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Paddy Power try out some new Features on the Amazon Echo

Thursday, Jan 4, 2018 10:30

Recently the marketing and development team over at Paddy Power have decided to try their hand at one of the fastest growing emergent technologies in the sphere of personal assistance, voice interfaces. The looked to the most popular of these, Amazon’s Echo device and its built-in personality ‘Alexa’.

At the Festival of Marketing this morning Paddy Power’s product innovation manager, Stephen McMeel, gave an insight into the betting firm’s own experiments with Alexa apps called ‘skills’. Mr McMeel said that when it comes to voice interfaces, brands need to consider use cases that take into account context around time, location, and who might also be around. Gambling is an inherently personal experience, and customers might not want Alexa to announce to their whole family that they just won £1,000. Furthermore, as of yet, Amazon doesn’t currently allow skills that enable people to win real money.

McMeel explained that there are two different types of Alexa skills – custom skills and flash briefing skills.Flash briefing skills are simple to create and just require some content for Alexa to read out to the user. For example, Paddy Power’s flash briefing is a 90-second news clip spoken by an Irishman.

Custom skills require brands to jump through a few more sign-off hoops with Amazon but can include more complex functionality. Paddy Power’s custom skill trialled four different functions (including the flash briefing element):

  • A daily 10-second gambling tip
  • The aforementioned 90-second news bulletin
  • Gambling results feed
  • Football and horse racing podcast

The Trial


To create some buzz around the launch and encourage people to start using the skill, Paddy Power ran a PR campaign called ‘Future Fifty’. The company sent Alexa Dot devices and Paddy Power goodies to 50 prominent customers and journalists, prompting them to take part in a month-long trial of the custom skill.

The idea was to track usage of the four functions and see which ones proved to be most popular. The Future Fifty participants were invited to join a WhatsApp group in case they had any questions about how to use the skill.

User feedback included:

  • Paddy’s Story was the most used feature
  • The Football Podcast was rated as the best feature
  • Alexa struggled to understand the names of different racetracks

Recommended improvements included:
  • Add content for different sports
  • Live commentary on matches
  • Ability to check odds

Paddy Power was also able to identify clear differences in usage patterns between the custom skill and the flash briefing. The latter is clearly used as part of people’s morning routines.

Key lessons


As is traditional, Stephen finished with some key takeaways:
1. Voice is hard.

People ask for things in different ways, there are literally thousands of variations for the same command. Working out how to understand all these commands and get users from A to B without causing delays or frustration is still a huge challenge.

2. Start with a flash briefing.

Brands can easily get started on Alexa by creating a flash briefing. It’s a great place to begin testing and learning with Alexa, all you need is content.

3. People wanted content over transactions.

The screen is still a vital part of any online transaction. People want to see what they are buying before making a purchase or placing a bet.

It will be many years before people are willing to place all their trust in AI and voice interfaces.

4. Command & control.

Most successful voice apps are functional. For example, Ikea wouldn’t have much success with an elaborate app that tried to recreate the whole catalogue, but it could quickly give updates on a customer’s order status.

What’s next?


Paddy Power is currently taking stock of user feedback and plans to roll out a new and improved Alexa skill in the new year.

According to Stephen: “Voice is a huge opportunity and will be massive in the future. At the moment nobody has got close to what voice can be and will be, there’s lots of potential there and it’s absolutely a journey worth taking.” Ultimately he sees AI and voice interfaces being present in all of Paddy Power’s customer touchpoints, both online and offline, but that journey begins with trials on platforms like Alexa.