Here’s What You Need to Know About Voice AI, the Next Frontier of Brand Marketing

67 million voice-assisted devices will be in use in the U.S. by 2019

The future is all about voice AI.

Soon enough, your breakfast bar could be your search bar. Your lamp could be how you shop for lightbulbs. Your Chevy or Ford might be your vehicle for finding a YouTube video, like the classic SNL skit of Chevy Chase’s send-up of President Gerald Ford, to make a long drive less tedious. And you won’t have to lift a finger—all you’ll need to do is turn toward one of those inanimate objects and say something. Welcome to a future where your voice is the main signal for the elaborate data grid known as your life.

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Two decades ago when Amazon and Google were founded, only a seer could have predicted that those companies would eventually start turning the physical world into a vast, voice-activated interface. Artificial intelligence-powered voice is what perhaps makes Amazon and Google the real duopoly to watch (sorry, Facebook), as their smart speakers—2-year-old Amazon Echo and 8-month-old Google Home—are gaining traction. Forty-five million voice-assisted devices are now in use in the U.S., according to eMarketer, and that number will rise to 67 million by 2019. Amazon Echo, which utilizes the ecommerce giant’s voice artificial intelligence called Alexa, owns roughly 70 percent of the smart speaker market, per eMarketer.

“Our vision is that customers will be able to access Alexa whenever and wherever they want,” says Steve Rabuchin, vp of Amazon Alexa. “That means customers may be able to talk to their cars, refrigerators, thermostats, lamps and all kinds of devices in and outside their homes.”


While brand marketers are coming to grips with a consumer landscape where touch points mutate into listening points, search marketing pros are laying important groundwork by focusing on what can be done with Amazon Echo and Google Home (the latter of which employs a voice AI system called Assistant). With voice replacing fingertips, search is ground zero right now when it comes to brands.

But how will paid search figure into it all?

Gummi Hafsteinsson, Google Assistant product lead, says that, for now, the goal is to create a personalized user experience that “can answer questions, manage tasks, help get things done and also have some fun with music and more. We’re starting with creating this experience and haven’t shared details on advertising within the Assistant up to this point.”

While Hafsteinsson declined further comment about ads, agencies are now preparing for them. “In the near term, [organic search] is going to be the way to get your brands represented for Google Home,” says 360i president Jared Belsky, who points to comScore data that forecasts 50 percent of all search will be via voice tech by 2020. “Then ultimately, the ads auction will follow. You’ll be bidding to get your brand at the top of searches. I believe that’s the way it will go. Think about it—it has to.”

Jeremy Lockhorn, vp of emerging media at SapientRazorfish, remarks, “The specificity of voice search combined with what any of the platforms are already able to surmise about your specific context [such as current location] should ultimately result in more personalized results—and for advertisers, more narrowly targeted.”

Brands—which are accustomed to being relatively satisfied when showing up in the top five query results on desktops and phones—should brace for a new search reality, Belsky warns, where they may have to worry about being in either the first or second voice slot or else risk not being heard at all. “There’s going to be a battle for shelf space, and each slot should theoretically be more expensive,” he says. “It’s the same amount of interest funneling into a smaller landscape.”

Scott Linzer, vp of owned media at iCrossing, adds that consumers may not “find it an inviting or valuable-enough experience to listen to two, three or more search results.”

This story first appeared in the Aug. 7, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.