Charm Speak the World — Say Hello to Voice Marketing

Humans For AI
Jun 13, 2018 · 11 min read

Written By: Deepa Naik & Nikhil (Nikkhiel) Karkhanis

Note: This article is the next in the series of AI-Driven Marketing- 101 Series on HumansForAI, a non-profit, where our goal is to make the workforce AI-Savvy.

“Why Type When You Can Talk?” The traditional “Hello” greeting introduced with the advent of the telephone is transitioning to a new set of salutations like “Hi Siri”, “Hello Alexa” and “Ok Google” as voice finds a new place in our ever-increasing techno-centric world. What more; instead of greeting a human we are now greeting machines and gadgets instead!

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Voice Comes of Age

The world of artificial intelligence is accelerating and with the pace, it’s caught on; voice technology an important discipline in AI is evolving steadily with voice replacing the text era. The recent launch of the Google Duplex , an AI system for accomplishing real-world tasks over phone, caused a stir, as the CEO Sundar Pichai demonstrated live booking of a hair salon and a restaurant done via the Google Assistant; a completely automated system that places calls on your behalf, complete with a natural-sounding human voice instead of a robotic one.

Changing Consumer Experience

Consumer experiences are changing drastically with voice technology. Professions which rely heavily on consumer interaction are inherently undergoing their own set of transformation.

In this blog, we discuss some of the changes that are happening in the marketing world as we discuss voice marketing. Our objectives are -

  • Understand what is AI enabled Voice Marketing
  • How voice is becoming an important part of the consumer experience
  • Why brands need to take notice and work on a voice strategy
  • Understand the various voice enabled products in the market ( smart speaker, digital voice assistants)
  • Try to get under the hood and understand the overview and basics of voice technology
  • Touch upon the history of voice recognition
  • Understand the implications and which resources can help a marketing professional to exploit the benefits of this technology.

Definition — Voice Marketing

Voice marketing deals with the varied approaches required for the many kinds of voice interactivity available with voice technology in the home and mobile space. Consumers are adding voice to their shopping cycle using voice agents and interfaces like voice-enabled virtual assistants, voice search, and smart speakers. Brands and marketing professionals are finding innovative ways to respond to these newly opened channels.

The Power of Voice — How Voice Is Changing Marketing

50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020 (source: comScore)

13% of all households in the United States owned a smart speaker in 2017. That number is predicted to rise to 55% by 2022 (source OC&C Strategy Consultants. )

You no longer only speak “on” the phone; you also now talk “to” your phone — your smartphone. Not just your smartphone; you talk to the smart speaker installed at home and the smart gadgets.

Consumer behavior is changing as people are now getting more comfortable and familiar with using voice commands to do voice searches, instruct digital voice assistants and get the smart speaker to do things around the house using home automation.

Examples of Voice Technology Usage

Using a Voice Assistant on the Smart Phone (any android phone)

“Ok Google, What is the best time to visit Bali?”

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Google Snippet

The response is a Google Snippet which is a description of or an excerpt from the web page” that follows the title and precedes the URL and Cached link. Simply put, the snippet refers to the description portion of a Google search listing. It doesn’t include the title, nor does it

Using Voice on the Smart Speaker (example — Amazon Echo)

“Hi Alexa, Turn on the TV”

Using smart speakers you can do much more than what you can do with your smartphone. Thanks to the internet of things (IoT), home automation and the growing smart devices in the market, one is in a position to do a lot of things around the house using voice commands. It is important to note, that your smart speaker needs to be connected to smart things around the house, for example, a smart switch, a smart TV remote etc. which will be able to capture the voice commands from the smart speaker.

Here is an interesting article on voice commands usage. 14 ways you can control your home with your voice using Amazon’s Echo and Alexa

Having seen the consumer perspective of usage of voice technology, we now go on to see some ways in which marketing professionals are embracing this new technology.

Changing Ways of Brands Interaction with their Customers

Brands are now trying to adopt a voice strategy. There is a lot of opportunity for much deeper and much more conversational experiences with customers by following the new voice technologies.

Brands are finding new ways to create an exceptional voice experience. It includes right from the basic questions as to which voice to adapt to answer your queries, whether to adopt a male or female voice for your brand, what should be your brand voice persona, how formal should the conversation be and so on and so forth.

