Target Adds Google Voice Assistant Shopping Nationwide

Target is the latest brick-and-mortar brand to sign on to accept requests made by owners of the Google Home through their voice-activated Google Assistant (aka “Okay, Google”) for delivery or pickup via its local online shopping marketplace Google Express.

In essence, the arrangement represents an expansion of Target’s existing use of Google Express.

Starting today, Target shoppers at most of its 1,800 stores in the United States can access items through Google Express and with the Google Assistant (except for Alaska and Hawaii). Target will offer two-day delivery, as well as free shipping for any orders over $35, Google says in a blog post.

Coming In 2018

Most of the capabilities of shopping through Google Express won’t be available until 2018. For example, after the new year, Target customers will also be able to use their Target loyalty membership through REDcard to get 5 percent off most Target purchases and free shipping when using Google Express. In addition, in 2018, Target shoppers will be able to link their Target.com and Google accounts, so the service will remember all their favorite items.

“We’re teaming up with Google to create innovative digital experiences using voice and other cutting-edge technologies to elevate Target’s strength in style areas such as home, apparel and beauty,” Target says. “Work is underway for Google and Target teams to bring this all to life.”

In August, Walmart unveiled plans to rollout a similar voice-activated shopping via Google Express and Google Home tools for its 4,700 U.S. stores and its fulfillment network “to create customer experiences that don’t currently exist within voice shopping anywhere else,” including choosing to pick up an order in store (often for a discount) or using voice shopping to purchase fresh groceries across the country.

These partnership on voice-activation comes roughly a year after Google Home debuted as a Connected Home product to augment Google Assistant.

“Shopping isn’t always as easy as it should be,” Sridhar Ramaswamy, SVP for Ads and Commerce, said in a blog post at the time of the Walmart deal’s announcement “When was the last time you needed to pick up something from the store but didn’t have the time to make the trip? Or you went to the store only to realize they didn’t have the brand you wanted? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get what you want, however you want, from the stores where you already shop? We launched Google Express and shopping on the Google Assistant to do just that: make it faster and easier for you to shop your stores like Costco, Target and  Walmart.”

Okay, Google, Target shoppers are ready to talk.

Target’s Many Omnichannel Steps

For Target, the expanded Google partnership follows a series of steps designed to tackle one of the primary challenges facing its omnichannel strategy by rivals like Amazon. In August, for example, Target acquired transportation tech company Grand Junction to promise same-day delivery to customers to match one of key appeals of Amazon’s discount shopping subscription program, Prime.

It’s the latest salvo store brand has taken to meet consumers’ demands in the age of Amazon and e-commerce. Those demands include personalized recommendation and satisfying customers’ purchasing preferences, such as online shopping/in-store pickup.

But as Amazon has expanded its discounts and two-day shipping with its Prime membership option, and has just heralded its Instant Pickup option, retailers have turned to one advantage they still possess — at least for the moment — in relation to Amazon: proximity to their customers and known inventory, which makes it possible to offer the ultimate convenience of letting someone click “buy” and then having it brought to them within a few hours.

The Rise Of Connected Intelligence, The Knowledge Graph

In general, the adoption of voice-activation and on-demand delivery/pickup follows the wider capabilities stemming from the rise of Connected Intelligence and the Knowledge Graph, which have propelled personalized, one-to-one connections between brands and digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s Bixby as they enter the mainstream of consumer behavior.

While Amazon’s Alexa has assumed an early position as a leading voice-activated assistant, Google has stepped up its push into the space as its aligns its services to brick-and-mortar brands such as Panera Bread, which became one of the first national restaurant chains to begin offering voice-activated ordering and payment through Google Assistant.

The voice-activated ordering is currently available in Panera’s hometown of St. Louis and at its six locations in the Silicon Valley area. A full rollout of voice ordering is expected to come to all of Panera’s 2,000-plus U.S. locations by the end of the year, the company has said.

Other national brands that have formally aligned with Google’s voice-activated virtual assistant to accept spoken orders via the delivery marketplace Google Express, including Costco, Guitar Center, Kohl’s, L’Occitane, Payless, PetSmart, Road Runner Sports, Sur La Table, Ulta, Walgreens, and Amazon’s Whole Foods.

In the case of Target, the retailer has been aggressively — and at times, fitfully — revising its omnichannel strategy. For example, earlier this year, it decided to abandon its sub rosa e-commerce program called Goldfish, which was dubbed as the “store of the future.”

Before that, in August 2015, Target started a beacon program with Estimote to round out its in-store sales assistance. It’s unclear how vital the beacon program has been — or even whether Target has continued to use it —  since the company has not discussed those efforts publicly. Along the way, Target’s experiments with interactivity has included retail pop-ups and a showcase IoT-based connected home store in San Francisco.

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How Discount Grocer Lidl Can Build Store Traffic Following US Launch

After experiencing a favorable introduction for its first 20 U.S. grocery stores in , German discount chain Lidl has been trying to establish its footing as it continues its East Coast expansion.

According to analysis by proximity platform inMarket, the dip in foot-traffic Lidl has seen at some of its stores in North Carolina and Virginia is afflicting others in the discount grocery space as Walmart ramped up its challenge against Amazon’s Whole Foods and Target.

