Every decade since the 1980s seems to have ushered in a new technology that changes the game. The 1980s saw the rise of the personal computer in the form of the Apple II and the Commodore. The 1990s saw the introduction of the internet that swiftly changed the way we share information. The 2000s was the rise of mobile that placed the power of the internet and desktop computers in the palm of your hand. The 2010s was the decade of social media that for the first time allowed human beings to connect with every other human being on the planet.
Although it may not seem like it, the next mass technological shift is already upon us. The 2020s are going to be the decade of Voice that will change everything we know about how we interact and use our technology.
However, before you can begin to understand how technology like Voice is going to impact you as a marketer it is important to understand what “Voice” is as a technology and why it is important.
What is Voice?
Voice (or “Voice-First”) is any interaction that allows you to control technology using natural language. With all voice-based technology, the human voice is the primary input the drives the interaction. Most current-day voice technology exists in the form of voice assistants like Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, and Bixby just to name a few.
However, voice technology itself has been around for decades but it has only been within the last five years that the technology has seen massive growth globally. This is due in part to advancements in other technologies like Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Deep Learning that make voice assistants like those mentioned above possible.
For decades humans have had to adjust to the new technologies we create by learning how to operate new hardware, manipulate new interfaces, and become familiar with new terms and concepts that before didn’t exist. Voice, however, is the exact opposite. For the first time in human history, technology must adapt to us vs. us having to adapt to the technology. Almost every human being on Earth is familiar with how to communicate verbally. Voice-enabled technology is just a natural extension of something that we all already know how to do; speak.
Why Voice Matters
Voice has been the most rapidly adopted piece of technology in human history. By 2023 it is estimated that there will be more than 500 million smart speakers in circulation. This statistic also doesn’t include the rapidly expanding voice-enabled smartphone market with more than 1 billion devices already in circulation globally.
Voice is also cross-generational. The primary input and user interface of the technology is the human voice and the natural action of speaking. Voice is a technology that any age demographic can use from early childhood all the way up to age 100.
Lastly, Voice offers a one-to-one feedback loop with technology, unlike anything that has come before it. Sure, we have been able to receive feedback from our technology in the past, but it has been nothing like Voice where the feedback is immediate, verbal, and personified in a way that is near human.
Now that you have a solid understanding of Voice as a technology and why it matters, it is time to start thinking of this a bit more strategically.
Below are 10 things that marketers need to know about Voice in 2020:
#1: Adoption of Voice is record-breaking
The adoption of Voice has been record-breaking! To date, there has been no other piece of technology that has been adopted more rapidly than Voice. In 2018 47.3 million U.S adults reported owning some type of voice-enabled smart speaker. In 2019 that same number jumped by almost 40% in just one year to 66.4 million.
Let’s take a moment to compare the adoption Voice and smart speakers to the personal computer. For the personal computer to be adopted by more than 25% of the U.S adult population it took 15 years. For Voice and smart speakers to be adopted by more than 50% of the U.S adult population, it took just less than five years.
The numbers DO NOT LIE. Voice has been the most rapidly adopted piece of technology in human history, and it is not anticipated to slow down anytime soon.
#2: The time to gain a competitive advantage is now!
If there was ever a time to consider developing a voice app using Alexa or Google Assistant now is the time! In 2020, building a voice app can be equated to being one of the first brands to build a website in the 1990s or a mobile app in the 2000s. There is A LOT of real estate to be had.
Currently, there are more than 100,000 Skills in the Alexa Skills Store and just over 4,000 Google Actions for Google Assistant. With the limited amount of voice apps currently in existence now is the time to stake your claim for your brand when competition is low and the amount of real estate available is high. Much like your website domain name represents a core component of your brand the same type of registry is expected for voice in the coming years. Build a voice app and stake your claim now!
#3: Voice search is growing and becoming more important
In 2020 alone, it is estimated that more than 250 billion (yes BILLION) searches on the web are expected to be voice searches. More and more people are beginning to feel comfortable asking Alexa and Google Assistant questions as opposed to typing them into a search engine. The rapid explosion of voice search is another example of an existing task that can be made easier via Voice.
It will be crucial for brands of all sizes to begin optimizing for voice search. Unlike regular web search where multiple search results appear on a SERP you have ONE SHOT to be the result in a voice search. Due to how the technology learns and interprets search results you now can capitalize on the early days of voice search and essentially own search for your industry or market niche. Don’t be late to the game and start optimizing your existing and future content.