Another important question is which voice platform should you optimize and test for. Amazon Echo is the most popular smart speaker, however, you have the others too like Google Home, Microsoft Cortana, Apple HomePod which are very much on close heals. But eventually, whichever platform is being used, the search does go on to Google, so that needs to be kept in mind.

Voice Search Optimization

Search behavior is changing.

For example, Alexa has become the favorite product of many users and can do an impressive number of things like it can stream music, control smart bulbs or anything connected to a smart home automation hub and a lot of other things. You can also order millions of products from Amazon without lifting a finger. Voice searches are extended to mobile applications — your smartphone and your smart gadgets like watches etc. Even the Xbox One will reportedly soon support Alexa and Google Assistant.

It is changing the way users interact with content and the way search engines crawl, index, and retrieve website information. The rise of voice search means that marketers need to place a high priority on long-tail keywords and focus on natural, spoken language and a conversational approach. They now have to think about voice-activated content.

Here is an interesting read on voice and screen-based searches. How to Take Over Google’s Featured Snippets and Win Voice Search in 2018

Voice Ads

Voice can also be seen as an add-on to text advertising on the web. Today we already see text ads or text captions are overlapped over the youtube video and in a similar manner, audio streaming could be accompanied with text ads on an accompanying display, by recognizing the subject content in the played audio.

Advertising on the Voice Assisted Platforms like Alexa is a new thing and is slowly catching up in the advertising world. The difference between a radio ad and a voice ad is that listeners to this day still can’t respond to a radio ad the way an Alexa user can interact directly with the device.

Here is an interesting read where the chief revenue officer of Pandora shares his experiences The newest opportunity in the fourth screen’s impact on consumers lies in audio and voice

Voice Notifications

Voice notifications is not a new thing, it’s been around for some time. However, with consumer behavior moving towards the voice, especially for the millennial generation, this will be an interesting channel for marketing professionals to explore along with SMS, social media, direct marketing and so on. Voice message marketing will be a feature of mobile app marketing, voice can enable better user engagement and retention. Software Voice APIs on voice gadgets will proactively indicate that there is new content from core features, such as shopping updates.

Here is an interesting article from DialMyCalls that talks about using voice message marketing 7 Reasons Voice Message Marketing Is Incredibly Effective

History of Voice Recognition

When we look back in the history, the history of voice recognition is older than half a century already. It happened first time in the world in 1952, when Bell Labs invented a landmark system called Audrey system, a circuitry housed in six feet high box, could understand the numeric digits used on telephone dialler i.e. 0 to 9 into its speaker box, which laid the base for voice-dialing.

A decade later, in 1962 IBM developed a voice-operated calculator called Shoebox Machine, which recognized numbers and words for simple arithmetic operations, in order to print the answer of the calculation. Around 1971, DARPA’s SUR program invented Harpy, that could recognize more than a thousand words.

In 80s the technology started growing rapidly on the basis of development of statistical model HMM (Hidden Markov Model) which was implemented in consumer electronic equipment such as Tangora by IBM (1986) and Julie doll by World of Wonder (1987), that was followed by many more such equipment until the next decade, with features of natural language processing (NLP) added, and then arrived the IVR systems those are being used till now.

In 2001, IBM had prototyped voice-based driving direction assistant for providing hands free navigation system over mobile phone using IBM ViaVoice engine (2001) which had potential to capture the consumers’ shopping needs and get to know the nearby kiosks for their need, the implementation that was functionally very near to “Voice Marketing” in its primitive state.

Thereafter in the industry, it was taking off further with implementations having Google’s Voice Search (2008) and Siri the AI-driven Personal Assistant (2011). As PDAs (Personal Digital Assistant) evolved and more users started opting for Mobile Devices especially Smartphones, instead of the desktop, the mobile phone was already having computing power sufficient enough to handle voice recognition, that was powered by cloud-based AI engines such as the one used for Siri.

The recognition of the words, the speech and especially the keywords those are spoken into these systems are now easily processed in a similar manner like Google AdWords processes text searches to pop out personalized ads, to prompt voice messages like humans. Recently launched voice-activated personal assistants like Alexa and Cortana will be able to bring up sales pitch blended into a natural voice chat with the user, beginning the new era of “Voice Marketing.”