Finding Traction

Lidl, which runs over 10,000 stores across 28 countries, “launched with a bang” this past June 15th, inMarket’s report notes. The company’s U.S. stores drew a decent 2.6 percent Share of Visits (SOV, as inMarket abbreviates it) on its introduction to the U.S. market.

The U.S. launch by Lidl appeared to take customers from another discount retailer BI-LO, which saw a decrease in visits from May to June, inMarket says. North Carolina- based Harris Teeter, which is a subsidiary of supermarket chain Kroger, also lost SOV in June, suggesting that consumers went to compare shopping at Lidl. (We’ve reached out to Lidl’s PR department and will update accordingly.)

Lidl saw an initial burst of store visits in the US this summer, but traffic has since declined.

But rather than cannibalizing the direct competition, inMarket points to Walmart’s gravitational pull as representing the biggest problem smaller supermarkets are facing, as the retail giant attracts about 30 percent of grocery visits.

“Many of those visits [to Walmart] are likely to involve grocery purchases,” inMarket says. “It’s interesting to note that Walmart dropped from 30 percent SOV in May to 29 percent SOV in June — perhaps as its cost-conscious shoppers went to check out Lidl. Fellow mass merch chain Target remained at from May to June at 9.3 percent SOV in these markets.”

Conquesting Reconsidered

Despite Lidl’s sudden rise, and its direct rivals’ dip in visits around the time of its debut, BI-LO, Walmart and Harris Teeter have all recovered SOV as of September, inMarket notes.

“It’s still very early for the retailer, so there’s definitely potential to turn things around,” inMarket Communications VP Dave Heinzinger tells GeoMarketing. “From our perspective, we know that location-based digital ad programs can help offline retailers drive foot traffic into stores.”

One area for Lidl US to explore is managing the digital presence of its growing network of American locations. Ensuring that consumers have the right discovery tools associated with digital presence management — nearest addresses for online searches, store hours, contact details, and reviews — could quickly expand its initial customer gains.

Heinzinger is interested to see if Lidl could make an impact by targeting competitive shoppers via smart, location-based retargeting programs. (For the record, Lidl does not employ inMarket, which relied on location data from the 50 million consumers who use the company’s partner apps).

“For example, our data shows that BI-LO and Walmart had dips in SOV during Lidl’s launch in June, while Whole Foods did not,” Heinzinger adds. “A top-line recommendation might be to focus on their strongest audience — the cost-conscious shopper — by conquesting BI-LO and Walmart shoppers through online-to-offline retargeting. They might also skip wasting dollars/impressions on uninterested Whole Foods shoppers.”

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How Walmart Plans To Connect With App Content And Services Through Button Marketplace

Walmart is the latest retailer to sign on to Button Marketplace, an app engagement and payments platform that connects mobile content and commerce brands.

In addition to adding Walmart, the Button Marketplace has also added more than 30 diverse new retailers to the platform. These include fashion companies such as Gap, Express, and Under Armour; digital travel brands such as Hotwire, HomeAway, and VRBO; retail giants such as Target, QVC, Walgreens, and Sears; among many others.

The Marketplace is run by a company called Button, which provides the connective tissue between complementary mobile apps and websites to promote loyalty and payment.

Just by way of explanation, last May, The Weather Channel app began featuring Button Marketplace apps from Uber, Groupon, delivery.com, Caviar, and Resy.  As a result, its users would be able to hail a ride, sign up for a deal, get a food delivery, or make a reservation without leaving The Weather Channel to connect with those functions. In addition to maintaining engagement, The Weather Channel could potentially drive revenue through affiliate deals to promote those separate app functions.

As Walmart seeks to combat rival Amazon to be the primary online and offline shopping center for consumers, the extension to other apps within its own mobile base could help it prove its own greater convenience to consumers.

Michael Jaconi, founder and CEO of Button, was particularly ebullient in announcing what he believes the benefits are to the retail giant.

“Walmart joining Button’s Marketplace is one of the greatest accomplishments for the company to date,” said Jaconi, at his company’s Tap 2017 conference. “Enabling Walmart to expand the partnerships that matter most to them to the mobile channel is a core ingredient in their digital growth strategy. Now, with Button playing an important role in that strategy, I’m confident our platform will deliver the highest-converting channel for mobile buyers that exists.”

Jaconi backs up his claims by noting that as mobile commerce continues to grow, with smartphone sales expected to reach more than $102 billion in 2017 alone, retailers are seeking new avenues to tap into the growth of the mobile economy and acquire new users for the highest converting channels they have — their apps.

Back in February 2016, we spoke to Mike Dudas, Button’s co-founder, chief revenue officer, about the role that mobile was playing in blurring the lines between online and offline for retailers.

“We are focused on mobile commerce,” Dudas told us at the time. “But what’s really surprising is that mobile commerce is actually happening in store. For example, Walmart saw that something like 10 percent of their mobile transactions are happening in store on device.

“People want to walk in to a store and if it doesn’t have the good on the shelf, they say, ‘Guess what, I’ll buy it from you on my phone.’ You’re going to see retailers responding to this. You’re going to be able to buy anything and get it delivered at the biggest, most savvy and sophisticated retailers. There’s going to be a much bigger shift to transactions that occur on what some would call ‘remote commerce,’ but I would call “proximity commerce,” as I tap the phone and pay with a credit card.

