If you’re a small business and you’re not sure how or why to add voice to your digital marketing strategy, CEO of Data Driven Design, Paul Hickey explains exactly how it can help you. He talks about how and why he’s such a fan of digital marketing, the voice skills he’s created, how he’s helping small and mid size businesses create a voice skill that meets their needs and how he’s educating the business community in his content and conference.
Keri Roberts: Hi Inside Voice Podcast listeners, this is your co-host Keri Roberts, and today my guest is Paul Hickey, the founder and CEO of Data Driven Design and the founder of the Nashville Voice Conference. Paul, thank you so much for having me.
Paul: You’re welcome Keri, thank you so much for having me. This is very exciting. I’m super geeked up about voice and just super excited to talk to you today. Thanks again!
Keri: Yes, and I know that you started your career journey in the Sports and PR World. And in the amount of years that you spent there, what did you learn about marketing that made you want to focus on digital marketing, and now voice, specifically.
Paul: Yeah, I was a sports geek growing up as a kid. I followed all the stats and used to pretend to be an announcer, and played all sorts of sports. I was in the NBA for seven years and had a great experience there. Mainly in Detroit with the Pistons. I learned just about everything that I could possibly learn about business at that time. At first it was a lot of writing and sports information. Then, it quickly grew into marketing and learning how you can provide value to other organizations, using your own, let’s call them “assets.”
And monetize things, sell sponsorships and sell tickets. Really, it was all building relationships. And because it was all building relationships and understanding what’s valuable to other people, and what’s going to put them in a position to succeed, and creating things, situations or deliverables that they can get excited about first, it became really, really easy to essentially accomplish my goals and my organization’s goals.
So professional sports was fast-paced, high-pressure, high-visibility type stuff. But it was really business at it’s core. So I find that a lot of what I do today, mirrors that experience, in understanding what the client’s goals are.
I mean, we’re really in the business of understanding what other businesses’ goals are, and then helping them implement solutions to achieve those goals.
So, I think, in many ways, my early-career experience definitely still helps me today.
Keri: Now why did you decide to start adding voice to the type of things that you do? And I know you have created quite a few voice skills and flash briefings. So I’d love to hear how you got into that, how you created them, what they are, and if you could tell us what’s working well with them, and what still needs improvement as you continue on.
Paul: So as you know, our name is Data Driven Design, and that name came from really wanting to be more efficient with everyone’s time. So, in other words, we used to get a lot of opinions. These opinions would bog us down when trying to make user experience design decisions for whatever project or engagement we were working on and whatever deliverables we were building.
And so we quickly moved to, “okay, what does the data say?” And how can we use, whether it’s Google Analytics, Heatmapping or A/B Testing; how can we use the data to make our business decisions and design decisions and help our clients.
Getting into voice was really as simple as looking at the data and just seeing the growing numbers of people who are getting their information from smart speakers and voice assistants.
The growth of smart speaker usage since 2017 has been huge, especially Alexa, and so we started challenging ourselves to understand what the other ways we can help our clients get on platforms where their audiences will be. Voice quickly skyrocketed to the top of the list towards the end of 2018.
Since June of 2018 we really started building a lot of Flash Briefings and Custom Voice Apps, Alexa Skills, Google Actions, etc.
Keri: So can you tell us some of the Voice Skills that you’ve created, and did you do that yourself, did you use another application, I’d love to hear kind of your process in building those.
Paul: Yeah for sure, so at first it was myself as the owner of the company. We’re a smaller company; we have about 10 people. So when you have about 10 people, you can get a lot done, but when you’re introducing a new service offering or trying to introduce a new service offering, it literally is me, myself, figuring it out on my own. Kind of being self-taught in a lot fo ways.
So at first it was me, building flash briefings by myself, and then it quickly materialized into meeting with my CTO, Joe Wallace, and trying to figure out what the best way is to code a custom Alexa Skill from scratch, because there were some things that we wanted to start to achieve.
Eventually we found tools like Voiceflow, Engage By Voice, and there’s a tool that we just launched called The Voice Designer (at thevoicedesigner.com).
These three tools are all essentially ways to build Alexa Skills and Google Actions without coding.
So initially it was building them myself and with our CTO, and then it very quickly materialized into “okay, what’s the goal for the project or the goal for the client,” and then based on those goals, and how we want the user to be able to interact with the skill and what we want the users to be able to do, then we identify the tool we’re going to use to build it.
And I’ll say Voiceflow is a big one for us, and again Engage By Voice has some great templates you can use. We do sometime use Amazon Alexa Blueprints; not necessarily for client skills, but maybe sometimes for some skills we’d be using internally, or to just create content on, and then our own tool obviously we’re found of – The Voice Designer, so yeah I’m happy to talk in more detail about all of that as well. But that’s the general overview of how we get started and how we’re building Alexa Skills and Google Actions today.
Keri: One of the things I hear over and over again from people in Voice is, there’s still the issue of educating people who don’t know so much about voice, what it is, and what it does, so I’m curious how you as an individual and as a business owner within this space…
How do you showcase the value and importance of voice that aren’t quite sure what it is yet, or how it could work for them?
