Promises of voice interactions with technologies have been bounced around for many years. Yet, although computers have been able to accept voice commands for decades, it’s only recently that the promise of delivering a proper conversational interface has become a reality. As a result, voice has hit the mainstream. And it looks set to be the future.

According to research from Accenture Interactive, by the year 2021 there will be an astonishing 7.5 billion digital assistants in the world — that’s almost on a par with the current world population. The popularity of the devices is certainly soaring, with Adobe Digital Insights stating that voice assistants sales in the US grew 103% year on year in Q4 2017 and that over a fifth (22%) of people who own one using it to do their shopping. While we Brits are typically a little more coy about openly demanding information from our devices in public, the uptake of them is nevertheless steadily rising.

As consumers increasingly embrace the potential of voice and digital assistants potentially becoming ubiquitous in households, and with the earlier suspicions of being ‘listened in’ on being dispelled as a myth, marketers will need to seek new and compelling ways to drive consumer interaction.

Not surprisingly, this is already happening. Take Domino’s Pizza allowing customers to order directly through Alexa, Ryanair introducing an Alexa-based voice-controlled booking facility, and Burger King running a high-profile advertisement featuring Google Home. Meanwhile, consumers have become more comfortable with voice recognition call centre technology in recent years. Speaking to a robot voice on the other end of the line is now perfectly normal — not to mention less frustrating.

It’s clear that we will see a continuing expansion of the use and promotion of voice-controlled devices and activities, which will mainly be a priority for the tech companies and large consumer brands. However, as voice grows, and perhaps even begins to chip away at our obsessive touch-screen mentality, I believe it’s a technology that marketers across all sectors need to keep close tabs on.

One of the biggest impacts of voice will be on internet search results. Google claims that 20% of mobile search queries submitted via its app are already done by voice. Voice comes up with just the one answer, only followed by another if requested. The user no longer sees a long list of options that they can scan down, which puts even more pressure on brands to come top — or very near the top — in searches. The search terms or questions users put to voice technology are different too – given in a more conversational way than the typically short keywords used when typing. Marketers, then, need to look at voice and what impact it could have on their brand’s search profile. Being the first result will likely come at a high price.

The sense is growing that voice technology has a massive part to play in our technological future. Smart marketers need to be switched on to it now.


By Matt Isherwood, managing director of Fuse, part of The Mission Marketing Group

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