“Then, there’s this whole class of transactions that occur with services like Uber, and other platforms where you can book anything from food to hospitality to movie tickets,” Dudas said, foreshadowing the dozens of partners Button has signed up since.

The Walmart deal follows its recent aim at Amazon by partnering with Google on voice-activated shopping.

Owners of the Google Home will be able to speak orders to their voice-activated Google Assistant (aka “Okay, Google”) for delivery or pickup via its local online shopping marketplace Google Express. The Walmart connection came on the heels previous store partnerships with Costco, Target, and Whole Foods, which, coincidentally, is being acquired by Amazon for $13.7 billion.

In addition to adding Walmart and other retailers, Button is also concentrating on publisher apps as well. It has signed up social news outlet Buzzfeed, which will be able to tap into mobile commerce apps in the same way The Weather Channel’s app is through the Button Marketplace.

“Buzzfeed is the king of merging content and commerce in the most authentic way,” said Jaconi. “Incorporating mobile shopping for consumers within their properties is an exciting opportunity, and the variety of Button Merchants combined with Buzzfeed’s content creates endless possibilities for all partners – a win, win all around.”

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Nearly One-Third Of US Online Population Will Use Voice Assistants By 2019

While mobile-centric micro-moments has changed the way consumers search for and discover local businesses, the current revolution in voice-activation appears to be taking things in a different direction.

An eMarketer overview forecast of voice-enabled technology (subscription required), charts the rapid rise of Connected Intelligence-based digital assistants as making the transition from mobile to the living room.

At the moment, over 60.5 million people — 18.5 percent of the population — will use voice-activated assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s Bixby, with one-third of US internet users speaking to voice assistants by 2019 (75.5 million people).

Finding Consumers’ Voice

In terms of the use cases, eMarketer cites a February study from HigherVisibility that says consumers primarily employ voice-activated assistants for “simple commands,” such as playing music (14.2 percent), setting alarms (12.6 percent), checking the weather (12.2 percent), looking up a contact (9.4 percent), and getting traffic info (7 percent).

Those numbers were further borne out by an NPR survey this summer that found most of the people surveyed used their smart speakers to play music (68 percent) or check the weather (58 percent), most of the uses offer additional points of connection for brands.

In looking at over two dozen use cases, just 13 percent of smart speaker owners use their smart speakers to find a local business.

Looking more closely at search, 20 percent Google search queries are made via voice, while 25 percent of Microsoft Bing users speak their search requests.

The Search Is On

Understanding how people are using voice-activation is the first step, said Mike Grehan, CMO of Acronym and CEO SEMPO in a panel discussion on the topic last month.

In looking at how digital assistants are impacting search, Grehan pointed a study that found 60 percent of voice queries are from people seeking a service, not search,

“When you look at the patterns that you go through, voice is about recommending and suggesting, and then you have discovery, and then you have all those keywords that are not being used to find something on the web,” Grehan said, at the panel event, The Drum Search Awards USA, which was hosted at GeoMarketing parent Yext’s offices in NYC.

A report from Forrester this past spring warned that it was high time for CMOs to face the facts that digital advertising has not worked when it comes to engaging consumers and that the emerging role of voice-activated digital assistants and the connected intelligence that powers the devices by Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft will lead to only further breakdown of traditional marketing models.

Ad executives have largely dismissed that warning.

“Is this the end of advertising? I don’t think so,” Fernando Machado, Head of Brand Marketing at Burger King, told us last month at an industry event. “New technology has always opened doors for advertising. This represented a creative way to get the message out, a new way to reach our target audience, to reach our fans. That’s how we see technology: a chance to develop bigger idea that can be deployed across different channels.”

Last April, an ad campaign promoting Burger King’s Whopper set off Google Home devicesby asking its personal digital assistant what the quick serve restaurant chain’s signature product was.

Within hours, Google “blocked” devices from recognizing the question.

In the spot (a 15-second YouTube version is here), a Burger King cashier addresses the audience saying that there’s too many “delicious ingredients” in the Whopper to list in a short commercial. So, instead, the cashier leans in to the camera and says, “But I’ve got an idea: Okay, Google, what is the Whopper Burger?”

Even though Google prevented its devices from responding to the prompt, the ad got more than 10 billion impressions around the globe, with the U.S. leading the charge, Machado said.

Anselmo Ramos, founder and chief creative officer of Miami’s DAVID The Agency, said that the spot was indicative of Burger King’s irreverent, try-anything spirit and how voice-activation will simply represent another channel — in other words, a new beginning for advertising, not the end.

“When you look at radio, everybody understands how to write a spot that hits all the emotional spots,” Ramos said. “With Google Home, no one knows. It’s no territory. So we need to guess and learn. Luckily, we have a great client in Burger King that is willing to embrace new ideas, new technology.”

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Nearly Half Of Online Consumers Are Interested In Using Connected Home Devices

Awareness and interest of voice-activated digital assistants has been rising rapidly in the past year and the shifts among the main devices are reflecting that surge.

With Samsung’s Bixby being rolled out and Apple’s Siri-powered Homepod scheduled to be released at the end of the year, Microsoft and Amazon struck an agreement this week to integrate their respective Connected Intelligence agents, Cortana and Alexa.

Source: Magid Advisors

While 49 percent of U.S. consumers use their voice assistants on a weekly basis, compared with 31 percent of global respondents, according to a JWT, Mindshare, Innovation Group study, penetration of voice-activated devices is still relatively low. But the interest in such technology has clearly entered the mainstream.

