Alexa Will Return to Butterball’s Thanksgiving Roster in 2020

Lisa Johnston
Lisa Johnston profile picture

Under more normal circumstances, there are few greater domestic pressures than orchestrating Thanksgiving dinner. 

Ninety percent of Americans celebrate Thanksgiving with a special meal, according to American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual survey, with turkey cited as a staple for 95% of them in 2019.

It’s the true Super Bowl holiday for many consumer goods brands, and when the stuffing hits the fan, who are you going to call?

Alexa, obviously.

The Butterball brand has been helping panicked home chefs since 1981 with its Turkey Talk-Line, engaging with consumers by serving as a coach — or sometimes a therapist — while cooking the Big Meal.

But as consumer behavior modernizes, so too must engagement. With consumers putting down their telephones in favor of smartphones, the turkey giant has evolved along with them, offering help via web chat, texting, tweeting and now voice technology.

Butterball first teamed with digital consultancy Mobiquity to introduce a skill for Amazon Alexa devices for Thanksgiving 2018. Recording 10,000 sessions that year, the brand, which is co-owned by Seaboard Foods, deemed it a success and brought it back for 2019.

Sessions climbed to 16,000 during the Thanksgiving 2019 period, with over 45,000 urgent questions posed, and Butterball has confirmed it will bring it back for 2020.  

“We really felt like it was a natural way to extend the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, the ability to help consumers, and even bring the Talk-Line into the homes of holiday cooks when they need help the most,” Rebecca Welch, Butterball senior brand manager, told CGT.

There are myriad benefits to engaging with consumers via voice technology, use of which has grown dramatically in homes. About 60 million people in the United States currently own a smart speaker, according to NPR and Edison Research’s 2020 Smart Audio Report, or about 24% of U.S. adults — up from 21% the previous year.

Overheard from Alexa: Butterball Pep Talk

All right cooks bring it in.

It's the day we've been waiting for: the big dinner.

I've run this day over 100 times in my head and it always ends the same way: delicious turkey, happy guests and a whole lot of thanks.

Forget the wishbone. You don't need luck. This turkey was made for a cook like you. You hear me?

Now get out there and host like a boss!

Now Gobble on three:


Gobble! Gobble! Gobble!

Smart speakers bring a host of advantages their analog counterparts lack. For one thing, it’s potentially less embarrassing to ask Alexa a question than a real person (or to broadcast it across the Twitterverse). There are no busy signals, hold times or operating hours, and you don’t have to worry what to do with the phone or keyboard when you’re elbow-deep in salmonella.

Mobiquity guided Butterball through the process of building the initial Alexa skill, including determining the logical format of which questions should be asked. The company leveraged Butterball’s infamous turkey information binders, which harken back to the first days of the Talk-Line, as well as the Butterball University training series all Talk-Line experts must complete.  

Armed with this information, the Butterball Alexa skill was developed, with the smart assistant able to answer such question as:  

  • How do I pick a turkey?
  • How long will it take to thaw my turkey?
  • How do I roast/grill/fry/smoke a turkey?
  • How do I carve/baste/brine a turkey?
  • How do I know when my turkey is done?
  • Where should I put the meat thermometer?
  • How do I tell if my turkey has gone bad?
  • What should I be thankful for?

While Alexa responds to some questions, others are answered by bona fide Butterball Turkey Talk-Line experts. They also tell jokes, relay trivia, tell stories about their most memorable calls for help, and even deliver rousing pep talks.

Consumers with an Amazon Echo Show can further engage by watching accompanying how-to videos for things like carving a turkey or placing the meat thermometer.

Welch said the company chose the Alexa platform primarily because of the voice assistant’s high consumer adoption rate. “We’re always evaluating where we want to expand and take this, but we've been really pleased with the Amazon Alexa scale that we have so far,” she noted.

Indeed, nearly 73% of U.S. smart speaker owners used an Amazon speaker in 2019, according to eMarkerter. While usage of Google and other virtual assistants are expected to increase, Alexa is still projected to hold a commanding 70% share in 2020.

“As consumers become increasingly comfortable with asking Alexa to answer questions for them versus picking up the phone and calling someone, we wanted to make sure that Butterball was there,” Welch said about the campaign’s motivation. “It’s about making sure that your brand is extended into that consumer touchpoints in a way that makes sense both for the consumer and for your brand.”

Voice technology also opens a new connection to consumers not found through more traditional methods. Beyond offering direct engagement, the types of questions consumers ask provide brands with a window into their behavior and offer an opportunity to build trust.

Beth Somers, a Turkey Talk Line expert
Turkey Talk-Line expert Beth Somers

“It's given us additional insight in how we'll ask questions and the type of information they're looking for,” Welch said. “It’s another opportunity to learn about how our consumers interact with the brand and with our products.”

With all new technologies, developing and maintaining consumer trust should be a chief concern for brands (although the jury is out whether voice carries any additional concerns vs. other channels). And while voice tech does offer the potential to obtain new data and insight, Welch noted that Butterball at this time only uses consumer data to improve the accuracy and experience of the skill itself. 

“We believe very strongly in data privacy and consumer privacy, and so we very much limit any amount of data that we collect,” she said. “We don't use it in any other means; anything that we collect is to help us make the skill itself better. We are not at this time using it in any way to reach consumers in other places.”

Furthermore, while voice presents a real opportunity to learn about consumers in a new way, Welch cautioned brands to not lose sight of them when it comes to designing a skill.

“It’s really important is to make sure that you're really thinking through who your customers are, and that you're designing a skill that that best delivers on your brand value and what your consumers are looking for,” she said.  

As for the actual tech development, be ready for a learning process.   

“I think having a crawl, walk, run strategy, and being willing to do testing — and learning from those tests — is a great way to ease into the development and get a skill going, and then continuing to expand and develop from there,” Welch advised,

Having a partner to help during the development and realize the vision is also critical, she noted, praising Mobiquity’s role in the process.

Although Welch couldn’t share specifics on Thanksgiving 2020 plans, she confirmed that Alexa would be an ongoing part of their communication mix.

“We're always looking at ways to extend and expand it, so we've got some ideas for both 2020 and in the future,” she said. “We really want to make sure that we're hitting every question in places that it makes sense for the holiday and also everyday, so it's definitely something we're thinking about how we continue to incorporate it in our 2020 plans.”

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