Voice Search Changes Everything: For Marketers, ‘Context Is Queen’ In Today’s Voice-First World

Use of voice-enabled speakers is projected to grow by 130 percent in the next year — and an estimate 50 percent of all searches will be completed via either speech or image search by 2020.

In other words, voice as a primary search interface is here. But according to Yext VP of Industry Insights Duane Forrester, too many marketers are still at square one when it comes to thinking about a voice-first strategy.

For that reason, Forrester just released an e-book titled How Voice Search Changes Everything [registration required] aimed at helping businesses understand how this technology is changing the consumer experience — and the critical steps they can take to communicate with customers and become discoverable in a voice-first world.

GeoMarketing: We’ve seen a substantial rise in the volume of voice searches over the past year — and even the past few months. Why is this trend so important for marketers? And what was the impetuous behind writing this book now? 

Well, as a self-described early adopter of technology like this, I’ve seen this “moment” a number of times: the point where we’ve found ourselves at the tipping point of general mainstream adoption of a product. Smartphones are an ideal example of that — everybody can remember and understand that adoption curve.

With our smartphones today, we now have the ability to stream music, stream video, interact in a live environment, edit documents, everything. Yet throughout all of that evolution from the [comparatively simple] smartphone of over a decade ago, the interface has remained pretty much the same. It’s always been about touching, tapping, or typing on a screen.

Of course, humans being humans, we would prefer something that is easier for us. Enter voice search. It’s been the Holy Grail for a long time; it actually started [quite a while ago] with military applications, and then it evolved over time — similar to how GPS began as a military technology and now it’s standard for everyone.

Anyway, that’s where we find ourselves today with this technology: With the major companies — Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Amazon — investing at unprecedented levels in the voice search arena, it has progressed to the point where functional voice search is a reality. And what’s more, most people become adopters of the technology once they’ve tried it. As soon as they try it, they see how useful it is and how easy it is.

That is what brought me to thinking about this e-book. I interact with dozens of companies in any given week, but in having these conversations [with them] around voice search, in most instances, the conversations are not, “Here’s what we are doing to activate that voice search.” The conversation is more, “uh, yeah, that’s something we should really look into.”

A lot of businesses are still at the very [early stages] of trying to understand what is voice activation and search, how does it work, and how do I play in that field. There just became a natural conversation upon which to build this piece of content and put it out there.

Michelle Robbins at Search Engine Land wrote about your stance on the shift from a “content is king” to “context is queen” world. What do search marketers need to know about the importance of context in today’s marketing landscape?

For about the last four to five years, there has been a really big push in the SEO world around content. Prior to that, you did have a subset of SEOs who were always stressing this — but then, eventually, the search engines actually came out with a statement, “Content matters because that what people are looking for.”

But working in this industry for a long time, I was fortunate enough to be able to understand that content is a sign post on the road. The road is still going somewhere; we’re not there yet. What I mean is, if [a brand basically says], “Hey, I’m going to stand next to this sign. It says, ‘content.’ I feel like I’ve reached the destination,” and they don’t explore where the road continues to go ahead of them, they’re missing an opportunity. That other opportunity is context.

We’ve seen that shift starting to happen, but the adoption of mobile and the advent of voice search have really forced context into the spotlight. It’s so incredibly important. If I’m sitting at home, and I ask my device for information about a restaurant in downtown LA, I’m doing research. That’s very clearly what I’m doing; I’m 50 miles away from the location. I’m not likely to walk in there. There’s nothing immediate about my voice query related to that restaurant. That’s the context of me in my home.

This notion of context, then, flips over completely when my device can tell that I am in my automobile, and I’m driving in the direction of the location, and I ask about it. Now, it understands, “Oh, do you want directions to that location from where you are? This is the best route. I can make reservations for you.” All of these things now have a different context, compared to when I’m sitting in my living room.

We can see, in the very near future, a deepening of this context idea, where the systems will be able to understand things about me — like if I go to Starbucks in the morning five days a week. Then, on Saturday morning, I’m out running errands, and the system will see that I’m running errands because it’s all in my calendar. During all of that, it can actually bring forward the notion that, “Hey, you know what? You haven’t been to Starbucks today. Maybe you want to go to Starbucks.” It can ask me if I want to open the app, pre-order something, and so on.