As such, almost half of 2,400 consumers surveyed online by Magid Advisors expressed interest owning such a device. Among the topline findings of its report:

  • 25 percent of people who have a connected-home device use voice-activated digital assistants to shop for retail items on the internet
  • Siri (not Alexa) dominates both awareness and usage of voice-controlled digital assistant systems
  • 42 percent of people who have used a voice-controlled digital assistant said that reason is because they like to have their hands free to do other things
Source: Magid Advisors

Mike Vorhaus, president of Magid Advisors, offered a few insights into the company’s findings.

GeoMarketing: How do you see the state of virtual, connected assistants like Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Bixby, and Okay Google in terms of consumer and brand adoption/activity/use cases?

Mike Vorhaus: Siri is obviously way out front due to its distribution across Apple devices. Products like Alexa, Cortana, Google Home, etc., are all close to each other in awareness and usage to date by consumers.  This is definitely a close horse race at this point.

How do you think it will change over the next year, as Bixby is being rolled out and Apple’s Siri-powered bid for the Connected Home, Homepod, is due to be released in December?

I anticipate that the Siri/Apple device will be very appealing to consumers.  Nonetheless, the devices/software from Amazon, Google, etc., are all strong competitors.

Noting the appeal of voice-activation’s hands’ free capabilities, do you expect that speaking to a device, versus typing on it, will change consumer behavior in specific ways?

Yes, consumers will likely be less exact and will be able to repeat more information than they might otherwise when typing. That should make for better searches and better understanding of what the consumer is saying.

Does the rise of voice-activated interactions call into question the role of websites, in terms of the way they’re constructed from an SEO standpoint, to the kinds of visual-centric (as opposed to audio-oriented) information they provide?    

Yes, just like mobile devices have replaced a lot of desktop/laptop devices, I anticipate the voice-activated devices will similarly reduce use of the desktop/laptop devices.

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Age Of Connected Intelligence: Will People Pay For Fin’s Voice-Activated Assistant?

While artificial intelligence-based, voice-activated digital assistants are rapidly becoming mainstream, it’s safe to say that the respective comprehension of Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s Bixby are still in the learning stages.

For the past two years, tech startup Fin has been working on an operating system that will power an interactive, machine learning-based assistant of the same name that promises to “dramatically outperform” the current leading Connected Intelligence-based virtual assistants as well as “full-time help.”

Putting A Price On Virtual Assistance

Last month, Fin, which was started by Sam Lessin, formerly of Facebook file-sharing acquisition Drop.io, and Venmo co-founder Andrew Kortina, began sending out emails touting its combination of human intelligence and AI, noting that it “remembers all of your personal context and interacts over app, email, web, sms, and phone 24×7.”

One big difference: to access Fin, you have to be a paid subscriber.

The current offer being presented to Fin users starts with the first 2 hours of service each month for $120 per month, with any additional time for $1.00 per minute. (Fuller pricing details can viewed here.)

Is Fin Viable?

While Fin’s Lessin declined to comment for this article, saying he and the company are “pretty heads down at the moment,” we reached out to two thought leaders to get their initial impressions about what sort of impact — if any — the proposition of a subscription-based, highly personalized virtual assistant might have.

“Color me skeptical for the moment,” says Local SEO Guide’s Andrew Shotland. “If it’s 10x better than GoogleNow, Siri, Alexa, there’s something there, but this seems like a very high hurdle. It’s tough enough to get the experience to work for free services. In order to get someone to pay for a digital assistant service is accuracy and utility would likely need to be very high.

“I could see some B2B use cases where there are very specific common queries,” Shotland adds, “but that starts to sound like an Alexa recipe so why not do it through that system? “Then again, perhaps Fin has figured out how to overcome some very specific challenges with these systems. And if that’s the case, it will probably get scooped up by a bigger player much like how Samsung scooped up Viv and turned it into Bixby.”

Duane Forrester, VP of Industry Insights at Yext (full disclosure: Yext is GeoMarketing’s parent company. More details on that relationship here) is a bit less skeptical than Shotland, but also senses some significant limitations to Fin’s practicality as a business.

“I love the idea,” Forrester says. “Though the execution had better knock my socks off for that kind of monthly fee. I mean, that’s close to what house cleaners cost, and that’s a value I see — and believe in. For this service to warrant those kinds of costs, it needs to stand not just head and shoulder above our current free offerings, but a whole body above.”

A Superior Assistant

In terms of the specific implications for local businesses, the rise of voice-activated assistants have coincided with the increased importance of location management in SEO strategy — namely, that making sure that business location information is correct across platforms is key to ranking in Google’s “three-pack” of top mapped results, as is using optimal keywords.

Addressing the particulars of voice search is important in the same vein, especially considering that 76 percent of “near me” searches result in a business visit within a day. In fact, last week, we reported that search volume for local places continues to grow — but explicitly stated “near me” requests are on the decline, since consumers now simply expect results that reflect their proximity.

For example, one of the features uses of Fin showcased on its site includes queries like “Please remember Cotogna as a place I can get dinner after 10pm,” or “”Hey Fin, can you identify the plant in this photo, find me a local nursery that sells them. If it is less than $300 buy it for me and have it sent to my house.”

