According to a Wall Street Journal article, tech companies now have their eyes on the next billion internet users mostly from the developing world. But the new users are going to be different from the first billion in the sense they are more likely to favor voice and video rather than typing and text. Averaging around a billion searches a month as of Jan 2018, the future is going to be a lot chattier.
Voice technology is sweeping the world as assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home are capturing consumers imaginations. Recent developments in natural language processing abilities now means we can talk to computers in almost the same way we talk to other humans. Now pegged at a minuscule 5% speech recognition error rate, this is on par with the human race and it is only evolving every day. Voice has always been the fundamental way humankind has interacted and the coming years hold the potential for voice to be our primary way of interacting with technology.
Faster and more intuitive, voice will redefine the way we interact with the internet and with it change the way we interact with brands. This way of accessing the internet is more natural than typing or swiping, where we depend on AI to come back with the most relevant answer, saving us time and energy of sifting through volumes of content. From a shopper marketing perspective, the important question is, how does this impact our path to purchase?
It is estimated that half of all information searches over the internet will be conducted by voice by the year 2020 with 47% of the global smartphone users using voice technology at least once a month right now. A study by research consultancy Ovum has estimated that the number of native digital assistants will surpass 7.5 billion active devices by the year 2021. That’s pretty much more than one per person on the planet.
To paint you a picture of how you could be using more than one voice-enabled device in the future – one on your smartphone, an assistant in your smart car, an assistant in the kitchen to help with the cooking, a voice assistant in the living area to streamline all your media activity and let’s not forget a smart speaker in your kid’s bedroom with appropriate PG settings in place. And that’s only scratching the surface.
Nielsen has reported that 24% of households across the world already own a smart speaker which is just an indicator of the change that’s underway.
Voice usage can be split into two main types: tasks carried out entirely by voice; and tasks initiated by voice but completed on screen.
Currently, tasks best suited to voice interaction are simple enough that both question and the answer can be delivered through the same interface, for instance, ‘Ok Google, what’s the temperature right now?’ As assistants get more intelligent and support more complex interactions 100% voice interactions will grow. Despite the possibilities, the tag team between voice and a screen will remain important especially for actions such as researching products or reviewing options.
Consumers are currently using voice activation for repetitive actions, such as getting the news and weather or smart home devices for getting the morning news and playing music.
Its also been found that people are engaging with their voice-activated speakers as if they were human. They’re saying “please,” “thank you,” and even “sorry.” People perceive the devices as more than just an electronic toy, they’re more akin to another person or a friend. A global study by JWT identified efficiency as a primary motivation for using voice. The top three reasons for use amongst regular voice users globally were “it’s convenient” (52%), “I don’t have to type” (48%), and “it’s simple to use” (46%).
Additional research tapped neuroscience to investigate the brain’s response to voice interactions, compared to touch or typing. It found that voice interactions showed consistently lower levels of brain activity than their touch equivalent, indicating that voice response is less taxing than its screen-based equivalent. This helps explain why efficiency is such an important motivation for using voice technology.
It is important to note that voice as an interface is more conversational and interrogative that text. Queries will now contain more information and therefore more content opportunities. That has an impact on the way we have been structuring our content to be easily discoverable by consumers.
What do marketers need to take into consideration?
The most important point to note is that brands need to negotiate with the gatekeepers of voice interactions – the Alexas and Siris of the world. Major groundwork will need to be concentrated on making your content easier to parse for digital assistants. As Google moves to the Answer Engine model, there will be less focus on driving traffic to your website from search engines and more on mining your website for content.\
People don’t want their voice assistant to read out the first full page of search results and hence it will only curate a handful of top hits. Structuring data on your website will be of the utmost importance in the coming years to ensure that conversational customer queries can be linked to content that your brand can provide. The struggle to be in the top-ranked results will only get harder. At one end of voice usage, we have utility, delivering basic human needs and fulfilling purchase intent while at the other end we have niche opportunities to create new content to entertain and engage much further up the purchase funnel.
Think about the micro-moments that your brand could assist with during the customer journey and look to own them. For example, Tide built a skill on Alexa that gives people information about stain removals. Each of the interactions you plan for needs to provide real value or else they are under the risk of fading away, never to be used.
The evolution of voice has created a lot of opportunities for much deeper and more conversational experiences with customers. It has created the chance of creating strong emotional, personal and customisable experiences for your customers. The question is, are you willing to jump on?