This is the next kind of generation of contextual alignment. And this is really hard, because it’s not as simple as keyword research in the world of voice search. We’re talking about incredibly long-tail queries. Almost all of them are unique instances; how I would ask for something versus how you would ask for something may be substantially different — even if we are technically asking for the same concrete thing. That is not an easy thing for computers to crack, but that’s the point that we’re at today.

How can brands start thinking about positioning themselves such that an intelligent assistant or voice assistant might recommend them as the best option to users making voice queries?

For example, is it about framing their content such that it’s written in a way that actually answers users’ questions? Is it just making sure that all their business information is really consistent? What are the tips that we can extract here?

Yes and yes — it’s all of that and so much more.

Here’s the reality: You have to think about the customer’s journey. That is the foundation for all of this, right? This is a relatively straightforward thing to do: I mean, all of us are consumers ourselves. So take a look at your own actions during a customer journey. Whether you’re going to get groceries, or you’re going to buy a new Xbox, take a look at the discreet steps you go through as an individual.

To purchase an object, for example, there may be four or five distinct steps that you take. So now you know as a search marketer that there are at least four or five stages this person has to go through. So, then, how do you position your business? How do you create content that actually intercepts those people at each one of those points in that conversation — because you don’t know exactly when you’re going to show up in a search, but you do know that at some point, the person is going to ask for the help or directions, right?

Voice search is very much about “ask a question, get an answer.” It’s not just about, “Let’s go do some keyword research and focus on keywords now.” This has expanded into the concept of topics: If I am purchasing a new Xbox, what else might I be purchasing? I might be purchasing HDMI cable. I might be purchasing an extra controller. I may want games. I’m probably going to want a subscription online. So there are at least four other discreet elements there that are directly related to the purchase someone is making that, as a marketer, I need to be talking about [in my content.]

It’s very important to understand that there are discreet questions, and you need to have answers for them. There does come a point, though, where it gets to be too much. But that’s up to the marketer to determine. Right now, we don’t have reliable tools and systems out there that give us all of this conversational data broken out — that is still difficult to come by.

But you have to adopt that long-tail, conversational phrase approach to targeting what to produce content around. You do need to build the detailed answers. You have to think about this in terms of the common and uncommon questions that are related to your product and services. Let’s use an example: If a person buys a “red widget,” inevitably, they’re going to need a widget polishing cloth, and you sell a widget polishing cloth. Well, that means you have to talk about red widgets. That’s an easy win for you.

Along with that, two other points: Make sure you clean up your own house. That means making sure your website is completely crawlable, it’s fully indexable, that everything is there and logically laid out. Manage your internal link structure properly. If you make it difficult for people to find content that’s related to something you do, or you have broken links, the engines won’t send people to that poor site. They will shift to something else they feel is a better user experience. So secondly, that means making sure of [simple] things like that you are mobile friendly and responsive. In fact, if you are not mobile friendly today, you’re just fighting a losing battle at this point.

That’s just table stakes today. 

Yes. Actually, I’m going to take it even a level lower than table stakes: Think of the little sign on the front door of a restaurant that says, “No shoes, no shirt, no service.” If you’re showing up and you’re not mobile friendly, you’ve got no shoes. You’re not even getting into the building to play the game of poker at that point — period.

Read How Voice Search Changes Everything here.

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Over 60 Million People In The U.S. Will Use Voice-Enabled Assistants On A Monthly Basis This Year

Approximately 60.5 million of U.S. consumers will use voice-enabled assistants monthly or more often this year, according to an eMarketer forecast — and the heaviest usage occurs on voice-enabled speakers powered by these intelligent assistants, such as Amazon Echo and Google Home.

The fact that 65 percent of smart speaker owners use their smart speaker’s assistant daily or multiple times weekly isn’t surprising — and marketers are beginning to understand the importance of ensuring that their brand is represented when users ask their assistants to carry out tasks from “order dish soap on Amazon” to “call me a car.”

But more “novel” uses for the technology has yet to catch up to adoption as a whole, according to eMarketer’s research: Most of the skills and apps for smart speakers downloaded by consumers are not used again after two weeks.

Do Skills Work At All?

