For those skeptical of the impact that smart speakers and voice assistants will have on the future of consumer technology and marketing, the numbers are not on their side. An August 2018 study of over 1,000 U.S. consumers done by Adobe shows that 32% of consumers now own a voice-enabled smart speaker device and they predicted that by 2019 that number would rise to nearly 50% due to holiday sales. Additionally, December 2018 data from NPR and Edison Research states that there are 118.5 million smart speaker devices in U.S. homes, a 78% increase from the year prior. This trend isn’t confined to the U.S. either, similar growth can be observed at a global market level with Canalys reporting 137% year-over-year growth in worldwide smart speaker shipments.
That’s a lot of smart speakers. This new era of voice-enabled devices and their rapid adoption signals a major shift for the digital world and consumer interaction models. Brands choosing to sit on the sidelines may think they’re waiting for the right time to apply market learnings, but they are actually setting themselves up to lose in the long-run. In order for your brand to win now, there are four areas that need to be taken seriously before it’s too late.
Building Brand Visibility through Voice Search
A few years ago, Gartner projected that 30% of search will be done via voice by 2020. Since then, ComScore has increased that estimate to 50%. Furthermore, at the beginning of 2018 Alpine AI estimated that there are over 1 billion voice searches per month already happening. The trend started with mobile voice search capabilities, was accelerated by the adoption of smart speakers, and looks to be here to stay.
Voice search is different than traditional keyboard-based search and brands that want to win here need to adapt. Major differences include thinking about conversational phrasing in content and prioritizing long-tail keywords. For now, smart speaker devices and their AIs are still learning and seeking out authoritative sources or experiences to provide users when asked certain questions. Brands that act now to develop a Voice SEO strategy, provide answers and surface in voice-driven queries will reap the benefits in the long-run.
Owning Your Brand’s RTBs through Voice Experiences
Alexa Skills and Google Assistant Actions, or “Voice Apps” as some call them, are a powerful way to connect users with your brand today. In an August 2017 study, Google found that a significant amount of smart speaker users were interested in receiving content from brands through voice including both promotions and utility such as tips and information. This is in line with what Amazon has found as well. At the latest AWS re:invent conference, Alexa Chief Evangelist, David Ibitski, shared that nearly 4 out of 5 U.S. Alexa customers with an echo device have used a 3rd-party skill and that customers engaging with 3rd-party skills have increased 150% year-over-year.
With more than 50,000 Alexa skills and over 1 million Google Actions available, brands need to be sure their experiences stand out. Aside from targeted promotion and discovery efforts, brands should be thinking about how best to service their customers in voice-first contexts. In fact, in September of last year Alexa’s VP and Head Scientist, Rohit Prasad, hinted that skills as we know them will eventually be going away. Even today, Alexa and Google Assistant will point users to experiences from search if there is merit to do so. The new frontier will be focused on intelligently routing users to experience based on questions and personal data vs. having to locate, enable and invoke a new “app” every time. When your audience needs assistance or information, make sure your brand is there with a well designed experience to greet them (and their platform’s AI).
Enhancing Your eCommerce Practice with Voice
Commerce has been a controversial topic in the voice world. As The Information has found, the transactional volume generated by smart speakers is off to a slow start. However, projections indicate that voice shopping will increase to $40 billion over the next four years and that 18% of consumer expenses will be processed via voice in the next three. From a retail perspective, a 2019 playbook from RetailMeNot, Inc. reports that 16% of Americans have made a purchase through voice and that “96% [of] retailers are investing in [voice] technology to allow consumers to shop for their brand on smart home speakers.” An encouraging signal that sales volume is coming is that, in addition to some users completing purchases, many are turning to their devices for top-of-funnel product research and discovery.
Even if the market today is small, getting ahead of the game is critical for brand success. Currently, if your product becomes a top recommended item by one of the voice AIs, it is likely to stay there. In the immediate landscape, optimizing your product listings and improving visibility online with key retailers will help, but preparing for voice commerce will require brands integrating commerce across all voice-enabled channels. Brands that do this will find that a short-term investment leads to long-term advantages.
Supplementing the Smart Home Market with Your Brand
In parallel to the smart speaker market boom, the smart home space has exploded with expected device sales of 41.2 MM units in 2018, an increase of 43% YoY. Many, if not all, of these devices are (or will soon become) voice-enabled through the leading AI platforms. Alexa is already present in 20,000 devices and growing while Google is making their assistant available in 10,000 smart home devices to-date, including new multimodal devices such as their Google Home Hub product. Amazon continues to lead the way having announced a slew of new Alexa devices recently including clocks, an automobile add-on device (which had over 1 million pre-orders), speakers, subwoofers and even a microwave. Given Alexa’s big holiday sales boost and Google’s CES 2019 announcements geared toward smart home device manufacturers, voice is going to continue playing a large part in the new home experience.
Brands have an opportunity to use their voice experiences and voice-first content to target smart home applications. The challenge will be on them to educate users on when and where they want users to engage with their experiences, but the infrastructure and consumer behavior development is already well underway.
These four areas of focus can provide brands coverage in the early days of voice strategy execution, but they should be considered holistically. For example, a strong voice search presence will not only help build up brand visibility, but it will develop brand authority with the assistant AIs which could lead to more users discovering experiences or being exposed to ecommerce content. The more people that use the technology, the more connected your strategy will become. The battlefield is set and brands that move first to optimize their voice strategy for search, experience, commerce and the IoT will emerge with a well-covered beachhead to operate from.