely off-track like visiting a cave with an incredible underground waterfall! 😉 Change the environment – not only at aftershow pub crawls! You’ll gain great insights and it really strengthens your relationship to other humans who generally share your passion for (at least) the same business area / technology. It widens your horizon – personally and for your business. And why not mix business and private activities like a Voice Tour organized by »Pretzel Labs Voice Tours Inc« (hahaha)! Thank you Adva for that great idea!
Tip 2) Attend at least one session or presentation which you normally would not attend. Something completely new for you where you know nothing about. One confession: At #ProjectVoice I didn’t have time to do so but I did that a couple of times at other conferences and I loved it because you learn something new and often you’ll get fresh impulses for one of your current or next projects.