Why Consumers Will Determine How Marketers Use Voice

Plus, 3 tips for making voice-powered AI work now

Amazon, Google Home

It’s official. Voice has hit its hype cycle.

Marketers and industry thought leaders have outwardly squabbled over its importance and implications, voice-powered devices have been hacked, experts in natural language processing have been hired and machine learning is a new focus for optimizations. More so than with any new offering of the past 20 years, understanding the forces at play behind the voice movement will be critical for any brand or agency hoping to tap into its power.

Consumer need and the elimination of choice

The rate at which we’re seeing content curation accelerate is overpowering.

Try as we might to sort through pages of product reviews, compare prices on competing sites and keep up with our friend’s dog’s Instagram stories, at some point in the very near future, human brains won’t be able to process and sort it all.

Instead, we’ll come to rely on personal assistants to preselect and deliver the information they know we will care most about. Assistants will become integrated into our daily lives and ultimately earn more of our interest, wallets and time. Where consumer interest, dollars and time go, a marketer’s attention is inclined to follow.

Our industry is built on choice. Whether explicitly or subtly, marketing touts the benefits of choosing one product or service over other ones. With voice though, consumers will give away that choice for the first time. In exchange for personalization and fast, dependable information, voice means that consumers will give up some of their independence.

Less space, more context

Consumers’ growing need and dependence on voice agents means that with increasing regularity, a metal cylinder is what stands between your marketing message and its target audience. Intelligent agents have become a modern-day Trojan horse embedded in all of our devices. Whereas historically, brands’ websites, their social media communities, influencers, agencies or celebrities have acted as conduits, now voice agents have a seat at the table. The power brokers of the past led consumers to vast amounts of content and choice (such as 15 pages of search results), but with voice, the viable real estate for the inceptive brand messaging shrinks to a single response. Bidding for this real estate will grow more competitive as brands follow voice’s design and optimize for quick delivery on value-based intent.

The trade-off with less space is more context and additional intent details from the user. Voice represents a shift from unnatural typing (i.e., less human) to natural-language talking (i.e., more human). Voice queries and commands carry far more richness and clues to consumer intent than traditional typed searches. “Tacos around me” becomes, “Alexa, what’s a great taco place that is healthy and walkable from my office?”

Similarly, an elegant and correct response or prompt can engage the user and lead to additional voice answers. More so than traditional search, voice can build a better understanding of intent and lead to a better path of discovery and relevance. The culmination of inherent consumer need, less real estate, additional intent details and more context clues has ushered in a renaissance for discovery marketing

So, we’re in the renaissance for discovery marketing. Now what?

With more clues to consumer intent, marketers will need to devote more time and resources to understanding not only each consumer’s intent, but their broader interests and consumer journey. By 2020, half of all search discovery will be voice-activated; voice is rapidly becoming important to search marketing. Gone are the days of trying to master the right return for a given keyword query. Now, mapping out consumer intent is critical to success.

Search for the most part is all about questions. You ask Google things. You ask Alexa things. Now, add command to that mix. When it comes to optimizing your brand to appear in these areas, voice requires entirely new tool sets and skills. For the past six months, 360i’s product and voice search team has been dissecting what makes these voice agents tick. In asking a combined 15,000 questions to each device, we’re beginning to uncover the algorithms at work behind both Google Home and Amazon Alexa and the mechanisms through which brands are pulled for consideration in the voice conversation.