We’ve stopped what we are doing and creating your personalized BrandZ™ report, which will appear in your inbox soon.



Voice assistance

will get smarter,

and ubiquitous

on purchase path


Brands need strategies to ensure

consumers request them by name


by Whitney Fishman Zember

Managing Partner, Innovation and Consumer Technology




In today’s cross-screen, multi-device, always-on world, media, content and technology consistently and simultaneously overlap, often competing in their ability to best determine the most impactful points of influence for successful persuasion. Too many things today are fighting for consumer attention, making the purchase journey a very crowded path. For marketers to really make meaningful connections with potential shoppers and brand enthusiasts, the focus has to move toward what I think are the new tools of persuasion: the platforms that smart, voice-activated devices plug into.


The technology behind voice search is already in our pockets and beginning to permeate our homes as Alexa and Google Home sales surge. These cylinder, voice-driven devices were the proverbial “gateway drug” for consumers, helping them get comfortable with bringing listening-based technology into the most intimate facets of their lives. As we come to accept new tech-driven behaviors such as talking to our technology to trigger a device response (OK Google), poising questions to inanimate objects (What’s the weather like today Alexa?) or completing transactions without a physical interaction (via Amazon Prime), we will begin to see the evolution from singular-purpose cylinder devices to voice being embedded into all aspects of our life and across every room of the home (TVs, gaming consoles, kitchen appliances, etc.)


So, it comes as no surprise that technology is moving from individually smart to collectively intelligent, leveraging the power of these larger platforms to drive a seamless experience for consumers. As a result, we’re seeing the launch of endless branded third-party apps flood the marketplace, designed to tap into opportunities to drive brand connectivity and conversation throughout a consumer’s purchase journey. This is upending what we have come to accept as search and challenging the status quo for how quickly purchases can be made. Not only are we witnessing a behavioral shift in how consumers obtain information (talk vs type), it has altered the means by which we position our questions, introducing a level of emotion the response chain has not experienced before.


When it comes to voice-driven search, the power is in the platform a brand utilizes versus individual technologies that the early proponents of the Internet of Things spoke of. Voice-based searches tend to be more conversational, allowing brands to tap into specific emotions within the communication response chain. It could be said that voice search represents the evolution in convenience as everyday life has become more dependent on connected devices and smart homes. By taking advantage of the seamless experiences provided by these platforms, marketers can uncover new opportunities to engage with consumers in intimate, utility-driven ways.


Understanding context

Conversational interfaces are also transforming the Active Stage of the purchase journey—when a consumer is in market for a product—with brand selection directly influenced by a consumer’s purchase history or exclusively by the algorithm. Additionally, how search engines service responses to voice queries is becoming more closely related to how they interpret traditional search, targeting concepts as opposed to targeting keywords when delivering organic search results. There’s a reason major players have invested in Pulse Labs, a startup working with voice app developers to test new apps on target audiences pre-launch to understand how humans would ask for and engage with the app offerings. As devices get more deeply integrated into the home, apps will have the ability to understand context and trigger various commands based on a consumer’s location such as asking a virtual assistant to set a timer, the resulting response would be different if one is in kitchen cooking a meal vs. in the bathroom brushing their teeth.


With more competition entering the marketplace this year from major players, conversational interfaces powered by AI will become the new communication tools for marketers to leverage in their interaction with consumers. Now is the time to consider some key questions.


Ultimately, the brands that are asked for specifically by name will win out as loyalty becomes ever more critical to stealing share of voice. Understanding how consumers talk about a brand, including key terms and sentiments, as well as at what moments they turn to you, will be essential elements to crafting a strategy that brings together media, content, and technology to drive business results.


While it’s still relatively early days in voice led assistance, one thing is certain, the brands that play first, and play smartly, will be well rewarded.



Key brand questions

for AI preparation


1.     How can I make an impact at point of sale when there is no point of sale, when there is no webpage or shelf?


2.     Am I even defining point-of-sale correctly with consumer decision-making happening almost anywhere from physical brick and mortar or a pop-up shop to in transit or from one’s kitchen?


3.     What is the most seamless way for a transaction to occur and where are my consumers most responsive in the purchase journey?