What Marketers Want From Voice in 2019

From cross-functionality to morning coffee

If you could add voice functionality to any product, what would it be? Getty Images
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

In 2018, we saw voice functionality come to microwaves, clocks and wall-mounted fish, to name a few examples. While our tech overlords are, no doubt, hard at work on the next generation of voice-controlled devices that will roll out throughout 2019—and we’ll see a preview of what’s to come at CES next week—we asked industry executives what they’d put on their wish lists if they could voice-enable anything.

Spoiler alert: Wherever it is, they mostly just want more cross-functionality.

“I’d love voice queries and home assistants that actually … work,” said Aaron Levy, director of paid search at digital marketing agency Elite SEM. “They’re a pretty cool novelty right now—I combined a group of smart plugs and named them ‘Christmas’ to turn on all my lights … but they aren’t particularly amazing right yet.”

At the office

Andy Yost, CMO at media company Gannett, echoed Levy in terms of increased functionality, saying he’d like a voice-activated assistant for scheduling meetings and keeping him on schedule, “basically making my digital calendar my voice-enabled assistant.”

Jeremy Cornfeldt, president of digital performance marketing agency iProspect U.S., also said he’d like to replicate the functions of an assistant.

“Google launched Routines [last] year, and they and several other assistant makers have built multiple solutions for starting out your day prepared,” he added. “But we think there’s a missing opportunity for your work computer to help you wrap up the day as well by saving relevant files, updating tomorrow’s to-do list and then shutting down.”

Speaking of work computers, Pat Reinhart, senior director of digital strategies at SEO and content marketing firm Conductor, said he’d like to be able to automate tasks, like asking his laptop to have SEO tool Screaming Frog crawl a website and export the pages with duplicate title tags.

“If I could talk to my laptop at the office and ask it to run different programs while I am answering emails, it would almost double my productivity,” he said.

In the car

Cars were another popular choice for more voice functionality.

That includes Levy, who said that he’d love “effective voice-activated car/GPS systems.”

Pete Meyers, marketing scientist at analytics firm Moz, too, said he wishes car manufacturers would “stop obsessing over proprietary technology” as “Google and Amazon are running circles around them and I want that functionality in my car.”

Cornfeldt pointed to applications including, “anything and everything that decreases taking hands off the wheel,” from adjusting mirrors to changing the radio.

“It would also be fantastic to be able to ask questions about the current state of the vehicle and integrate the answers into your calendar—for instance, checking on when you should get an oil change and then scheduling it for you, or asking how much gas you have left and proactively prompting you when you should plan to stop off at a gas station the next time you pull up the maps app on your phone,” he added.

At home

Within the home, Michael Koziol, global CEO at digital agency Huge, said he’d like to see more integration within the kitchen, where the technology is in some appliances, but still isn’t particularly useful.

“I love to cook, and it’s not uncommon to have four burners and an oven going at the same time,” he said. “It would be great to be able to control the burners or oven temp with voice commands like, ‘Burner  No. 2, simmer, No. 1, kick up the heat, top oven broil for two minutes’ and get active temperature readings through voice notes.”

(He also joked that he’d like to tell the dishwasher to unload itself: “That would be the killer app of all time in my life.”)

Sarah Hofstetter, president of media company Comscore, said she’d love a voice-controlled coffeemaker in her kitchen. “Pre-caffeine decisions are hard, so starting my day with coffee on command would be a morning game-changer,” she added.

Joe Root, co-founder of behavioral data platform Permutive, agreed. “I’m a coffee addict, and I want to be able to simply walk into the office or arrive home and call out to my beloved machine to get brewing,” he said. “Or, better, give it a call on my way in so the coffee is ready the second I walk in.”

The laundry room was another part of the home where marketers said voice could do more. For her part, Jenna Niven, creative director at advertising agency R/GA, said washing machines have long had overly complicated interfaces. And, she argued, they are the perfect fit for voice because there are so many choices to be made with each load, including cycle, size and temperature.

“How cool would it be if you could just tell the machine what you put in and it automatically sets the cycle/temperature/spin to match … and if it was really clever, it would use image recognition to split my whites and colors for me,” Niven said.

What’s more, she said a voice interface lets users speak in natural language, and it could even capture additional contextual information, like timing:

Washing machine: “Need this anytime soon?”

User: “Yep—I need those pants for dinner tonight!”

Washing machine: “Okay, I’ll do a quick wash with a fast spin to speed up drying.”

(However, Levy quipped, “I can only imagine the fits I’d yell at a voice-activated washing machine when it bleaches my sweaters.”)

Cornfeldt’s list also includes a voice-controlled shower that knows how hot users like the water and tells them when it’s the right temperature, as well as a voice-controlled vacuum cleaner, like a Roomba that talks.

 “If I’m going full wish-list, though, I’d really like a subvocal Bluetooth headset, so that I can talk to Google Assistant while I’m walking down the street and not sound like I’ve lost my mind,” Meyers added.

@lisalacy lisa.lacy@adweek.com Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.