Voice Technology — Under the Hood

The core technology used is Voice Recognition. This has been a very exciting stream in AI, where machine’s learning processes look very similar to an entry phase in human life and education when a baby learns new words from the mother, first time ever by recognizing the phonics she speaks out.

Voice Recognition enabled with Natural Language Processing (NLP) takes the flow of technology and research further into streams of Speech Recognition and Machine Translation. In many AI-based systems, the voice interface could become one of the most preferred modes of interaction with the underlying AI engine, and that coupled with NLP capabilities could become more powerful.

To learn more about Artificial Intelligence, you can read AI-Driven Marketing 101 — The Basics

To learn more about Natural Language Processing, you can visit Natural Language Processing (NLP) for All

Speech Recognition vs. Voice Recognition

Though “speech recognition” and “voice recognition” are often used interchangeably, they are different technologies with radically different objectives. The purpose of speech recognition is to arrive at the words that are being spoken. Therefore, speech recognition programs strip away personal idiosyncrasies such as accents to detect words. Voice recognition aims to recognize the person speaking the words, rather than the words themselves. Voice recognition relies on full-text.

Voice Assistants Platforms

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Voice Assistant Platforms

Definition — Voice Assistant Platform

A voice assistant platform is a software that uses voice recognition, natural language processing, and speech synthesis to provide aid to users through phones and voice recognition applications. Theses assistants offer a voice layer on top of different operating systems.

Google’s voice-enabled intelligent assistant, Amazon Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri. There is a real platform fight again. Even though Siri and Alexa have a head start, Google has momentum and some built-in advantages due to its stronghold on the search and advertising domain.

Smart Speakers

According to Gartner, the global market for smart speakers is expected to grow to $2 billion by 2020

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Some Smart Speakers in the Market

Definition — Smart Speaker

Traditionally smart speaker is a wireless and smart audio playback device that uses several types of connectivity which enhances ease of use and connects to multiple types of audio sources. With the advent of AI digital assistants, they now operate as home automation hubs and allow voice interaction with various systems in the environment and online.

Smart speakers are now becoming a rage which helps control your home devices. Some of the smart speakers making on the top of the list are Amazon Echo, Apple Homepod, Google Home and Microsoft Cortana. Here is an interesting link to The Best Smart Speakers of 2018

Core Aspects of Voice Technology

Apart from speech recognition, the other core part of voice technology includes natural language processing(NLP), machine translation, natural language understanding, nuances of conversation, understanding semantics, text to speech. These all work along with core machine learning and deep learning technologies of AI.

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Developing Alexa Skill (voice) for your product/ company

What Is an Alexa Skill?

Alexa is Amazon’s voice service and the brain behind tens of millions of devices like the Echo family of devices including Echo Show and Echo Spot. Alexa provides capabilities, or skills, that enable customers to create a more personalized experience. There are now tens of thousands of skills from companies like Starbucks, Uber, and Capital One as well as other innovative designers and developers.

As a marketing professional, one can explore developing an Alexa skill for their own company/product. For more information on Alexa Skills visit

Usage and the Shift towards Voice

With voice-enabled search and ad engines on rise, we can imagine of smartphones and smart speakers becoming smarter with voice capabilities. Further, there is a high possibility of hybrid voice-based systems getting innovated those capture search or any input text as well as voice content and output text or voice ads to suit user’s mode of attention at given point in time depending on the personal mood at that time.

We now have a consumer experience where there is less screen interaction, lesser use of search boxes and a much stronger voice experience. Voice usage will especially be very beneficial to the people with reading disabilities, people with impaired sight or mobility and the elderly. User convenience is also very high with voice; it’s always easier to speak than to type. For instance, while driving voice commands become very handy since touchpads become too difficult to operate. Also, in an emergency, speaking 911 is any day much more convenient than dialing 911 on your phone.

Many industries that are using digital audio, in the day to day operations, are the ones who are likely to be benefited here, most. Industries such as telecommunication, radio, music, film, games, education, retail, food, agriculture, travel, transportation, banking, healthcare and automation for home, office, industries, etc. would be early-adopters on this horizon of a new paradigm of Voice Marketing partnered with the search engine industry. This new form of marketing can potentially be a big game changer in the world of marketing. Marketing professionals are only now getting a glimpse of this new channel. Along with a web strategy and a mobile strategy henceforth, one will now also need a voice strategy.

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