Surviving the new era of voice

BMF head of digital and direct strategy, Irina Hayward
By BMF head of digital and direct strategy, Irina Hayward | 10 November 2017
Irina Hayward

In an always-connected multi-device world, our attention spans have diminished. We’re more easily distracted. We expect instant gratification on the go.

No longer do we simply stand in line for our morning coffee, or wait for the pedestrian lights to change, without checking our mobile devices.

And given the speed of the spoken language over the written form, it’s safe to say that voice-activated technology is shifting the digital landscape.

But the question still stands: have voice-activated devices entirely overturned how we interact with technology and engage with brands?

At this stage, we still have a long way to go.

Since 2011 when Apple introduced Siri, and in 2012 when Google released an android equivalent, we’ve come to expect our phones and apps to comprehend spoken queries.

Mary Meeker’s 2017 Internet Trends report outlined that while voice is beginning to replace typing in online queries, only 26 per cent of mobile queries were made via voice last year - most popular of which were very simple commands to call mum or dad, or for assistance to navigate home.

We’re just at the start of an even more connected future

Shopping via voice is still very much a new territory for consumers and brands.

Google Home was only recently released in Australia earlier this year, offering voice-controlled personal assistance that can regulate appliances, play music, provide news and weather alerts, answer questions and even control house lights.

The equivalent smart voice appliance, Amazon Echo, which quite cleverly prioritises its very own Amazon product range over competing brands, has yet to be launched in Australia. But with Amazon due to set up local operations in Melbourne soon, it’s easy to assume that the Amazon Echo won’t be too far from hitting our shores.

It’s not a trend that is going to stop

In the future it won’t just be our phones or voice-tech devices talking back to us. Overseas, Amazon Alexa has teamed up with Whirlpool to create voice-activated, smart home appliances such as ovens and washing machines that can be programmed with a simple word command.

So it’s safe to say that while the Internet of Things hasn’t completely kicked off locally, brands should begin to embrace, play and test the voice-activated technology now to ensure they are in the lead when the adoption cycle intensifies.

The consumer ecosystem is becoming a little more interesting

Rather than rely on written search queries, the online shopping experience – from product features to comparative price points and product reviews – could all be voice-activated.

By 2020, according to the latest ComScore report, half of all online global searches will be via voice. Search will be an integral first step towards engaging and connecting to a brand.

We’re already seeing the search-terms-shift. For example the written search query “Sydney cafés” now has a consumer voice-friendly equivalent: “What is the closest café in my area? How do I get there?”

So, as voice-based conversation queries dramatically differ to typed searches, brands will either need to modify their search optimisation and adjust to longer voice search terms or use evolving AI to help understand consumer intent.

Increasing emphasis on building trust between brands and consumers

Brands have used social platforms to listen and respond to conversations, and consumers have expected to be heard.

But as sight and touch expands to voice and more personal conversations, ironically through tech, voice activation will enhance this further and change the way brands connect with consumers in an even more meaningful way.

This will have significant effects on brand advertising

Through voice activation, brands will have a better understanding of consumers’ needs and more importantly individual intent.

Personalised ads will factor where people sit across the path to purchase more than ever before. From consideration to conversion to loyalty drivers, the dialogue will need to be specifically tailored at each phase of the journey – to drive deeper spoken, two-way relationships.

Late last year PayPal used Siri’s voice activation, allowing users to request and send payments: “Hey Siri, send Nat $50 using PayPal”.

Burger King capitalised on Google Home devices through a TV ad by prompting the phrase “OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?” setting off home devices and driving organic online social activity at a ridiculous scale.

Johnnie Walker unlocked cocktail mixing and recipes with Amazon Alexa, and Facebook Messenger bots by encouraging users to say: “Alexa, open Johnnie Walker”.

And with the recent launch of Apple’s HomePod, where music is controlled through natural voice interaction, the battle of the smart speakers continues.

What do local brands have to learn from our overseas counterparts?

We’re definitely seeing an increasing number of consumers using voice activation devices, providing brands with the opportunity to learn, interact and engage with customers in a way that hasn’t been imaginable before.

The ultimate irony being that technology is allowing more brands to become more human.

‘OK Google, for my next birthday, tell my husband that diamonds are a girls best friend.”

BMF head of digital and direct strategy, Irina Hayward

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