Brands That Aren’t Experimenting With Voice Devices Will Miss Out on Early Adopter Benefits

It's the future of marketing

More and more people are using voice devices every day. Illustration: Kate Rodman
Headshot of Audrey Wu

If you watched the Super Bowl in 2016, you might recall the Amazon commercial depicting a party hosted by Alec Baldwin, who wowed guests by ordering a then-obscure cylinder-shaped object to help him create a festive ambiance. “Alexa, turn on the music,” he commanded. With that, voice emerged as an exciting new user interface, rife with potential for brands to engage consumers.

Today, nearly three years later, Alexa is practically synonymous with voice commands, sort of how Google is synonymous with search. “She” now comes in screen form (see: Amazon Echo Show) and is far from alone in the marketplace. Along with Google Home, which also comes in screen form (see: Google Hub), Apple, Microsoft and Samsung have all joined the race, rolling out smart speakers of their own. And by the end of this year, it’s estimated that 64 million U.S. households will be equipped with one of them.

Who’s to say which tech giant will ultimately win this race. All we know for certain is that a sizeable and growing swath of consumers is becoming more accustomed to a voice-enabled world every single day.

Your brand needs a new voice—now 

A sizeable and growing swath of consumers is becoming more accustomed to a voice-enabled world every single day.

It’s still early days, and because of that, the branded voice experiences you’ll find on Alexa and Google Home (the only consumer-facing platforms developers can build on at the moment) aren’t attracting user bases in the millions yet. But the fact that over a billion monthly voice searches are logged on every month gives us reason to believe that meaningful traction will come soon.

In fact, more than half of all searches are expected to take place via voice by 2020, and that’s precisely why Actions on Google Home are about to become requisite for every enterprise brand out there. More people using smart speakers and more people searching by voice means more people inevitably asking their smart speaker about your brand. Deploy a branded Action, and you take control of those search results, ensuring those asking will be greeted with an engaging, interactive experience. Do nothing and inquiring minds will get nothing more than a reading of your regular online search results. Surely, you don’t want that, but if you’re not sure what you want, why not look to some of the earliest players in the space for a little inspiration? 

Estée Lauder 

When it comes to innovation, you can always count on the beauty industry to lead the charge, so it should come as no surprise that Estée Lauder was among the first major consumer brands to pursue voice. Ask Google to talk to Liv at Estée Lauder, and you can indulge in informative tips, get product recommendations and receive reminders sent to your phone to keep you honest with your nightly skin-care routine.

For a brand whose ultimate goal is to sell you beauty products, it’s the perfect primer for what’s to come when the ubiquity of devices with screens catches up to that of regular smart speakers: that is, frictionless, voice-driven shopping experiences.

Sesame Street

Growing up, Sesame Street was just a TV show, but today’s kids can truly dive into that magical world, thanks to the immensely popular Alexa skill beloved by parents for its educational value. Tell Alexa to have Sesame Street call Elmo and see for yourself. Something that trains your child to use technology to learn and listen? Sounds like a win-win.

The Food Network

If you’ve ever cooked by following a recipe you haven’t committed to memory, it won’t be hard for you to understand why smart speakers are poised to become as useful as a solid chef’s knife. With its Alexa skill, the Food Network sagely capitalized on this obvious potential and on the fact that so many users keep their devices in the kitchen. What if you could get a verbal cue after seasoning the meat when your hands are too gross to touch your phone, computer or recipe card? Well, now you can.

Voice is growing in popularity and will continue to do so because it’s easy and people like it. Five years from now, we’ll all be having conversations with our mirrors, refrigerators and cars, among other inanimate objects, but it’s all happening on smart speakers right now.

Whether your brand joins the movement or gets left behind is up to you, and given that there is much to be gained by hopping on board (including all that glorious user feedback you can use to inform other parts of your marketing and branding strategy), why wait? Setting a thoughtful voice strategy in motion now means reaping early adopter benefits tomorrow.

This week’s illustrations were created in partnership with students from the Baltimore Academy of Illustration. You can view more of their work here:

Kate Rodman

Sarah Jung

Matthew Shipley

Martin Saavedra

On On Lao

Cassie Tucker

Jonathan Smith

Kate Haberer

This story first appeared in the December 3, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@mraudreywu Audrey Wu is vp strategic partnerships at Haptik.