keynote stage at the Alexa Conference in Chatanooga
PHOTO: Jason Fields

I had the good fortune of attending this year’s Alexa Conference, which took place Jan. 15 through Jan. 17 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Conference attendees were an eclectic mix of roles and responsibilities across the enterprise. I met new business development teams, developers (as to be expected) enthusiasts, VUX (voice user experience) professionals, independent contractors, big brands and, of course, Amazon folk.

Before attending the conference, I fully expected to write a synopsis of the content presented there. But the content was what you would expect it to be — and not in a bad way. We heard about business strategy and UX, development, what works, what doesn’t and sneak previews into what is coming. All of the content, the presenters and the agenda were well thought through and engaging.

But what struck me was an undertone I noticed during the conference: there is still a sense of hope, human kindness and do-goodery within the voice community.

I say "still" because you can trace this theme back through the early adopters of mobile apps and web development technologies. I suspect telephony, radio and television had a similar sentiment when they began.

The dilution of the "we can change the world" sentiment often mirrors societal adoption, as business and enterprise get their hands on a tool and monetize it. It’s just the course of business.

Related Article: It's Time to Get Serious About Voice

Voice for a Cause

Conference founder and organizer Bradley Metrock answered a question in his opening remarks that nearly every participant probably had when they registered that morning: “where is the conference mobile app?” His answer resonated with me and I think others. “We spend enough time on our screens. We want to create opportunities for serendipity to happen, for people to meet and talk. We can’t do that with our heads in our phones, which is going to happen enough anyhow.”

I clutched my printed program a little tighter. My event guide was tactile.

Later in the day I sat in on a session, “How to Crawl Into Your Customer's Ear,” where voice marketing strategist Emily Binder discussed audio marks and logos (think the THX sound, Yahoo! Yodel, etc.). One of the points Binder made, leading to the importance of audio association in the voice channel, was this: a benefit of and perhaps also a goal, is for voice to create a society where we can go heads up again.

In another session, Brian Roemmele, founder and editor of Multiplex Magazine, talked about the idea of "voice" being a companion in our lives. Where it could share lessons our parents and grandparents gleaned at the absolute right critical moment of our lives. Or where it takes even our own knowledge and insights, and reminds us of them when we need them later in life, when we have forgotten what we once knew.

Amy Starnes, director of digital engagement at Best Friends Animal Society, presented a case study describing how the organization supports new pet parents by offering how-tos, support and problem solving through virtual assistant platforms. Could they have skipped that and just asked for a donation? Of course. But they chose instead to be of service and value to their customers, deepening the relationship and creating trust along the way.

case study presented at the 2019 Alexa Conference

Related Article: Searching for Brand Success With Voice Assistants

A Front-Row Seat as the Alexa Conference Grows

The conference had many other moments where human support, empathy, help and life betterment arose. But don’t make the mistake of thinking this conference was a hippy-dippy lovefest. Plenty of business happened on the conference floors. Brilliant startups with game-changing functions, brands investigating and learning how to serve their customer base with "iteration one" and businesses discovering partnerships and opportunities.

Last year the conference was in held in a bursting at the seams Chattanooga Public Library. This year it moved to the convention center, and it was bustling every day of the conference. The Alexa conference will be one to watch as it grows over time. I will definitely be back next year to be part of its evolution and progression.

Oh, and for all of us technophiles — Chattanooga has the fastest internet in the country. In public restaurants I was experiencing 100 up and 100 down. Even today, this is a novelty .…