How to win at voice

Voice technology has come a long way since its inception. I vividly remember my dad proudly coming home with a new phone, and one of the novelty features was him being able to call home via voice command. This involved saying ‘call home’ slowly, clearly, and in a (very bad) quasi-American accent, with about a 10 percent success rate. It was definitely novelty over function. But now, we are in a space where technology has reached pace with user behaviour, and voice is enhancing our tech experience. Google has claimed 95 percent accuracy in terms of comprehension, and even my Alexa can understand most of the New Zealand accent vowel switches.

And once you start using voice more frequently, it becomes intrinsic and provides utility. My Alexa has become part of my everyday routine – and I’m not alone. The stats show that once you get used to a voice-activated speaker, 72 perecnt then say their devices are often used as part of their daily routine.

We are at the cusp of voice entering the mainstream. There are big predictions of it being 50 percent of all searches by 2020 via Comscore (possibly one of the most overused digital marketing stats this year). Closer to home, we’re already sitting at 21 percent of kiwis using voice-initiated search commands (GlobalWebIndex 2018). And the interesting thing about voice is that it’s forcing us to think about technology in a different way.

The key thing for brands is to start preparing and thinking about how voice fits in to your wider brand ecosystem if you haven’t already.

  1. First, and oft overlooked, now is the time to get your house in order for voice search. Voice as a behaviour is fundamentally different to the current state of play – almost 70 percent of voice searches are in natural language, rather than short keyword searches. And if the second page of Google results is akin to no man’s land, voice search is now putting pressure on that illusive “position zero”.
    Only time will tell on how this will evolve in paid, but you need to start thinking now how your brand will show up with voice search.

  2. Outside of pure utility, start thinking about what is your brand voice? As humans, we respond to voice with a stronger emotional reaction – 41 percent of people who own a voice-activated speaker say it feels like talking to a friend or other person.
    Looking at the likes of Alexa skills, consumers are starting to interact with brands in a way that hasn’t really been done before, so really focus on what your brand’s persona is.

  3. If you’re an FMCG, with the rise of reviews becoming more important (as we’re seeing across the ditch very clearly) start focussing on optimising your digital shelf to put you in the best position moving forward. Whilst eCom isn’t a huge part of New Zealand’s grocery routine yet, it’s in a huge growth mode, and presents a lot of opportunities. When you ask Alexa to add beer to your basket from Amazon Prime, she doesn’t list out all of the options – she makes the choice for you. That’s quite scary from a brand perspective.

  4. Integration is key. Don’t think about voice in silo from your wider marketing mix. Maybe don’t go as far as Burger King did when they voice tagged their commercial for Google Homes (resulting in Google Home disabling the functionality but Burger King winning a Grand Prix) – but your voice assets should be a seamless part of your campaign delivery.

If you care about growth and future-proofing, now is the time to take advantage of voice. Behaviour is shifting, and so brands should be preparing.

Zoe Carson, is the associate head of digital at MediaCom New Zealand.

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