Over the last month, media consumption patterns have peaked. Traffic to news media websites has skyrocketed, and television viewing has increased, according to comScore. Gaming platforms all over the world have seen a spike in traffic with record numbers of players, according to Entertainment Weekly and a Verizon report. And increasing numbers of consumers are turning to radio, a recent Nielsen survey found. “Americans are already spending almost 12 hours each day with media, and that time could grow by 60 per cent among those who stay indoors,” according to Nielsen.
Voice-enabled platforms are also seeing an uptick in use, as significant portions of the global population find themselves staying home amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
At Meredith Corporation, Allrecipes’ Alexa skill and Real Simple’s Relax skill have seen a steep increase in number of sessions, unique users and first time users for over the past 30 days, according to Rachel Reed, the senior innovation manager at Meredith, who oversees voice platforms.
Meredith’s goal has always been to make sure they’re delivering content to audiences through their medium of choice, and they want to make sure their brands are connecting with audiences in the ways that they want to connect, Reed explained.
“More and more, voice is really becoming a key pillar of this omnichannel presence,” she said. “Voice unlocks an entirely new channel for us, not just of delivery but of creation. So, we can build these custom experiences with our audiences in mind for each of our different platforms, and deliver something really unique and compelling that we can’t create across other mediums.”
Prior to the pandemic, people would use voice assistants for music, for timers, for the weather, but now that a vast majority of people are staying home, they’re figuring out what else these devices can do.
“Now, many of us have the luxury of all of this time in our homes, and people are exploring what their voice devices can do, and we’re seeing a big increase in usage,” Reed explained.
People are starting to spend more time talking to their Alexa or Google Assistant, and discovering all of the content capabilities that exist, Reed said. “With our voice experiences, we have seen a really steady increase in users during quarantine. And I think that’s attributable to a couple of different factors: One, so many of us now have one or more voice assistants in our homes, and two, we now have time at home to actually use and experiment with them.”
The use of voice-enabled platforms has grown exponentially over the last number of years, and is growing worldwide. According to eMarketer, 33.8 per cent of the population in the US use a voice assistant monthly. “In 2019, we estimate that 111.8 million people in the US will use a voice assistant at least monthly, up 9.5 per cent from last year,” wrote Principal Analyst Victoria Petrock in an eMarketer report. Use of voice assistants is expected to triple to eight billion by 2023, according to a forecast by Juniper Research.
Meredith built voice experiences for their home and lifestyle brands, creating skills for Allrecipes, Entertainment Weekly, Health, and Real Simple. “The experiences we’ve built are well-suited to this work from home, live from home, everything from home environment. Whether it’s helping you get dinner prepared based on the ingredients you have on hand, or encouraging you to unwind and reset with a meditation, the experiences lend themselves really nicely to the current climate,” Reed said.
The Allrecipes Alexa skill, which launched in 2017, has seen the most growth during the pandemic period, seeing the highest traffic and the number of users. Over the last 30 days, between March 15 and April 15, Reed has seen a 67 per cent increase in the number of sessions, a 45 per cent increase in first time users, and an 80 per cent increase in the number of unique users.
“The week of March 22, as the reality of our ‘new normal’ began to sink in, we saw nearly double the number of new users enable the Allrecipes skill than we saw in the week leading up to Thanksgiving, which is historically the highest traffic period of the year. So that data point alone was huge for us,” Reed said.
The other skill Meredith has seen an increase in usage is Real Simple’s Relax Alexa skill, which introduces Meredith’s audience to the benefits of a consistent meditation practice. Over the past 30 days, there has been an 84 per cent increase in sessions, a 74 per cent increase in unique users, and a 70 per cent increase in first time users.
“The 1 March launch date for this skill had been planned for awhile, and we were in development for a number of months before launch. With everything changing so drastically since then, we feel like this experience is something really positive for our audience in this moment,” Reed explained. “Because now more than ever, people want to find ways to reduce anxiety and stress and put themselves at ease.”
One area that Reed and her team have been paying attention to, given the current situation, is that voice platforms provide a direct feedback loop. Unlike digital platforms which can offer insight into what users are interested in via measurements like bounce rate, voice platforms can document moments of verbal dissonance where consumers are asking for something and the skill mightn’t have the answer, Reed explained.
“With voice, we can literally listen in on the questions that our audiences are asking us and then build answers for the questions they’re asking that we can’t currently answer,” she said. “It quickly gives us a really valuable insight. What does our audience wish that we were providing them? That’s definitely something that’s unique to the voice medium, and something that we’ve been paying close attention to, especially given all that’s going on right now.”
Insight into audience consumption
Data points from their Alexa skills have allowed Reed and her team to look at different consumer consumption habits during this global pandemic.
“As we think of content creation during the pandemic, we want to make sure our content offers an escape, or creates a sense of community, or provides utility. Through voice skills, we’re really able to lend a helping hand, and assist our audiences in navigating how to feed their families or themselves a healthy dinner, or how to find a few minutes to relax and unwind.”
Normally, when a user enters Allrecipes skill they search by cuisine type or dish name, and less than 10 per cent of searches are by ingredient. Now, over the past 30 days, close to 40 per cent of users are beginning the experience searching by ingredient, Reed explained.
“This points to a shift in the way we’re thinking about meal prep and cooking,” she said. “People are changing the way they’re cooking — no one wants to waste the food they have on hand and their options may be limited.”
Top performing recipes, which are the most frequently surfaced recipes, also provide insight into consumer behaviour. Reed said cookies, brownies and cakes have consistently been in the top five recipes over the past week, and when they saw that, they added more dessert content to the skill.
The Allrecipes Alexa skill also has the functionality that users can add ingredients to their shopping list. Reed explained that in the last four weeks, top items in their audience’s shopping lists were staples like sugar and pancake mix.
“That actually aligns with a trend we’ve been seeing on the website indicating that recipes for breakfast foods, especially self serve options like muffins or bars, are on the rise. What we’re seeing people put on their shopping list corresponds with what we’re seeing on site as well. We’re interested to see which of these habits and trends might last beyond the pandemic, and which are just temporary,” Reed said.
The data from Real Simple’s Relax Alexa skill suggest that first time users are spending time with “the primer,” which explains how to sit, relax, and reminds people to put their phone away and on silent. The skill offers short form meditation experiences, each set in different locations including a tropical beach or a blissful rain forest, among others.
“When users return for a second or a third time, we see that they want to jump right into the actual meditation, because they feel like they have a sense of how to set things up and prepare for the meditation,” Reed said. “All of Relax’s meditations seem pretty popular. Most users are listening through to the whole meditation experience, remaining engaged throughout, and then many seem to be coming back for more.”
“I think the fact that we’re seeing so many new users discovering voice experiences for the first time right now could mean that they’ll continue to come back,” Reed said. “They’ll tell their friends about it, we’ll continue to market and promote the experiences and find new audiences, and encourage existing audiences to return. I think traffic and usage will continue to increase, and I’m confident that it’ll stay pretty consistent as things return to normal as well. Once you realize the benefits and the value of voice, that value extends beyond quarantine.”