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Applications of AI

The Rise of Voice Technology

Voice technology: an entirely new marketing channel

AI-enabled voice applications are already in the hands of millions of consumers, yet this category of AI still holds tremendous untapped potential. From frictionless shopping to the changing dynamics of search engines due to voice assistants such as Siri and Alexa, AI-enabled voice applications are becoming a prominent tool for marketers to integrate into their efforts.

Voice technology is rapidly evolving. Back in 2018 when I wrote my honors thesis on Artificial Intelligence in Marketing, I noted that only a handful of companies have crudely tried to integrate voice searches into their marketing campaigns. Since then, a report released by Adobe in May of 2019 stated that 91% of brands are investing into voice.

The reason why marketers are rushing to prioritize voice is not unfounded. That same study from Adobe revealed that 94% consider voice technology easy to use and not only saves them time, but improves their quality of life, indicating that voice is much more than just a flashy new marketing technology.

A report by Microsoft from April of 2019 stated that 72% of surveyed individuals have used a voice assistant within the last 6 months. Paired with the fact that over 3.25 billion people have access to voice assistants on their smartphones or smart speakers, voice technology is continuing to see tremendous consumer adoption.

All things considered, the potential of voice appears to be growing into a necessity for marketers to prioritize, similar to the rise of eCommerce in the early 2000’s and social media in the 2010’s. This begs the question, how should brands go about prioritizing voice?

To start, we can look at how people are currently using voice in an effort to understand how to properly implement it for your brand.

What voice technology is used for

Currently, people use voice for search queries that are straightforward and practical. Tasks such as:

  • Making a call to someone
  • Checking the weather
  • Looking up directions
  • Playing music

Voice searches tend to be “on-the-go” searches for topics related to local businesses and information needed on the go and was not used for sensitive information such as adult topics or medical information.

Contextual, timely, and relevant information is key when considering how to optimize your brand for voice. You can begin to prepare your brand for voice searches by optimizing your content and online presence today:

  1. Anticipating direct query-style questions, and format content accordingly (having answers to any and all questions asking who, what, where, when, and why easily accessible on the site),
  2. Providing rich, relevant information throughout your site and marketing materials to optimize for long-tail keywords that may come from long form voice search queries, and
  3. Continuously refining your brand’s positioning in order to carve out a specific niche in voice search results. For example, Google may personalize the search results when someone makes the voice command “buy more toothpaste” such that one person’s top result is a low-cost brand whereas another person’s is an organic brand. By positioning your brand as the go-to choice for people who shop organic, you can secure a coveted top search result spot amongst your ideal target audience.

How people interact with voice technology

Currently, voice technology can be used in a number of different ways:

  1. Smartphone voice assistants (i.e. Siri, Google Assistant, etc.)
  2. Smart speaker voice assistants (i.e. Amazon Alexa, Google Home, etc.)
  3. Smart speaker voice applications (i.e. custom applications on smart speakers like Alexa Skills)
  4. Custom voice applications (i.e. all other applications that use voice, such as web-based applications like UneeQ)

A large majority (85%) make voice searches using their smartphone, compared to just 39% who say that smart speakers are their primary means of using voice. Additionally, 80% of users state that having a visual interface would allow them to use voice for a wider variety of tasks. These findings indicate that voice technology alone can be somewhat prohibitive and unenjoyable. It’s the pairing of voice and screen where the real opportunities lie.

Searches conducted by voice are different than by typing. Voice searches are typically made with an informal tone and ask specific questions that can be over twice as long compared to text searches on average. Searching by voice allows consumers to be more candid and conversational, which differs from text-based search queries that often involve typing just a few keywords at a time.

For many brands, simply taking the steps outlined above to optimize your online presence for voice searches will be enough. For brands looking to invested more heavily into voice by integrating voice technology into their applications, there are many more factors to consider.

Ultimately, voice technology should make the user experience easier and more intuitive. There should be a real reason why the user would benefit from using voice.

Voice technology can be used to create a conversational interface with your application, potentially making it easier and faster for users to access the information they need or be guided through a multi-step process like scheduling an appointment, for example. The role that voice plays in your application will differ widely depending on your use case.

Designing for voice technology

While voice technology holds tremendous potential for marketing, it is important to understand its limitations. Voice can be frustrating to use at times. Users claim that voice technology is accurate and can understand them only 69% of the time. To reduce the level of frustration that may come from this, providing visual feedback on a screen can help users feel confident that the voice assistant understood their command or query correctly.

Additionally, 47% of users say it is uncomfortable to talk to a machine. The design of the voice technology itself may help in making users feel more comfortable to interact with it. For example, applications that involve a more conversational interface may benefit from having a voice assistant that sounds human-like, where as IoT applications may not.

Brands can explore a variety of different factors when designing their voice technology to ensure the experience is memorable and authentic to their brand. Tone of voice, expressiveness, speaking style (i.e. casual vs. formal), accent, and vocabulary (i.e. slang, industry-specific terms, etc.) can help brands differentiate themselves as more voice applications begin entering the market.

In the end, the goal of voice technology is to make the user experience as easy, intuitive, and frictionless as possible. Brands that do this right can set themselves up for success in both the short-term and long-term.

For example, Amazon’s voice assistant, Amazon Echo, has already helped it gain a larger wallet share from its customers. Echo users typically make 6% more purchases and spend 10% more than the average Amazon customer (Accenture, 2017). By making purchases as frictionless as possible, brands can earn loyalty and a larger share of wallet. This results in a positive spiral effect as customers begin to increase both the frequency and amount in which they spend with their brand of choice.

Closing thoughts

In just a few years, the role of voice technology in business has gone from novelty to top priority. Consumer adoption of voice technology is continuing to rise and more and more brands are rushing to capitalize on a new, untapped marketing channel.

For companies with limited resources, simply taking steps to optimize your content and online presence for direct-style, long form voice searches will be a great starting point. For companies looking to go all-in on voice technology, countless opportunities await, particularly for those who can implement voice for more complicated tasks.

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