Global Marketing Trends: Voice Recognition

Voice recognition is the future of online search—when consumers ask questions, forward-thinking brands will be the first answer they receive.

Voice recognition is just one way that AI is becoming increasingly sophisticated.

From home-based digital assistants to smart speakers and Internet of Things-enabled appliances, the popularity of voice-activated devices shows no sign of slowing down. And if consumers are moving to voice, brands will have to find ways to follow them there.

Launched in 2011, the artificial intelligence-driven personal digital assistant Siri now shares the voice recognition landscape with several other assistants – all of which are constantly evolving. As a result, people are becoming more and more used to relying on voice commands to get things done. By 2020, Gartner predicts that 30% of all searches will be done without a screen, while Comscore believes that figure is more likely to be 50%. And if Google’s recent Duplex demo is to be believed, we will soon be asking voice assistants to organise our next haircut and reserve a table at a local restaurant for us.

Whether it’s Siri, Alexa or Cortana, the assistant’s natural-sounding human voice means the person on the other end of phone may never know they are talking to a robot.

Voice recognition could represent a whole new marketing channel and that throws up a lot of questions:

  • how should brands define their voice going forward?
  • how can voice be used to build a relationship with consumers and increase brand loyalty?
  • how is search engine optimisation (SEO) likely to change?
  • how can companies be heard when paid advertising opportunities in this space are almost non-existent? 

What Are People Saying?

The way we search is changing and brands should revisit their SEO strategy if they are to have an impact. Thanks to voice recognition:

  • Complex spoken queries mean the traditional approach to targeting keywords for analysis and optimisation will need to change. Rather than specific terms, brands should have overall topics in their sights if they are to rank high in search results
  • Audio-only interfaces like smart speakers mean brands need to present their information to consumers in a whole new way. It’s all very well having an eye-catching website, but a user is unlikely to see it if they are only interacting via voice
  • Voice-based searches are short, quick interactions— meaning there are fewer opportunities for brands to make an impression on users
  • Top ranking positions are highly contested. Despite searches throwing up multiple results, digital assistants usually only rely on information from the top few entries
  • Local results are more relevant as digital assistants try to serve up contextually relevant information depending on if a user is on the go or at home

Brands should aim to be the answer that is delivered by Amazon, Google and others when their sector is searched for. That means optimising content for voice-activated interactions. Websites should contain conversational, easy-to-understand answers to the questions that are being asked today. It’s time we think about ‘answer engine optimisation.’

However, there are promotional opportunities beyond appearing in search results. Target and Google have partnered on a voice-activated coupon, while Cheerios took advantage of Amazon Prime Day to offer free boxes of cereal with the aim of it becoming part of consumers’ replenishment schedules. Meanwhile, savvy marketers will be looking for ways for brands to appear within Alexa skills and Google Home Actions.

Sounds Good to Users

Put simply, talking to a device is often quicker, easier and more convenient than typing. As a result, platform owners like Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Apple must ensure that any advertising reflects that seamless mode of communication and doesn’t get in the way of the user experience.

Google received plenty of negative press when its assistant added a mention of Disney’s live- action Beauty and the Beast show to the end of a time, weather and travel update. Users didn’t ask for this information, and they didn’t appreciate having it served up to them, unprompted, in their home. Much like the voice assistants themselves, adverts need to fulfil a range of functions—such as improving people’s lives, making the shopping experience easier and sharing engaging content.

For this reason, brands need to tread carefully. The demand seems to be there—52% of voice-activated speaker owners would like to receive information about deals, sales and promotions from brands, 39% would like to receive options to find business information —but finding the right voice (quite literally) could make all the difference between success and failure.

In a world of instant consumer gratification, voice advertising is uniquely placed to support impulse buys. Listeners can’t respond to a radio ad, but they can easily place an order and interact directly with a smart device. Think of Procter & Gamble’s range of Alexa skills, which include a laundry advice app from Tide and a flu outbreak forecast app powered by NyQuil and DayQuil.

If people are speaking, then brands are listening—and collecting vast amounts of data and consumer insights in the process. This might explain how Amazon spotted a gap in the domestic appliance market— something that led to the launch of Ping, a voice-controlled microwave that recently joined a range of other Alexa-operated smart devices. The potential of this data is huge: marketers could combine real-time location data and dynamic data to gain a deeper understanding of what motivates people.

To find out more, download our full Global Marketing Report 2019 here.

Hannah Anast
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