Paul: Totally, and I love this conversation because I had to challenge myself to think, how do I even make this voice thing relevant to business owners, because the reality is for me in our business is that our clients are mainly either small to midsize level business owners, that we’re talking directly to and they’re making the purchasing decision, or a lot of times, I would say the other half of our audience stakeholder would be like the VP of Marketing at a mid-level regional company. So they all kind of fall into the bucket of not having huge marketing or operations budgets. They have some money to spend, but they need to spend it super-wisely, and they’re really more focused on what is currently on their plate.
So that typically covers their website and maybe the upcoming quarter’s digital marketing initiatives related to social media, SEO, and maybe even print and outdoor, to be honest with you. And so, we don’t do any print or outdoor, we just stick to digital, but introducing voice, I knew was going to be kind of a marathon, so the first couple things we decided to do:
1. Build an Alexa Skill called Ask Data Driven Design. So, Ask Data Driven Design is a custom Alexa Skill that allows our clients to ask Alexa how their web traffic is doing, and it’s integrated with their Google Analytics account. The reason why we decided to do this first, is because our main differentiator when earning any kind of business, is that we use data. And so, our clients love that we use Google Analytics; they’re all about it. But when it came down to it, they were less inclined to use it themselves than they were to have us consult and have us show them the data and explain what it means. So knowing that a voice app can really save a lot of time, I said to the VP of Marketing or Business Owner; understanding that you don’t want to have to log into a platform and look at your data, would you ask Alexa about your data? And they all were like “100% yes” and got really excited.
So to really introduce voice as a possibility to businesses and to create a differentiator for us, we created Ask Data Driven Design and we give it away to anyone who does business with us, and they also get a branded Echo Dot with Data Driven Design branding on it. So it’s a way to provide additional value and it was a good way to give ourselves a project and challenge ourselves to create a skill with account linking and third party integrations like Google Analytics.
2. The second thing we did was the Nashville Voice Conference. I said, okay, “I love doing marketing workshops.” Marketing workshops in front of 10-20 business owners and marketers are fun and very useful and mutually beneficial. And what if I do what that’s a little bit larger, but just around Voice? So in 2019, we did the inaugural Nashville Voice Conference. That was a hit, and now we’re doing Nashville Voice Conference 2020 on August 7, 2020 at the Nashville Entrepreneur Center. So that event is just solely focused on how businesses can become more efficient and effective through integrating an Alexa Skill or Google Action or both into their operations or marketing strategy.
Keri: Well, Paul, I have to congratulate you because everything you just said was not only so smart but it really fits into your vision of data driven design and voice, because you did exactly what you said. You looked at your own data, you did some research, you asked questions and you said how can I use voice in a way that’s going to benefit my organization as well as my potential clients in a way that I can use it for marketing. You’re bringing it to people, you’re showcasing it to them. You’re right. Google Analytics, if anyone has ever looked at it, it can be very overwhelming. The amount of numbers that are there; not sure what to look at, or what’s important. Even if you put it into a spreadsheet, it can be a lot for anyone. I think what’s great about your skill that you’re talking about is you can ask, what’s going on with it, what has been my increase in web traffic. Those are the things people truly care about, so I love that you created this from your whole Ethos of what you’re talking about. And it’s a great way to showcase it, and then you’re also having this conference to answer questions and to teach more. So, very, very smart. I think that’s very well done, and for anyone listening I think it’s a great way to really showcase how voice can work for you and for potential clients for those that are unsure. So, really, really nice job, Paul.
Paul: Thanks Keri, yeah, I appreciate that, and you’re right. You hit on a really good point there because with Ask Data Driven Design we basically just took the five main questions that we always get asked and we always answer and that’s where we started. So to anyone who is starting an application; especially a voice-based application, I would encourage you to start with something simple as a minimum viable product and then add onto it from there.
Keri: Can you give us some examples of some clients you’ve created voice apps for; or even if you want to talk about your own, and the data it’s showing and how it’s kind of growing for them.
Paul: Yeah, absolutely. So one in particular. I’d love to give a shout out to a woman named Carmen Johnston, she’s a great person and she’s a client of ours. We’ve launched and are continuing to work on an Alexa Skill (and a Google Action) for Carmen Johnston Gardens (that’s the name of her business). I think this is a great example to kind of bring everything together. So she’s a small business owner and she’s also building a personal brand around her very successful business.
She’s in landscape design mainly, but she is also a master gardener, she’s putting out a lot of content around home and garden tips, recipes. We kind of joke around and kind of call her like a mini-Martha Stewart. So she’s a content creator, but really a service provider to her clients.
So we’ve worked with her and she has challenged us to build an Alexa Skill with video capabilities.
