Look who’s talking
Why brands need to find their voice
Head of Emerging Technology
In recent years we have grown used to the idea that people can find what the things they need on their phone by “asking” aloud. However, the advent of Amazon’s Alexa, followed by Google Home and Apple’s Homepod, has elevated this to a new level. Now “smart speakers” have become a day-to-day part of many people’s lives. For brands and marketers, “share of voice” has taken on a whole new meaning. How we will make use of this technology and of the role it plays will continue to evolve, and at a rapid rate.
According to Google, 20 percent of search via the Google app is now via voice (1). The audience for voice interactions is clearly out there. However, voice is more than just another platform to access information – it has the power to fundamentally change the relationship between a consumer and a brand.
Unlike other digital interactions, which typically involve a very deliberate, conscious decision – pick up your phone, unlock it, choose an app – voice tends to be instinctive and casual. If you want to know something and there is a person with you, you just ask them. You don’t even really think about it, you just do it. Voice devices such as Alexa or Google Home bring this casual, instinctive behaviour to the digital interactions we have with brands.
These devices won’t stay as objects for long. Very soon, you should expect their services to be embedded into the environment around you, whether at home or on the move. Google Glass wasn’t seen as a tremendously successful device, but the earpiece effectively delivered “voice-out-of-home”, and there will be more of these wearables, known as “hearables”. Less a platform, then, than a well-informed companion, an always-on presence that is consistent, whether you are at home or on the move; you speak to it, and it speaks back.
This companion brand can also be present in chat, through bots and on social media such as Twitter.
For voice search to be successful, brands have to make sure that the benefits of using it outweigh the issues – it has to be easier, and just as effective as picking up our smartphone and looking for the information ourselves.
Optimising for voice search will be one of the keys to future SEO success. Consumers tend to use longer questions when they talk than when they type, and the rise of digital voice assistants will have a big impact on current search engine marketing strategies.
There are numerous metrics here, and it will be a battleground on many fronts.
With Google Home there is no “app store” equivalent as there is on Alexa, so there will be a fight to be the default app invoked when you ask a question. If you ask for a bank loan but don’t mention a specific bank, which bank responds? “Takeaway pizza, please.” But which one?
And then there is the question of what happens to paid-for search: what will be the impact on opportunities to deliver ads when the consumer's default search mechanism is voice?
Digital voice assistants are still in their infancy, and we have only just begun to see the impact of voice on the way consumers will interact with brands in the future – and how marketers should respond.
However, the world looks set to embrace the promise of voice interaction: global sales of smart speakers such as Echo and Google Home are predicted to rise by 738 percent, to more than 15 million in 2020, from fewer than 2 million last year. (2)
The benefits for the brands that find their voice have the potential to be huge.