In other words, Fin is betting that people will naturally expect their devices to help them make plans based on where they are and what’s on their calendar.

“It does make me wonder what research they have on consumer behavior that leads them to think current consumers (and more importantly, those coming up behind them) are willing to pay that much for a service we all essentially get for free today,” Forrester adds.

Within the wider context of the Connected Intelligence space of Internet of Things devices and AI, voice-activated connected device usage is skyrocketing. So the timing for an even more aspirational, luxury product like Fin appears right. But as GeoMarketing‘s Lauryn Chamberlain recently noted, voice is just one modality in the world of Connected Intelligence, with image recognition and search beginning to play a vital role as well with the introduction of Amazon’s Echo Show.

“Everything about how voice-activated assistants [talk to users or to each other] is going to be centered around: It’s got to be user-friendly, and it’s got to be an experience that can truly benefit the user,” Ben Brown, Google Home & Wifi product lead, said at the June 2017 Connections conference. “It can’t just be because an internet service provider feels the opportunity to aggregate. That doesn’t necessarily offer value unless it actually is something that someone really wants to have.”

The way Brown sees the evolution of virtual assistants is that it will follow the path we’ve seen with mobile phones and with mobile operating systems before: People may want to interact with multiple different devices [from different providers] in their lives. At the same time, people tend to build an affinity towards certain devices over time.

In that case, a platform like Fin could benefit from the growth of a Google Home, Amazon Echo, Apple Homepod, Microsoft Cortana, or Samsung Bixby, as they seek to augment one AI assistant with others.

“If I had to make a call on this, I’d say it’s a cool idea, the superior assistant, but this doesn’t feel like the path forward,” Forrester concludes. “Even a company like Samsung, with huge resources applied to the problem of building a good digital assistant has struggled with their launch of Bixby in English-language markets. Unless I’m missing something obvious and untapped, I’m not seeing what problem is being solved to such a degree as to merit the cost. And I’m hung up on the cost! In a world where people won’t pay $20 for an app — once! — how does a recurring $120/month, random-use item survive?”

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How Voice-Activation Is Becoming The New ‘Touch’

The adoption rate of smart speakers with voice assistants grew 140 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to a survey from music streaming service Pandora and Edison Research.

In particular, Pandora usage on these devices grew by a 282 percent year-over-year.

Wit that growth in mind, Pandora sought to get a sense of how the rise of devices such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana is opening up new opportunities for marketers to reach multiple household members in contextually relevant ways they couldn’t before.

The research bears out much of what NPR found in its recent examination of the role of voice-activation and consumers’ media usage. Roughly 65 percent of people who own an Amazon Echo or Google Home can’t imagine to going back to the days before they had a smart speaker, and 42 percent of that group say the voice-activated devices have quickly become “essential” to their lives, NPR’s research said.

Among the obvious points both NPR and Pandora’s separate studies found: listening to music was the initial reason people sought these devices for. But the use cases of have quickly mushroomed.

With Apple emphasizing entertainment as part of its marketing behind its Siri-powered smart speaker, Homepod — which is set to be released in December — the next phase of audio and voice activation may be only just emerging. But it is emerging at a rapid rate.

From Touch To Talking

As Keri Degroote, vice president of research and analytics at Pandora, notes,  it is critical for brands to align their strategies accordingly.

“Voice-activated-everything is spreading like wildfire,”Degroote says. “From what we’ve seen, yes Smart Speakers have just surpassed any fad or experimental phase. The demographics of users (particularly the high proportion of 55+) suggest that this is no longer early adopters, but has hit the mass market. And the frequency with which these devices are used amongst consumers show the true value of bringing them into their homes.”

There is still room to grow in terms of users, functionality and integration – look back on the iPhone’s launch a little over 10 years ago, she adds.

“What brand can you name that doesn’t have a presence on the app store these days?” Degroote says. “And how many brands wish they were on the top of app-store charts in the early days to secure that prime home-screen positioning? It is important brands don’t play catch up in two- or three years’ time and find themselves in the same position.”

Still, Larry Rosin, president of Edison Research, notes that the adoption curve may be different from some of the other technologies and platforms that consumers have popularized since the iPhone emerged.

For example, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, as well as fitness trackers and wearables, have tended to be driven first by younger tech aficionados. The rise of voice-activation has been driven by people who are older and more affluent.

“This is not just a ‘young people’s technology’ like video gaming, for example. It’s much broader in terms of its appeal. So the adoption curve is going to be a bit different than with previous technologies. To start, connected home devices are not the cheapest products. But it depends on how you consider them: if you think of them as a computer, they’re generally not that expensive. If you think of them as a novelty, then you might consider them a bit pricey. For people who can afford these devices, voice-activated devices are quite practical.”

