Amazon Echo

Thanks to voice-powered technology, such as Google Home and Amazon Echo, people have gone from raging against the machines to chatting them up. Now a new Amazon Alexa skill from Hearst will enhance the talk, offering the ability to summon beauty advice direct from the editors of Cosmopolitan, Elle, Marie Claire and more.

“Skills” bring extra features or new content, such as jokes, games, translations and more, that expand capabilities for Alexa-powered devices, like recent addition Sonos and Amazon’s own line of Echo products. Hearst’s skill, announced today, is the first of its kind for the smart speaker by a major magazine publisher.

“My Beauty Chat” covers roundtable discussions from some of the publisher’s beauty editors, formatted as two briefs — one in the morning and another in the evening — plus beauty advice aimed at the female consumer. The new skill is sponsored by L’Oréal.

The timing plugs into “[that] 10 minutes of alone time that they have in the day, with the crazy stress of everything,” said Leah Wyar, Hearst’s chief beauty director. “We’re trying to merge the educational piece of this with the entertainment piece of it.” She described the content as something like a new variation on podcasts, complete with its own editorial calendar and staffed by the world’s leading authorities from the company’s editorial ranks.

“What we loved is putting all these beauty people together, with so many different points of view,” she said. “The beauty editors are the original influencers and storytellers in this space.” Editors from Elle, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire and O, The Oprah Magazine will lend their expertise to the voice platform, with representatives from the company’s other women’s magazines dropping by in guest spots.

The voice-powered beauty content leads the company’s latest Alexa-based charm offensive. Hearst, which previously launched skills with O, Good Housekeeping and Elle, has a new spate of voice skills in the works.

At its fifth annual MagFront presentation, which offers early glimpses at upcoming projects, Hearst revealed a plan to roll out a string of new Alexa skills over the coming year, starting with My Beauty Chat on Nov. 1. “Imagine My Style Chat. Imagine My Home Chat. We are already in the planning [stage] of releasing those in the subsequent months,” said Michael Clinton, president of Hearst. “We won’t stop with beauty. We’ll move into style and home and other areas.”

For Clinton, the move falls perfectly in line with the publisher’s focus on emerging technologies, functioning as “an extension of our overall philosophy.” That modus operandi made it one of the first brands to jump into Snapchat and partner with Facebook Watch, the social giant’s video hub. “We have always been first movers,” he added. “We view voice as another emerging platform that’s important for our brands to live on. So we’re always first to jump in, and establish some editorial footing on the emerging platforms with our brands.”

The project’s beginnings go back to the start of the year, at the Consumer Electronics Show, which featured an “Alexa takeover.” That was also where Clinton met with Marie Gulin-Merle, chief marketing officer for L’Oréal, which he describes as another “first mover.” The meeting led to the cosmetics company sponsoring the project. Hearst also worked closely with Amazon itself to bring its beauty skill to life.

“We’re excited to see new editorial content for Alexa,” said Rob Pulciani of Amazon Alexa. “We think that voice will continue to play a bigger role in the future as customers consume news and media. The My Beauty Chat skill gives Alexa customers a new format for receiving their daily beauty download — all they have to do is ask Alexa.”

Hearst’s attention to voice may put it in a prime position as the technology becomes even more firmly rooted in the consumer experience. “Voice is going to be much more of a game changer than anybody thinks,” said Karsten Weide, program vice president, media and entertainment for research firm IDC. “Most of the interaction we have with computers today is by keyboards. There’s only one reason consumers use a keyboard at all: They must. And once they don’t have to anymore, they won’t.”

That may play into the rise of “conversational commerce,” with Amazon leading the charge. “Everything’s going to be voice, and who controls that platform?” Weide said. “Looks like 80 percent controlled by Amazon, 20 percent by Google….It will change the way we interact with the physical world.”

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