This is what happens when you really build good relationships with really good people. She noticed in her data that her audience is inclined to be around the home and ask Alexa or Google for some information, but then want to see it on video, visually, as they work around the house and it would allow them to be doing something else around the house. So it’s that frictionless experience with voice, but then it becomes multi-modal with the ability to see a video and even touch the screen like you can on the Echo Show and so-on, and so we’re really, really proud of this one. We’ve launched the skill, called Ask Carmen Johnston Gardens. You can ask Alexa to pull up video how-to tips for home and garden, recipes, holiday gift ideas, and things like that that Carmen specializes in.
The really cool thing is, Keri, that it doesn’t stop there. Because as anyone listening probably knows, Voice is changing so rapidly. From the different things you can do in Alexa Presentation Language (APL) to the ability to integrate Amazon Pay, even the ability to have Carmen say things like “if you enjoyed this tip, you can add this product we were using to your Amazon cart…” You can account link it; make it searchable and just have this entire library of robust content that is very useful to her target audience in this case around the house, in the yard, out in the garden and really being efficient around the home and entertaining and having guest over.
It’s really fascinating to work with people who really get it, and understand how voice can be part of the overall brand experience.
Keri: Can you share with us; I’m not sure how long ago you created that for her, but can you share with us how her or her clients have interacted with it. What do they have to say? What is the data saying from that standpoint?
Paul: For those of you listening; all you have to say is “Alexa, launch Carmen Johnston Gardens” and you’ll get an opening menu will allow you to navigate to different pieces of content. Another thing I really like that we did was we replaced Alexa’s voice with Carmen’s voice. Since Carmen has a great presence about her and so I think that makes for an even better, more improved experience. There are custom intents built in, and so with the main custom intents you can skip directly to holiday tips, home and garden tips, or recipes, by saying “Alexa, ask Carmen Johnston Gardens for Recipes” or “Alexa, ask Carmen Johnston Gardens for Holiday Tips.”
And then, Keri, we have built in close to one hundred different custom intents for users to be able to skip directly to different pieces of content. To go find those, you can go to CarmenJohnstonGardens.com/voice. We’ve just basically listed them out there and that’s going to be like – along with integrating promotions into her social media, her Instagram, email marketing and things like that – we’re going to use that page and her existing digital presence as a way to educate her audience on how to use the skill and what to ask the skill.
@carmenjohnstongardens on Instagram, it’s Johnston with a “T” and carmenjohnstongardens.com/voice. Those are good places to go check out her Alexa Skill.
Keri: That’s great. So you’re using the data; not only what you’re getting back from the Voice Skill, but you’re integrating it with the website, with the Google Analytics and with the social media presence and kind of looking at all the access points as to how people are finding out about it, interacting with it, and then can use that to kind of make it better every time.
Paul: That’s right, and then the other thing I’ll add to that, because that is a great question you asked about data. So in the Amazon Alexa Developer Console, right now, they do give you some data on – I would liken it to sort of Google Analytics’ top viewed pages. It’s kind of like that where you can go in and see how many users are using the skill, and when they’ve used the skill.
You can also see the most popular content and top custom intents used. We actually just got out of a meeting today with my team and Carmen’s team and basically part of the conversation was around – how do we continue to manage the skill? And you’re exactly right, what we’re going to do is where going to be looking at – as we add new pieces of content – and as we decide what to feature as custom intents, we’re going to use the data from the Amazon Developer Console that tells us what’s being listened to most often and what’s being engaged with most often to make our decisions.
And then on the Ask Data Driven Design Alexa Skill, we actually built that out of the gate with Account Linking so it’s got a backend web-based dashboard that tells us – if you were to use it for example to check the web analytics of voicesummit.ai – we can see how many times you used it, and what questions you asked it, so that we can take the steps to improve it, based on how you used it, for example.
Keri: You said earlier that you started Nashville Voice Conference in 2019. Can you tell us a little bit more about it, and how it differs from the other conferences that are out there?
Paul: Yeah, totally. So it differs from the other conferences that are out there in a few main ways. One is that it’s strictly about using voice for business. It really doesn’t touch at all on voice for gaming or voice for home use, smart home, different things like that.
It’s strictly for like, if I’m a realtor for example, what kind of Alexa Skill could I build to differentiate my business?
If I’m in healthcare, or if I’m in big Pharma, you know, whatever vertical I’m in, should I be looking at something like a voice-based intranet and building it as an Alexa For Business Private Skill?
It’s really only those kinds of discussions.
Another thing that I’m proud of about the Nashville Voice Conference – and we’re going to do some different versions of this in 2020 – we built like 50 Alexa Flash Briefings at the conference for real businesses that attended – so that we could actually show the attendees how to create, manage and add content to their flash briefing while they were there.
So first, it’s strictly business-focused. Second, it’s really practical and tactical.
So we had an opening keynote, but then we got right into these workshops and got stuff done.
Those are two differentiators about the Nashville Voice Conference that I’m proud of.
Keri: Wonderful, if people want to get a hold of you about working with you or being a part of the Nashville Voice Conference, what’s the best way to do that?
Paul: Well, if they’re ready to work with me, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. But if they just want to learn more, visit DataOverOpinions.com or NashvilleVoiceConference.com.