OK... Hey! An introduction to Voice for marketers

The number of smart speakers in the UK is expected to grow by a third this year, increasing to 12.6 million devices. That’s an incredibly fast uptake for a product that has only been on the market for 5 years. It outpaces the adoption of smartphones, wearable tech and all other recent consumer gadget innovations.

To help you explore the potential of voice assistants for your brand, we’ve compiled – and answered -  some of the biggest questions marketers have about voice.

What can voice assistants do?

Voice assistants perform a range of different actions in response to a voice request. Voicebot.ai recently surveyed the most common uses of voice assistants, and found that requesting information and music, asking for weather updates and setting alarms and reminders are the most popular features.

Other functions such as controlling other smart devices in the home, making calls and purchases are currently used less, but are becoming more common and likely to be used more widely in future.

As well as being in our smartphones and homes, voice assistants are becoming integral to in-car technology. They are a natural fit because the ability to perform actions hands-free is convenient, and arguably safer, whilst driving. The fact that this technology is becoming a standard feature in new cars means vehicles will be the gateway to voice technology for many consumers. Cars will give them their first experience of using voice for a range of actions, and increase their comfort levels with voice in the home or on mobile devices. 

Who are the main players?

The world’s biggest tech companies have put their voice assistant technology at the forefront of their future development plans.

Amazon Echo (Alexa)

Amazon’s Echo device is the market leader for smart speakers, with the most 3rd party integrations (skills) from brands and organisations. Loads of work has gone into creating a personality around Alexa (the Echo’s in-built digital assistant), and consumer perception is that it is the most fun and engaging of the smart speakers on the market.

Google (Google Assistant)

Currently the closest competitor to Amazon in the smart speaker market, the Google Home device utilises the same Google Assistant voice technology available in Android handsets. It has access to Google’s database of knowledge, so it is better placed than Alexa when it comes to responding to requests for information and answering questions. The Google Home device has only around half the market share of Amazon Echo, but this gap has been narrowing fast over the past year.

Apple (Siri)

The Siri voice assistant first appeared in the iPhone 4S back in 2011 and is also used in Apple’s Homepod smart speaker. It will play a crucial role in the development of the Apple ecosystem in the coming years.
While Amazon is the current market leader in smart speakers and has strong brand recognition for its Alexa assistant, Google’s command of data and information gives them a huge competitive advantage, and it is probable that in the near future Google will become the dominant player in the voice tech space.

Why do people like voice technology?

One key advantage of voice, and the reason the major tech companies are investing so heavily in it, is that it’s often easier and faster for people than typing. Voice assistants have had some of their biggest adoption rates in China, partly because communicating in written Chinese is slower than in English, so the efficiency gains of using voice technology have been so much more evident there. The UK and US are slightly behind on the adoption curve, but as we saw with mobile commerce, we are likely to follow where Asia leads with voice technology.

But it’s not just that voice is quicker – voice also represents a more personal, human way to interact with technology. Rather than having to pick up a device and press keys to prompt action, using our voice with a device is much more natural and in harmony with person to person interaction and takes us closer to the seamless integration of technology with everyday life.

Why do people dislike voice technology?

One of the biggest challenges with voice assistants is that the technology is still in its infancy and often fails to meet expectations. It is frustrating for people when they bump up against the limits of the technology to understand requests and are not able to get information or perform actions. These issues are a major blocker to greater adoption of voice assistants, but are likely to become less of a problem over time as the technology improves.

The other big challenge is around trust and confidence. There is an understandable concern about being listened to by our devices, and the security of the data that devices collect. The tech companies have been working hard to stress their responsible use of data, but recent revelations of employees at Amazon sharing and listening to recordings made by Echo devices without the owners’ knowledge will only add to levels of distrust and hostility around voice technology.

Fears over privacy are a key obstacle to greater adoption of voice assistants in the coming months and years, with more revelations and negative press coverage inevitable.

What can brands do to capitalise on voice technology?

Search

Voice assistants can be used as a search engine to find answers to questions (similar to a typed search in Google). This is an area of emerging interest for SEO, but it’s fair to say SEO agencies have yet to crack this space. A lack of data on voice search and the lack of a clear purchase journey are some of the key challenges in comparison to traditional screen search. However, there’s huge potential here if search marketers can get this right. 

The brands that do succeed in voice search will be those that focus on creating good content to answer common consumer questions, and optimise that content with structured data.

Skills

Brands and organisations are able to create their own integrations with voice assistants (for Alexa, these integrations are known as Skills). Several major companies have developed their own skills allowing customers to interact with the brand and in some cases places orders. Uber and Dominos were among the first brands to develop their own skills enabling customers to purchase with a voice command.

This is going to be a really significant area of opportunity and growth for brands. The key to successful skills will be thinking about what customers want and how voice can make things easier for them - or if it’s a branding exercise, what will delight them? The opportunity for customisation is also really important here, with the most successful integrations likely to adapt based on the demographic, place and preferences of its user. 

After 5 years of smart speakers on the market, the initial overblown wave of hype around voice has passed, and we are starting to gain a more realistic understanding of the marketing opportunities offered to brands by these devices. Consumer adoption will continue to grow in the next couple of years – and brands who see the greatest rewards will be those who plan ahead, design with a focus on satisfying user needs, and aim for an experience that blends seamlessly into a user’s everyday life.  

If you'd like to have a conversation about how to harness voice assistants for your brand, ask your favourite voice assistant to call True Digital or get in touch with Bertie.