Don’t get left in the dust. Columnist Kristin Cronin believes that as voice continues its rapid advance, marketers need to be planning now for its impact on their brands.
If you thought mobile transformed marketing and customer engagement, get ready for voice to change everything again.
Thinking back to the early 2000s, people had no idea how complex and clunky Blackberry devices were. It was the “gestation phase” for smartphones — when the platform was new, expensive and difficult to use. Then Apple and Google came along, leapfrogged everyone and drove a massive adoption of smartphones.
The mature growth phase spurred by Apple and Google kicked off a period of exponential growth. Ten years ago, we didn’t know how big a disruption smartphones would be — but just look at what we’ve learned in a decade.
In essence, the last 10 years created a mobile marketing revolution, which helped brands reach audiences wherever they were, collect loads of critical data and use that data to create and hone real-time interactive experiences with their users.
At that time, if your brand didn’t have a mobile strategy, chances are you were left for dead. (This still holds true today, by the way.) Today, we find ourselves on the precipice of the next catalyst: voice. If you’re not thinking about how to incorporate voice into your mobile strategy, you, too, may be left in the dust.
Disruptor or disrupted?
Needless to say, engagement as we know it is drastically changing. The use of voice technology such as that of Siri, Amazon Echo and Google Home — and soon, Apple’s HomePod — has increased dramatically, and it’s only expected to continue growing.
In many households, it’s become commonplace to ask Alexa to play a song or check the weather, and this technology is even dipping its toes into retail. In fact, research company NPD Group, Inc., found that overall online spending by consumers rose after the purchase of an Echo in every category except for travel. Another example is the partnership between Google and Walmart that will allow customers to “voice shop” via Google Assistant.
Are we past the days of touching, tapping and swiping? Probably not quite yet. But 2017 has already been called “The Year of Voice,” and more and more we’re bypassing screen time and interacting through the medium of voice.
Soon, the norm will not only be talking to our phones and devices but also to our refrigerators, washing machines and cars — some of the more complex devices we own. This is not surprising since it’s expected that there will be more than 30 million voice-activated digital assistants in US homes by the end of this year.
Additionally, by 2020, voice is expected to drive half of all searches on mobile, while mobile is expected to drive half of all e-commerce transactions.
So what does this mean for brands trying to establish themselves in the burgeoning market? Think about it: You likely don’t care from where you get the weather when calling out to Alexa, just that you get an accurate report.
Furthermore, when you’re calling out for Alexa to add milk to your shopping list, she may simply respond confirming the best options based on price. But when you’re using text to Google a question, you are met with pages upon pages of options.
Among many other things, marketing as we’ve known it is going to change tremendously. How can brands compete in this logo-less space? Marketing itself has typically included some form of visual real estate — a website, a mobile app or something else — where there was a logo and a UX that were recognizable and connected you with the brand experience. With voice, these elements disappear.
This means that brands must now focus on making it easy for consumers to search and shop for products using voice commands. And brands will need to be able to track and understand voice interactions in the same way as other interactions to provide the right experience to the right customer at the right time.
Additionally, brands will need to make sure that their apps and voice strategies play nicely together. There are certain experiences that are purposely built for voice interactions, but many that are not. For example, asking for the weather on a voice device makes sense, but if you want to look through the hour-by-hour weather report, an app is still the best experience to consume that information.
Brands will need to be able to balance the immersive experiences that apps provide with simple, powerful voice experiences to ensure they are meeting the demands of their customers. And they will need to be thoughtful about how they approach and design each channel to meet those demands.
The future is now
The beauty of voice is that it can be integrated into an existing app. The use of voice to make it easier to compare prices and hail a car will only help bring convenience to consumers who are growing to expect such service. Soon, we’ll not only be using voice for commands and queries, but we’ll be able to have intelligent conversations with bots.
Marketers need to be thinking about and planning for the impact of voice on their brand and engagement strategies — now. The winners here will be those who put machine learning and big data to work strategically — and quickly — enough adapt to this new reality.
The year 2018 will certainly deliver plenty of opportunities to test and learn, but I believe it’s safe to say that, unlike the 10 years we’ve had with the iPhone trying to get mobile engagement right, voice engagement is going to happen much faster.
With the name of the game being voice, speak now or forever hold your peace.
This article first appeared in www.martechtoday.com
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