Here are some of the topline findings of Pandora’s study, which was based on interviews with 444 U.S. adults who own a voice-activated smart speaker: Amazon Echo, Dot, Tap, or Google Home:

  • Voice-enabled home devices are creating a rise in audio consumption and music. On a weekly basis, 69 percent of people are regularly tuning into audio content on their voice-enabled smart speakers with 58 percent tuning into music for an average of 4 hours and 34 minutes per week.
  • We now search, make inquiries and buy with our voices. 46 percent of people are checking the weather, 42 percent get a joke, “Easter egg” or converse, and 40 percent are asking general questions on where to find a store or how to cook a particular recipe. 29 percent plan to make purchases with top items being technology, household goods and beauty products.
  • Adoption is beyond fast. While it took many years for there to be multiple TVs in the home, 1 out of 3 people already have 2 or more voice-enabled devices across different rooms in their home.
  • These devices are not just for the young and tech-savvy. 40 percent of these device owners are between the ages of 35-54 with younger Gen Z and Millennials, 18-34 (35 percent) coming in second (35 percent). 
  • Voice-activated devices are also social. 77 percent of people are listening to music on these devices with friends and family: creating new ways for advertisers to engage multiple members of the household at home.

What Does Voice Mean For Marketers?

When looking at the the most popular usage patterns Pandora’s study notes, it’s worth considering whether voice-activation is for all marketers — or just some who can meet a direct question-and-answer response that depends on a certain immediate need.

Can voice-activated assistants have greater impact on the purchase a consumer packaged goods product, as opposed to, say, buy a car or real estate?

“From a short-term perspective, yes it appears that brands that serve immediate needs (like CPG products) are best positioned to capitalize on Smart Speakers,” says Degroote. “This is another way of search functionality, only this time done through voice. Users are already turning to smart speakers and voice assistants to talk, search, entertain, shop, etc in moments where they may have used a screen in the past.

“However, data from a follow up study on the Pandora Soundboard suggests that Voice Assistants are going to be key referral sources for a whole range of consumer needs,” she adds.

Around 60 percent said that they’ll use Smart Speakers to find stores and business locations, suggest entertainment content like TV shows and movies, and make restaurant recommendations in the future.

“We can easily see this evolving to Voice Assistants being the first ‘port-of-call’ on how to maximize tax deductions, or develop a training routine or physiotherapy exercises –a perfect opportunity for more service-based industries to deliver their messaging and offer their services to consumers,” Degroote says.

Advertising And The Company Of Others

As Pandora’s research suggests, the use of voice may have a more social aspect to it as opposed to the smartphone, which has come to represent the most personal of “personal computing.”

Does that mean the advertising we’re used to seeing on mobile and social channels will need to reflect that the voice-activation experience is not necessarily “solo.” What impact is that social aspect likely to have — or should have — on marketing strategies aimed at leveraging smart speakers?

“Brands need to be aware of messaging to consumers on Smart Speakers, or any Connected Home device for that matter (Smart TVs, Fridges, Games Consoles),” Degroote says. “On Pandora, the majority of our listening is on mobile which usually dictates a one-to-one creative approach.”

If a listener is in their car listening via their Connected Dash, the situation changes — they could be with their children or by themselves, which may change the way a brand wants to communicate with them and “show them they know them,” Degroote notes.

“We estimate that over 50 percent of listening via Connected Home devices is done in the company of others, which gives brands the opportunity to reach many listeners at once during a number of moments and occasions,” she adds. “Being able to serve a contextual message to a father playing with his kids on the weekend, or a couple hosting a dinner party for their old college friends on Saturday night provides marketers a great opportunity to reach consumers at key moments that create relevance for their products.”

For Edison’s Rosin, who notes he’s something of an outlier among digital assistant owners: he has one voice-activated device in his kitchen and one in his bedroom. Most people tend to have them in their living room. And that will have a significant affect in the experience that people expect from the media and ads they receive from these devices.

“There is plenty of evidence that most people are using these devices while they’re together, as opposed to being alone,” Rosin says. “Audio has been hot for awhile, and the combination of audio and shared interactivity, suggests that voice and listening is only going to become more central in the way people use computers.”

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What Do People Use Smart Speakers For?

Roughly 65 percent of people who own an Amazon Echo or Google Home can’t imagine to going back to the days before they had a smart speaker, and 42 percent of that group say the voice-activated devices have quickly become “essential” to their lives.

Still, it’s the earliest of “early days” for this Connected Intelligence technology, as a mere 7 percent of the population actually has a smart speaker in their home, a report by Edison Research commissioned by NPR suggests.

Given that smart speakers and the connected home are only starting to reach mainstream interest — and Apple’s first speaker, Homepod, isn’t even due to hit the market until December following its June preview —  it’s not surprising that just 7 percent of U.S. adults own one.

NPR’s Smart Audio Report was based upon a national online survey of 1,620 Americans ages 18 or over, including 15 in-home interviews in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Allentown, PA.

About 800 respondents indicated that they owned at least one Smart Speaker (160 Google Home, 709 Amazon Alexa-enabled, and 69 who owned both.) 820 respondents did not own a Smart Speaker device, and were “surveyed for comparative purposes.”

Amazon Prime Time

While Amazon Echo’s dominance of the space is no surprise, NPR’s report puts it in a bit more context: 82 percent of the smart speaker owners subscribe to Amazon Prime, the e-commerce’s giant’s discounted sales and shipping membership program; 44 percent of those surveyed who don’t own a smart speaker subscribe to Prime, indicating that Amazon Echo has plenty of room to go grow — as do its rivals.

It’s remarkable to gauge the speed with which voice-activation, although it’s been around popularly through Apple’s iOS assistant Siri debuted on the iPhone in 2011, Still, it’s one thing going from using Siri to open an app on a device, to using a digital assistant to book restaurant or hotel reservations.

