Andrew Morgan, ICS: Engaging bettors through the power of voice

As 2019 approaches, the methods used by operators to engage bettors continue to evolve, with the importance of maximising every platform becoming increasingly valuable.

We caught up with Andrew Morgan, International Director at Independent Content Services, who emphasised why sportsbook operators must consider voice as an integral part of 2019 marketing plans.

SBC: What does “voice” mean when it comes to the way online bookmakers market their brands?

Andrew Morgan: “Voice” in this regard refers to personal assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home. They are activated by human voice and the user can ask questions which the assistant will answer. Voice is considered to be one of the most powerful technologies of the future as the scale and scope of artificial intelligence and machine learning are further explored and developed.

For online sportsbook operators, voice provides an additional touchpoint through which they can engage and communicate with new and existing punters. It can be used to acquire and retain players, and deliver additional value through a platform/medium that can be accessed and interacted with, without having to lift a finger – literally.

SBC: How can voice be used to engage and educate punters? What additional value does it bring over other marketing methods?

AM: It can be used to deliver up-to-the-minute news and information about all sports, tournaments, teams and players. This includes different odds and markets, as well as the performance and form of athletes, horses, etc. Punters can then use this information to make informed decisions about the bets they place.

The additional value comes through the convenience voice provides. Consumers simply ask their personal assistant a question and they receive an answer almost instantly. They don’t need to open an app or type their question into a search engine – they just use their voice – meaning they can also find out information while performing other tasks such as washing up or washing the car.

SBC: Why have we yet to see the majority of bookmakers embrace voice? What challenges does it present?

AM: The biggest drawback with voice is that, at present, placing a real-money wager through platforms such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home is prohibited. For operators looking to streamline marketing spend, voice does not deliver the same ROI as other activities that lead to players directly making a wager.

The other challenge is one of environment; while consumers are getting used to voice and personal assistants, most do not want their device announcing to the world that they are looking into the best odds for Manchester City to win the Premier League, for example.

That said, we have seen a couple of operators experiment with voice – Paddy Power dabbled with the technology last year and Kindred Group recently announced that its Kindred Futures innovation lab had launched a “pioneering” voice betting prototype.

It is just a prototype at this stage and is not available to consumers, but it is encouraging to see more operators playing around with voice.

SBC: How can the challenges be overcome?

AM: Challenges can be overcome by better understanding what the technology can be used for, and considering it as a content marketing tool rather than resulting in direct action. At this stage, voice is all about building brand awareness and trust among bettors, and providing them with added value.

We have already seen bookmakers become content powerhouses in order to compete with sports news publishers and other media outlets. Most now have dedicated content hubs where punters can read match previews and reviews, as well as analytical articles and interviews. Some have even extended this to include audio and video content.

Voice is an extension of this and will be a major acquisition channel in the future as the technology enters the mainstream. Just Eat, Morrisons, Fitbit and National Rail are some of the big-name brands that have already developed and launched Skills for Amazon Alexa and understand the increasing role it will play in our lives moving forward.

SBC: Can you give an example of how operators can use voice in practice?

AM: ICS has developed an Alexa Skill that provides up-to-the-minute news on all English Premier League teams as well as the latest live match updates and reports from all the games that take place during the season.

It also provides news for other major sports such as golf, tennis and rugby along with a daily betting tip. This is just the start, and we have a lot more planned for the Skill as we better understand the technology and its capabilities.

Take horseracing, for example. It is possible for users to look up the latest price of a horse based on the date, meeting and time of the off.

By connecting the Skill to our BeforeTheOff.com database, we can also provide information on whether a particular horse has been backed and the probability of its success based on previous form.

Punters can access this information without having to lift a finger. This feeds into consumer desire to be able to access the information they require in real time, and as easily and seamlessly as possible.

SBC: What would you say to operators considering voice?

AM: I would encourage them to invest in the technology now in order to fully understand its capabilities before it enters the mainstream. Voice may be limited for the time being, but I believe we will see the day when it is possible to place a wager through a personal assistant such as Google Home.

Sportsbook operators that have an established voice audience will then be able to flick the switch and instantly reap the rewards. Of course, in the meantime they will also be building incredible brand equity and loyalty. It’s a win-win, really.