The future of voice

Where to from here?

The world of voice is ever-changing. With new software enhancements, new devices and Christmas looming, what does this mean for brands who are thinking about voice?

The introduction of smart voice-controlled devices in the Australian market has just clicked over 12 months with Google Home landing in people’s laps in July 2017. It’s fair to say that Google did a fantastic job of launching the first device and leads the way in terms of household penetration here in Australia. It’s very different in other parts of the world with Amazon owning the lion’s share. Both Google and Amazon are tight-lipped with device-usage, penetration and uptake information. So, to truly understand what Australians are doing with voice, we took it upon ourselves to conduct the first-ever dedicated Australian Voice Report. The results are staggering.

Google Home is currently the most recognised brand in the market, with 7 out of 10 Australian consumers aware of one or more of their speakers. Consistent with this result, Google Home is also leading in terms of take-up, present in 12% of homes and 7% of workplaces. In July 2018, Edison Research found that 5% of Australians had access to a smart speaker. Just 4 months later, 15% of those surveyed have a smart speaker at home, a 200% increase and sets global records for the same year-in-market milestone.

When we launched VERSA, consumer-oriented voice experiences were highly ethereal and intangible propositions for marketers to get their heads around. Our initial conversations were hard. There were no Google or Alexa voice-enabled products in Australia. Amazon had not even announced plans to come to Australia. Fast-forward 12 months and the landscape is very, very different. In May of 2018, Analyst firm Telsyte estimated that around half a million Australian households owned a smart speaker, a 4900% increase from 2016 sales. Just 5 months later, and The Voice Report 2018 by VERSA has found that that figure has risen to 1.35 million households, or a staggering 13,000% increase in less than 2 years. It’s not just consumers that are leaning in. Marketers and communications agencies are acutely aware of the trend, we get a tap on the shoulder a lot more now than a year ago! It’s resonating with the C-Suite and the underlying data truly indicates voice is here to stay.

Since inception, we’ve worked with many partners to deliver experiences on the platform(s) and continue to have discussions both locally and internationally for new projects, which is tremendously exciting. When a new venture is launched, no one can predict the outcome, so we draw comfort knowing that we backed a horse that was just not out of the gate as yet.

To say that voice is mainstream here in Australia is premature. It’s absolutely in its infancy, but rest assured there will be many more smart speakers under Christmas trees this year wrapped with neat little bows. Growth looks set to continue with more than one in three Australian consumers considering purchasing in the next 12 months, 25% for themselves and 12% as gifts, with the propensity to buy much higher amongst early adopters. While these statistics are impressive, globally, adoption rates have exceeded all forecasts, with the US market growing fifteen fold since 2016 (voicebot.ai), suggesting that adoption could be even greater.

With paper strewn over the floor, boggle-eyed present openers will stare wonderingly at these objects to understand what they can do. Questions will emerge, such as, “I’ve plugged it in, now what do I do?” they will hark. “The lights are blinking, what does this mean?” will be whispered somewhat eerily.

It is clear that Australian consumers are largely uneducated in what their devices can do, with 11% of respondents suggesting the devices could control lights or other home appliances — both of which are achievable with smart home appliances. Thank goodness for the post-millennials and millennials, as adoption is being led by these cohorts (decreasing with each subsequent generation), males, younger families, city dwellers and higher income households ($100K+ per annum), so no doubt these “young at heart” audience will help naturally understand more as to how to use the devices and impart this on Christmas day!

While the top 5 most common uses for smart speakers vary between Australia and the rest of the world, music reigns supreme. 61% of all Australian users most commonly use their device for listening to music, and 60% for checking the weather. Other popular genres including the news (49%), movies/TV (39%) and smart home applications (37%).

In our time with Voice at VERSA, we have recognised that devoid of visual stimulus, voice-enabled devices can be quite abstract around their applicational use. Whilst they come with an instruction manual on how to use them, it actually doesn’t tell you what to do with them. Discovery on the platform is one area that is often talked about at VERSA and with our clients. The role of marketing still has a massive role to play for consumers to understand that particular voice-experiences exist and what exactly the audience can do with it. Like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he will come…” Yeah, Nah. This is where the new-device line up from the front-runners is really quite interesting indeed.

Having only announced their line-up in September this year, Amazon announced 70 new products in the US. 70. That is mind-boggling. We have to remind ourselves that Amazon’s core business is not in making products, it’s e-commerce. And now very much so, v-commerce.

The roadmap now consists of a bunch of new fancy Echo’s that are smothered with fabric and better quality speakers. Early Echo’s were often considered inferior to others in market, so Amazon have truly pegged it up a notch here. The Echo Show provides additional utility with a 10-inch screen compared to the previous 7-inch model and also acts as a smart hub should the internet go down, along with real-time Dolby sound processing for better audio. The list goes on with Alexa Auto, Echo Companions such as sub-woofers, Echo Link and an Amazon Smart Plug. Coupling this, there were a bunch of software announcements including new SDK’s, new presentation language for screen-devices offering greater design flexibility and unique interface creation which is great for brands.

At the Google Hardware event, the announcement of the Home Hub saw Google join the multi-modal race available now in Australia. It looks the part with 4-colour options and a bright 7-inch screen, smaller in format to that of the Echo Show, but it does have voice-recognition so users can customise their experiences along with parental control mode. An obvious omission is a camera, however. Other manufacturers have utilised Google Assistant in their product line-up including JBL and Lenovo. The water-cooler chat is that there is much more to come from Google and other brands, so keep an eye out.

From The Voice Report, we concluded that the take-up for both Google and Amazon brands is expected to increase significantly when Amazon and Apple’s devices experience their first Australian Christmas sales period this year. According to research firm Canalys, global trends have seen almost 50% of annual sales happen during the Christmas period alone. Both launching 6 months after Google in early 2018, Amazon Echo is currently recognised by 38%, and is present in 2% of homes and 3% of workplaces, and Apple Homepod is recognised by 35%, and is present in 2% of homes and 1% of workplaces. To provide greater insight into the future, VERSA were invited to Seattle in October to sit down with the global Amazon team to Alexa Developer Advisory Council, an opportunity to sit down with the smartest minds when it comes to voice. It’s the TOP GUN academy, where the goal is to further knowledge of best practices and input for the future direction of Alexa.

We’re not allowed to talk about this in detail, but we can say that the future for voice is looking truly remarkable with new software updates, analytical products and very cool tools for brands to build some awesome experiences for consumers.

If you’re looking add Voice to your marketing mix, get in touch with our team today

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