#4: Major brands have already started using voice
There truly is something to be said about playing it safe and waiting for competition to deploy a new technology first. If you are a brand that is viewing Voice through this lens, then it is time to readjust your focus. The truth is, many major brands all around the world have already begun to leverage Voice to streamline internal processes or create a unique experience that drives customer engagement.
Brands that have already deployed an Alexa Skill or Google Action to assist with solving problems for customers include Butterball, Purina, Starbucks, Walmart, Xbox, Coca-Cola, Diageo, Domino’s, Uber, and Citibank just to name a few. The Alexa Skill’s and Google Action’s deployed by these major brands all solve a problem and help increase brand loyalty with their customers. I highly encourage you to check them out to see what is possible.
#5: More data equals better strategy
If there is one thing that we have learned from social media over the last decade it is that data matters. When marketers have access to more data on their customers, they able to provide personalized and targeted advertisements that yield conversions. However, social data is still limited to only clicks, engagements, and sentiment from different likes and comments. With Voice the game is changed entirely.
How people speak and the way that they ask for things is completely different from any other data collection method that marketers have had access to. With Voice you can see exactly what someone said, when they said it, in what context, and soon the ability to extract the emotional intent from what people say. With that in mind just think of the new possibilities and the customer avatars that you will be able to build.
#6: Hyper-personalization of customer experiences
With the rise of social media customer experiences have become more personalized than ever before. Without even realizing that you may have searched for a specific product or service in the past there always seems to be an ad that appears the moment you need something. We have entered an era of hyper-personalized customer experiences and advertising. People have now been taught to crave personalized content as opposed to generalized television, radio, magazine or newspaper ads.
With Voice, personalized customer experiences and advertising are taken to a new level. For the first time ever, people now have the capability to interact with content and advertisements via a verbal feedback loop that has never before existed. Alexa and Google Assistant have the capability to remember and repeat names, make suggestions, and analyze date to make voice app experiences even more personalized to their audience. Voice allows you to get emotional with your customers on a whole new level, and it is this piece alone that is truly transformational.
#7: Give your brand a unique voice…literally
Ever wonder how when you hear a certain sound, specific jingle or voice that immediately makes you think of a brand? For example, if you were to hear the voice of Colonel Sanders what brand would you think of? The answer is probably KFC.
Hearing the voice of Colonel Sanders or the McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” jingle are examples of Sonic Branding, a brand’s unique identifier via auditory means. For many years, the ability to develop and deploy sonic branding has been costly and reserved for only the most recognizable of brands. However, with the arrival of Voice any brand, no matter the size, now can give themselves a unique Voice. If you are thinking to yourself, “Does that mean Alexa or Google Assistant is going to be the voice of my brand?” then the answer is no. Why? Well, let’s just say there is a lot of technical mumbo jumbo that we won’t get into in this blog post, but if Samuel L. Jackson can be the voice of Alexa then you too can have a unique voice that interacts with your customers.
#8: Voice is poised to be the next major interface shift
If you look at the history of technology (specifically computers) the interface between the user and the machine has become progressively easier over time. Large mainframe computers that filled entire rooms and took extensive coding to communicate with became smaller personal computers with a Graphical User Interface (GUI) and a mouse. In the mid-2000s this interface shifted again as we began to touch, swipe, and scroll to interact with our technology. Now, our interface with machines is expected to shift again but this time it’s with our voice as the primary interface.
#9: In-Skill Purchasing (ISP) = More Revenue
Voice platforms like Alexa now offer the ability for users to make purchases directly through the voice assistant. Instead of directing them to an external website or even a separate app they can purchase the product immediately just by asking for it, or when you suggest it using In-Skill Purchasing.
#10: Do not be left behind. Be first to market.
The opportunity to capitalize on the “the next big thing” only comes around every so often. We are seeing multiple examples now of what happens when you choose to wait instead of being first to market when a new technology enters the picture (Sears and Blockbuster immediately come to mind). Trust me when I say that Voice is not just another technology fad or a part of the hype-cycle. This is a technology that much like the personal computer, the internet, the smartphone, and social media is going to fundamentally change our reality and how we accomplish day-to-day tasks.
My advice: Don’t let history repeat itself and don’t become one of the brands that no longer exists within the next ten years because you chose to not to take a leap of faith. Take a leap and give your brand a voice. Your ROI will be happy that you did.
About the author: Nick Myers is the Founder & CEO of RedFox AI, based in Madison, WI. RedFox AI helps to give brands a voice by leveraging the power of AI and voice assistant technologies like Alexa and Google Assistant.