The Growing Influence of Voice Search

The Growing Influence of Voice Search
Desi Gilliland
The Growing Influence of Voice Search

Why is audio suddenly so important?

Podcasts. Music-streaming services. Radio. They all have one (and many) things in common – their rapid growth sheds light on the growing importance of audio in our society. Because of this, it’s becoming exceedingly important to factor in how your brand plans to reach your target audience through audio services. In a world that is so ingrained in a “go, go, go” mentality, it’s crucial for your brand to be there for your target audience when it’s most convenient for them, and many smart speakers are doing some of that hard work for us marketers, placing themselves in cars, homes, and even in hospitals to show they are as useful as they are trendy.

Amazon Echo, Google Assistant, Cortana Home Assistant. They’re the perfect gift for all ages and – more importantly – can be the perfect marketing tool if used properly. Voice search technology has opened up an entirely new way to communicate with your customers that we never thought possible: a one-on-one conversation in their homes.

A significant factor in the success of voice search heroes such as Amazon and Google is their realization to make their product relatable as opposed to robotic. Over the years, they have perfected the art of personifying their smart devices with their names, common cultural phrases, and even their ability to hear emotion. Just think about all the most popular smart devices and a few names will come to mind: Siri, Alexa, Cortana. All friendly, welcoming names. All easy to pronounce. It just wouldn’t have the same ring to it if you had to say, “Hey, Microsoft.”

Toni Reid, the VP of Alexa Experience and Echo Devices for Amazon, says, “In addition to the ability for our customers to access Alexa anywhere they want to, we also want those interactions to be as natural as possible. Our goal is to have Alexa be humanlike.” Amazon’s success can also be attributed to their spectacular product placement – placing themselves where customers find them most resourceful – in their living rooms, kitchens, and even in their cars. Brands of almost all categories would be smart to follow suit.

But why the sudden popularity? Smart speaker users are utilizing the product in a variety of ways – from ordering your groceries, to asking about the weather, to opening a music-streaming app. A study by Google revealed that a whopping 20% of google mobile searches are done via voice, while 25% of Windows 10 searches occur using voice. And that number is only growing. The number of homes with smart speakers is also rising exponentially. Pandora reports that the ownership of smart speakers in the US has grown 157% in just one year.

Who is using voice search and how?

Today, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a smart device without voice technology.

Adobe performed a study by surveying 1,000 US adults and asked, “How do you use voice technology?” The following are the results:

Directions while driving — 52%

Making a phone call — 51%

Sending a text — 50%

Checking the weather — 49%

Playing music — 49%

General web searches — 48%

Setting alarms — 41%

Checking the news — 27%

Sending email — 17%

Shopping — 16%

Even more interesting are the results of asking these same US adults how they can imagine using voice technology in the future:

Updating work tasks and calendar events — 43%

Making a restaurant reservation — 39%

Booking a medical appointment — 37%

Checking my bank balance — 33%

Requesting hotel amenities, such as room service — 31%

Requesting grocery delivery 30%

Making payment to friends, family, rent or monthly bills — 30%

Smart devices with successful voice integration have reaped the benefits of use by Boomers to Gen Z, and everyone in between. While many associate new technologies with younger generations, a recent study shows that out of a sample of the population, 74% aged 18-24 said they use the voice function on their smart phone, while 35-44 year olds followed closely behind at 72% (Source: Advice Local). Come on, we all have that one aunt that starts speaking loudly into their phone speaker in the middle of dinner.

The ratio of adults to teens who use voice search daily is nearly split down the middle at 44% adults to 55% of teens. It is an extension of a diverse range of people whom are using it every day – from a grandmother who prefers to live on her own, to a 5 year old who wants to hear the Baby Shark song for the eightieth time.

It may be surprising to hear that people aged as high as 72 are utilizing a smart device for their voice capabilities. These devices are giving this generation their freedom back, and they grant independence to people who could otherwise have a difficult time doing everyday tasks like turning their lights on and off, getting their prescriptions, or answering the phone. Here are five reasons why a large percentage of Boomers and older are counting on Alexa, Google Assistant, or another smart speaker on the daily:

  1. It’s easier for some to talk than to type on a phone or computer.
  2. With the right “skills” or “actions,” smart speakers can provide basic health readings for things like diabetes.
  3. The smart speaker can help people who struggle with mobility with tasks like turning on/off lights or changing the thermostat.
  4. It can also allow for a certain level of companionship.
  5. There are skills such as “Ask My Buddy” that can alert someone for you if there’s an emergency.

For similar reasons, smart speakers like Amazon Alexa are also starting to be seen in hospitals, where patients can use it to listen to music, change the channel on the TV or call a nurse. And it gets better. The request from the patient will then be funneled directly to the appropriate person, depending on the need.

On the other end of the spectrum, younger generations are using this new technology to do everything from converting measurements in the kitchen to finding their closest location to vote. It is also common to hear on the internet that learning how to “adult” is just learning how to Google stuff. How important will this technology be to the daily struggles of these generations? Likely very.

How are brands using voice search to reach millennials and Gen Z?

Sure, people may often be multitasking when they ask their Google Home device a question. They could be making dinner, getting ready to head out the door, or just out of reach of their phone. No matter the case, they’re still confiding in their smart device to answer their burning questions, and this is where clever marketers can swoop in.