In 2017, 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month for sudden rise of 128.9 percent over last year, says eMarketer.

At the moment, Amazon’s Echo device has a huge lead with a 70.6 percent of users in that space. Google Home, which only launched last October, will have to catch up as it has just 23.8 percent of the market.

Earlier this summer, a Raymond James survey of 500 consumers found that 14 percent of iPhone owners are interested in buying Apple’s Homepod. To put that into perspective, three years ago, when the Apple Watch was first announced, iPhone owners’ purchase intention of that product was only 6 percent.

Source: NPR and Edison Research

What Are Smart Speakers Used For?

In looking at over two dozen use cases, just 13 percent of smart speaker owners use their smart speakers to find a local business, according to an NPR survey.

Again, considering the relatively small penetration, and Amazon’s particular push to use Echo and its voice assistant Alexa to push products through Amazon Prime, that low number is not a surprise. As consumers get used to the idea of using their smart speakers to connect them with places in the physical world, that number will rise quickly.

 

While most of the people surveyed said they used their smart speakers to play music (68 percent) or check the weather (58 percent), most of the uses offer additional points of connection for brands.

For example, the calendar and appointments use case (23 percent) might allow OpenTable to make better restaurant suggestions through its existing Alexa skill.

“As these platforms where people are actually spending their time adapt, and allow you to stay within the platform more and more, that, to me, is [the future],” Birchbox CEO Katia Beauchamp recently told GeoMarketing‘s Lauryn Chamberlain.

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Will Voice-Activated Assistants Change Search Advertising?

With sales of voice-activated devices rising rapidly, marketers and platform companies face a big question: what will Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana mean for the search advertising?

In a panel moderated by The Drum’s Lisa Lacy, the question of Connected Intelligence-powered assistants and agents’ impact on SEO ads was put to a panel of executives who think about this daily: Purna Virji, Senior Bing Ads PPC Training Manager, Microsoft; Mike Grehan, CMO of Acronym and CEO SEMPO; Larry Kim, founder of Wordstream; Christina Connor, Global Product Lead, DoubleClick Search; and Duane Forrester, VP of industry insights at Yext (Full disclosure: Yext is GeoMarketing’s parent company. More details on that relationship here).

Distinctions Between Assistants And Agents

Understanding how people are using voice-activation is the first step, noted, Grehan, who cited a study that found 60 percent of voice queries are from people seeking a service, not search,

“When you look at the patterns that you go through, voice is about recommending and suggesting, and then you have discovery, and then you have all those keywords that are not being used to find something on the web,” Grehan said, at the panel event, The Drum Search Awards USA, which was hosted at the Yext offices in NYC.

Another point of distinction: understanding the differences between “agents” and “assistants.”

“Bill Gates did a paper where he talked about the difference between personal assistants and personal agents,” said Yext’s Forrester. “We’re all used to personal assistants, where you ask Cortana, ‘Get me an Uber’ and it opens the app and with one click, you’re ready to go. That’s versus the agent, which is actually empowered to take actions on your behalf. That fits in the world that Mike’s talking about, where it knows my affinity programs.”

Businesses are going to have to develop systems and skills they want to be a part of the “virtual conversation.”

“The way to participate is for a business to develop a ‘skill,’” said Bing Ads’s Virji. “To use the travel example, if Expedia had a skill that it creates for Cortana, I could talk to Cortana to book me a flight. I could say, ‘I’m going to Boston next week, can you get me a hotel?’ Expedia would know that the last time I stayed at a Hilton and ask me if I want to stay there again and if it wants to use the same credit card. Because Cortana is my agent, it can do all that activity in less than 60 seconds.”

The Future Of Advertising

A report from Forrester this past spring warned that it was high time for CMOs to face the facts that digital advertising has not worked when it comes to engaging consumers and that the emerging role of voice-activated digital assistants and the connected intelligence that powers the devices by Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft will lead to only further breakdown of traditional marketing models.

The report, The End Of Advertising As We Know It? by Forrester analysts James McQuivey and Keith Johnston, posits a “great unraveling” of advertising that’s coming with the new models taking as much as $2.9 billion away from display advertising in the next year.

Lacy put the question directly to Google DoubleClick’s Connor: Can search advertising even exist in this voice realm?

“The answer is ‘not yet.’ We’re still trying to figure out what voice search is like, what’s a good experience versus a bad experience, what kind of questions people are asking, and how that conversation evolves over time,” Connor responded.

Bing Ads’ Purna Virji and DoubleClick’s Christina Connor

“Until we get to the point where we understand how people engage with voice search for the long term,” Connor added. “Then, we’ll be able to take steps in terms of commercializing it. Until the art of voice search has been figured out, we won’t be able to fully commercialize it.”

Wordstream’s Kim interjected that this challenge is not exclusive to pay-per-click advertising.

“If what you’re saying that a voice is going to read out a direct answer to a person’s query, then that obliterates both paid and organic search. What you’re saying is that I’m just going to get one answer, instead of 10,” Kim said.

AsVirji cautioned, it’s impossible to predict what format voice-centric advertising will take. Kim was dubious that the marketing models would quickly disappear.

“I would imagine that Google would not want to destroy a $70 billion revenue stream,” Kim said. “So I would think there could be a ‘voice ad’ before the ‘voice answer.’ Would they want to list out 10 organic answers? Probably not. ‘We want to annoy our users by speaking three answers.’ I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Connor then suggested that the current cross-channel/multi-channel approach would naturally incorporate voice-activation and Connected Intelligence.

