Word up, smart speakers are changing marketing

Do you remember as a kid that the ability to just talk to a machine was a pipedream, the stuff of sci-fi? Well, that’s no longer the case — “make me a cup of tea Alexa” is now a reality.  But what does this mean for the marketing industry? Joyce Solano, SVP, Global Marketing at Leanplum, looks at why voice search and marketing is set to shake things up.

You may be surprised to hear that it was actually IBM who had the first attempt at voice recognition when it launched the Shoebox in 1960. Yet it is only in the past decade, thanks to the advances in AI and Natural Language Processing (NLP), that conversational interfaces have become more mainstream. We’ve seen an explosion in AI-powered voice assistants and chatbots — from smartphones to smart speakers — that now let us converse with our computers, phones, and devices.

Voice was first introduced to mass market through Apple’s Siri followed by Google Now. Since then, voice usage on mobile has exploded and voice has crept into people’s lives and integrated into their daily routine.

When and how are people using voice?

While the trend started with voice assistants on smartphones thanks to Apple’s Siri, voice recognition has exploded due to the launch of smart speakers, like Amazon’s launch of Alexa in November 2014.

…research shows that smart speaker users of voice assistants are more engaged than mobile phone users.

Four years later, 10% of UK households now use smart speakers. That’s a 50% increase from Q3 2017 to Q1 2018, with Amazon still dominating with 75% of the market. Today, there are a number of other speakers from the big players, with Google, Apple, and Microsoft all getting in on the action.

It hasn’t taken long for the population to really embrace the technology. Homes across the world now have smart speakers generally situated in living rooms or bedrooms that are tasked to handle daily household activities, including listening to music, changing the temperature, and turning the lights on.

Interestingly, research shows that smart speaker users of voice assistants are more engaged than mobile phone users. Smart speakers are changing user behaviour, conditioning us to use voice for more activities and making it more normal. This could in turn boost usage of voice on smartphones and other devices as customers grow accustomed to using voice interfaces for daily tasks.

It is quite clear that voice interfaces are here to stay.

In his 2016 Google I/O keynote, Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, announced that 20%of all mobile searches on Android are voice queries. According to Location World, more than 40%of adults used voice-based search on a daily basis in 2016. And predictions by ComScore estimate that more than 50% of searches will be voice-based by 2020.

The jump in adoption is due to increasingly sophisticated technology that has made voice search less error-prone and able to decipher more complexity in queries. Voice is now more efficient and valuable to users.

What are the implications of this impending revolution?

As voice assistants become more integrated into our daily lives, they are going to become an important channel through which we discover information, make purchases, and interact with websites.

This is especially the case for everyday household consumer goods, such as batteries or detergents. While we may still prefer to try clothes on before purchasing them, we are more likely to ask Alexa or Google Home to “order detergent” or “buy a pack of AA batteries.”

As voice platforms become the default interfaces for home systems, appliances, and the internet, consumer trust in them to deliver the best possible choice will keep growing, potentially displacing brand loyalty.

The nature of voice search results means there will be intense pressure to capture the top spot in voice search engine results. If customers use smart speakers to save time, they will be more likely to go with the choice presented by their smart speaker, rather than ask for more options.

This will have a long-term effect on consumer behavior as shoppers shift their allegiance from brands to their voice assistant platforms.

All this brings us to one key point: The consumer belief in their voice assistants as a trusted source of truth.

As voice platforms become the default interfaces for home systems, appliances, and the internet, consumer trust in them to deliver the best possible choice will keep growing, potentially displacing brand loyalty.

That’s why brands really need to start thinking about their voice strategy now. Marketers need to assess their strategy to ensure they are ready to adapt to the changing needs and behaviors of consumers.

There are two things to consider in creating a strategy.

First, voice search queries are more specific (and local) than a typical search, so, website content should be updated accordingly. Second, when considering the strategy for voice interfaces, less is always more. Voice-based engagement should be as non-intrusive as possible — customers turn off with messages that scream advertising. Your voice engagement’s primary focus should be to engage and provide value to the user.

Any brand can create loyal customers — without having to obviously market to them — just by focusing on content.

Patron’s “Ask Patron” skill on Alexa for example, enables users to ask for cocktail recommendations, recipes, and tips. This is part of Patron’s effort to create a more meaningful and direct relationship with its users by creating experiences. Since Patron added its Ask Patron skill, it has accumulated an impressive 36,000 users of it, the majority of whom are repeat customers indicating high engagement.

You don’t have to build a voice marketing strategy from scratch. The lessons used for mobile apps can be applied to voice as well. Marketers ought to use the additional nuance and context provided by these conversational interfaces to ensure a more personalised, and one-to-one engagement strategy with their audiences.

As voice interfaces look to fundamentally transform how we interact with our personal technologies, marketers need to understand this disruptive force to ensure they brands can maintain and grow their relationships with their customers.

Joyce Solano, SVP, Global Marketing at Leanplum


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