Jackie Stone of Marketing Insider stated, “It’s an amazing opportunity for brands to insert themselves nimbly into the voice search space, where people are looking for answers and recommendations in real time.” And because there doesn’t seem to be any plan to integrate advertising into these devices, it’s crucial to develop a presence either in SEO or by developing a useful app that customers can access via their smart speaker. Amazon calls these “skills” while Google calls them “actions.” Here are three real-life examples of how brands made voice search technology work for their goals:

  1. Sephora recently teamed up with Google Assistant to help smart-device users apply their makeup. A user can say, “Hey Google, show me how to apply foundation” and a video tutorial will automatically play hands-free. Users can pause, rewind, or fast forward to the parts they need, and with that, the battle to keep makeup off your phone or tablet is a thing of the past. With the growing popularity of YouTube makeup tutorials, this partnership is a smart one, allowing users to still access these videos but with a greater ease of use.
  2. Tide developed a “Stain Remover” skill that can help you with up to 200 different spills and mishaps from coffee to grass stains. One reviewer said, “It’s like having Mom on speed dial, but I don’t have to get asked if I have a boyfriend.” A useful tool with an added benefit.
  3. Google is also dedicated to brands that want to partner with Google Assistant, and say they always keep the consumer in mind. They even have a team dedicated to product partnerships that helps brands develop an “action” that connects the user to the brand. Ticketmaster, for example, has an action that allows users to ask what concerts or local events are going on this weekend. You can even ask something specific like, “When is Ariana Grande touring?” and then purchase your ticket for a show.

Marketers and Smart Devices: How we hope to collab in the near future.

As voice technology improves and our smart devices can do more complex tasks for us, it gives us marketers more opportunity to reach consumers when they could utilize us most. In the future, marketers are predicted to have the ability to utilize PPC strategies and search history data to reach consumers most interested in their product or service. What if a brand could target a smart speaker user based on when they last visited that brand’s website? It’s a new advertising avenue that could truly change the game.

Similarly to how Amazon has a “one-click to buy” option on their site, there could be an opportunity to develop a skill or action that enables a purchase with just a simple phrase, such as “Hey Alexa, order my favorite pizza at Papa Johns.” In the name of convenience, apps like Uber Eats and GrubHub could benefit from this advancement in technology and collaboration with smart device giants.

Google was the first to test incorporating ads. When you ask questions using the voice to text method using an Android phone, you may be presented with an ad. “When relevant, these results may include the existing ads that you’d see on Search today,” they said in a statement. For example, if you ask your Android “how to travel with dog”, the results will show relevant results, including an ad from BMW that suggests their cars are pet-friendly.

There are many predictions out there, but it seems many voice search innovators like Google want to make sure that advertising won’t interfere with user experience and fear that ads could compromise consumers’ trust for receiving accurate and reliable information via their smart device. There is also an element of ease of use with smart speakers because they provide seamless, uninterrupted content. Advertising efforts will need to be integrated in a natural way that doesn’t degrade the overall experience. What will improve both experience and trust? We believe the answer is a healthy combination of data (i.e. stats on consumer behavior) and creative thinking.

So what can your brand do now to prepare for the future of voice technology? Ensure your online presence is optimized for mobile. In doing so, you will be creating a foundation for future organic searches as well as paid ads. And although the world is transitioning toward more audio content, don’t underestimate the potential of visual integration with voice search technology. Google and Amazon have already created devices that do both – the Google Nest Hub and the Amazon Echo Show.

Main Takeaways:

Audio content is not a trend. It is and will continue to be an integral part of how we live and communicate. Your smart device can tell you a joke, or read you top news on Twitter, but in the future, they’re projected to do so much more.

The voice search world is still a jungle, with loads of opportunity. Because advertising by voice search capabilities is relatively new, there is a mass amount of opportunity for marketers to jump in and get their feet wet with little regulation. Across the board, leaders in the smart device world are reporting exponential growth in mobile search usage, and there are no signs of slowing down.

They’re reaching all demographics. No matter your audience or industry, there’s a strong likelihood that a considerable portion of your target is using voice search daily. While helping to free older generations from certain mobility issues (turning off lights, changing the thermostat), the younger demographic utilizes it for tasks associated with learning how to “adult,” like converting baking measurements or getting a stain out of a shirt. It’s an extremely versatile tool, and could bode well for marketers.

Data and analytics are available for smart device partners and marketers. Smart device innovators like Amazon Alexa know that usefulness of their skills is key to the success of the device. They want success as much as advertisers do, because the skills or actions can impact the experience of a smart device user. Amazon Alexa’s analytics dashboard, for example, will show marketers when, how, and why customers are using your app, all of which are crucial to understand how to improve your skill to better fit your targets’ needs.

It puts your brand right in the palm of your consumer’s hand – literally. In a world that is so ingrained with an “on-the-move” mentality, it’s crucial for your brand to be there for your target audience when it’s most convenient for them. And for some users, that means using their phone to answer pertinent questions on the go, like “What’s the weather today?” or “What’s on my calendar tomorrow?” And innovators in the smart speaker world know that it’s all about location. Currently, they are in their homes and in their cars. Soon, they may also be in our hotel rooms, hospitals and schools.

The technology is improving, and consumer expectations are rising. The future of voice search goes beyond its current abilities. Users will expect smart devices to help them do more complex tasks like make a reservation at a restaurant, book a doctor’s appointment, request hotel amenities, or even learn a new language. These are all opportunities for marketers to be there when it’s most convenient for the consumer. But for now, voice search innovators are still looking critically into the best way to integrate advertising. In the meantime, marketers can prepare by maintaining our brand’s online presence and ensuring it’s always optimized for mobile.

Marketers know that to stay top of mind, they must not aim to reach the consumer, but to allow the consumer easy access to reach us – our brands – in their own time. Adopting voice integration may or may not be the right platform for your brand, but if nothing else, remember to think outside the box when it comes to reaching your target consumer. With the right tool, they could be easier to reach than you think.