“We’re so used to thinking in single channel formats,” Connor said. “We’re talking about voice-to-voice right now. However, there’s also a conversation happening about cross-channel, cross-screen, the Internet of Things. What if you ask your Google Home a question and the response comes up on one of your screens? There are infinite possibilities for commercialization. You might ask a question and your Google Maps app pops up. Who knows where we’re going to be in two- to five years?”

Consumers Want Many Answers, Not Just One

For Kim, there’s still more doubt about marketers having to make any drastic changes when it comes to voice-activation.

“This is the Kool-Aid that I hear: you have to optimize for a gajillion long-tail queries for voice SEO,” Kim said. “Well, no, all these algorithms can infer the intent. So you don’t have to create a billion more keywords for every query.”

In Connor’s view, which emphasizes the notion as voice-to-voice operating within a range of connected marketing channels, when it comes to someone seeking a quick answer, voice will make traditional interruptive forms of advertising difficult, if not impossible.

But marketers can continue to count on the fact that consumers aren’t always going to want a single answer. They’ll always want choices.

“When you’re in the discovery phase — ‘show me my options for the best Thai restaurants within a three-block radius’ – I don’t just want one answer,” Connor said. :I want to be able to see all of them. I want see all the various price options for a hotel in Miami. You want to be able to visualize it as well.”

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What’s Driving The Growth Of Connected Health Devices?

More than 40 percent of U.S. broadband households now own a Connected Health product, up from 37 percent in 2016 and 33 percent in 2015, notes tech research consultancy Parks Associates.

That report buttresses other industry forecasts looking ahead to tech developments in the intersection of connected devices and artificial intelligence. For example, eMarketer has forecast the value of the “Internet of Health Things” will hit $163 billion by 2020, with a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 38.1 percent between 2015 and 2020.

And within the the next five years the healthcare sector is projected to be “number one” in the top 10 industries for Internet of Things app development. As a separate Accenture report notes, the insurance industry is primed for AI.

The mainstreaming of on-demand technologies that have changed the way people find restaurants and share information with friends online is altering the methods that doctors are “discovered” and engaged by existing and potential patients already.  The use of reviews by patients through platforms like ZocDoc is one case in point.

Is there anything on the horizon that will serve as an alternative means of finding a doctor. Will Siri or Alexa or Cortana likely recommend nearby doctors in the future? It’s a matter of time, Parks Associates’ analysis suggests.

“The steady increase in consumer adoption of connected health products bodes well for the ongoing healthcare practice transformation,” said Harry Wang, Senior Director of Research, Parks Associates.

GeoMarketing: In terms of the Connected Home, as well as devices like Amazon Echo and smart watches, can you put the state of Connected Health in context? How big is this area versus other areas, such as wearables or the Connected Car in terms of consumer adoption?

Harry Wang: Connected Health is intertwined with connected home technology and wearable device industry therefore adoption of these technologies will help connected health industry grow.

We include wearables that directly benefit consumers’ health and wellbeing, such as fitness trackers, smart watch with health & fitness tracking capability as connected health devices (which include connected medical devices, e.g., a BPM, or connected wellness devices, e.g. a Fitbit) from a device adoption perspective, adoption of connected health products as a whole category is perhaps on par with smart home device as a whole category (thermostats, door locks), but ahead of connected cars (depending on its definition). Individually speaking, fitness tracker and smart watch with fitness/wellness features leads with 12 percent adoption each.

Are there any particular use cases that are driving Connected Health? For example, are we mainly seeing growth in Connected Health from wearables like fitness trackers?

Connected health is more than devices. Software and services are actually more exciting. Health and wellness apps are used by more than 40 percent of consumers in the U.S., and access to remote care services (those pioneered by Teledoc and MDlive) is on the rise.

Besides these general categories, the connected health market has many unique, high growth, and niche use cases that are gaining distribution channels and consumer’s mindshare.

These innovations that target specific use cases may be driven more by healthcare providers than consumer marketing efforts.

For instance, Health insurers start to fund/subsidize diabetes prevention programs, hospitals begin to contract digital rehab software makers to offer in-home technology-assisted rehab services.

Each use case has significant room to grow but as their target market is not the entire consumer population, they would never reach the traditional mainstream status.

But for healthcare providers and insurers, if these technologies can help them address the issue of the 80 percent of the healthcare spending by 20 percent population, mainstream adoption is irrelevant.

Is there anything in the Connected Health space that will help doctors, hospitals, and medical clinics, achieve greater discovery through the use of these IoT devices?

We do believe that many IoT devices/software that touch upon people’s life therefore contributing to doctor’s understanding of patient condition and helping patients self-manage their conditions will gain more adoption. Siri may one day evolve to answer health related questions from patients or Echo will collect patient self-reported data to doctors.

Applications targeting health and wellness needs of consumers will find their way to a connected home, a connected car, or a connected speaker platform.

Many remote care applications are mobile driven so consumers can talk to a doctor via video on smartphones, and healthcare system will rely more on these everyday consumer devices to engage patients particularly in preventive care areas.

Barriers still exist; it takes time for consumer and doctor’s habits to replace old ones. But we are getting there.

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