This isn’t to say that brands should explore the idea of creating skills for these devices: For example, to promote its year-old Patrón Cocktail Lab, Patron enabled its “Patrón skill” in the Alexa app on Amazon Alexa voice-enabled devices, allowing users can ask for cocktail recommendations, recipes and tips — everything from the perfect brunch recipe to the proper way to shake and strain a cocktail.

The liquor marketer launched the effort concurrently with turning to Foursquare for targeted ads — and while execs wouldn’t reveal sales figures, VP of marketing Adrian Parker said that Patrón’s business saw “double-digit growth.”

Additionally, even if such a skill isn’t widely used after two weeks, it can still generates value for the brand loyalists who stick with it — as well as showing that the brand has a presence on a platform that consumers are relying on to power more and more aspects of their daily lives.

That said, given current usage trends, marketers may do well to first focus their energy instead on improving their listings and data such that they show up in the knowledge graph. As consumers make more searches by voice expecting these kind of structured answers, the importance is only growing — and brands who prepare now will be ready for the next phase of connected intelligence.

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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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Why Audio Is Having A Renaissance

With voice-activated connected device usage having jumped 130 percent over the last year and over 50 percent of Millennials using voice commands at least once a month, voice and audio are having a moment — and marketers should take note.

In a panel at last week’s Innovation Congress execs from Mobiquity, WNYC, and more explained why audio is having such a renaissance.

“By its nature, audio is very engaging,” said Peter Weingard, CMO for WNYC radio. “It leaves a lot of information off of the palette that is otherwise given to you in, say, video. You have to fill in the blanks in your mind to imagine, ‘What is the scene here?’ for example. And the fact that your brain has to engage with that content — [and potentially] speak back to it — makes you much more engaged with it overall. So it’s a very powerful combination.”

As J. Walter Thompson’s Elizabeth Cherian stated at last month’s Cannes Lions event, speaking and listening is the oldest means of conversation; the human mind is inherently designed for this type of interaction — far more than the artificial motion of swiping at a smartphone. So, what can marketers do to engage with this natural behavior through consumers’ connected devices?

Going Hands-Free

The “Alexa, play my music” use case is fairly well established and understood when it comes to voice-activated devices. But panelists encouraged marketers to think farther outside the box when it comes to thinking about Alexa and Google Home skills: It’s crucial to ask the questions, “when might a consumer have their hands busy? When might voice or audio make the most sense to communicate with them?”

For example, Mobiquity launched an Alexa cooking skill for Nestle’s GoodNes brand as part of creating an engaging audio-first experience. Why? Well, it’s a bit difficult to swipe through on a smartphone while up to your elbows in flour.

“If you’re in the kitchen, your hands are busy, and maybe you’re pressed for time,” said Joel Evans, co-founder and VP at Mobiquity. “This made is so users [could actually] interact with it via voice. It takes you through all the different steps; You can ask, ‘Okay. What are my ingredients? What’s next?’

“We ended up creating a visual that aired with it [as well.] So you’ve got two different tracks. When [a user] enables the skill, they put their name and their email address in, and we could send a link — which, when opened on any web browser, becomes a companion digital experience. And the audio track itself actually changes because now it knows that you’ve got a visual guide going along with it. That’s something that’s been very successful for us.”

In other words, audio can be a key to engaging customers as they go about their daily lives in their homes. And what’s more, it can be an even stronger experience when paired with corresponding visuals. As Evans  put it, “we can think audio first — not audio only.”

And marketers, take note: By 2020, 50 percent of search in general will come from images and voice.

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About 14 Percent Of iPhone Owners Plan To Buy Apple Homepod

While it may seem that Amazon Alexa and Okay Google are already firmly established in the voice-activated Connected Home landscape, Apple’s forthcoming entry into that space with Homepod may seem like an uphill battle, but a Raymond James analysis suggests that you can never underestimate the iPhone maker’s devoted customer base.

Raymond James survey of 500 consumers found that 14 percent of iPhone owners are interested in buying Apple’s smart speaker product, Homepod, which, debuted last month at WWDC forum.

To put that number in perspective, Raymond James considered the anticipation for the Apple Watch, which has has had a mixed consumer reception in the marketplace.

Three years ago, when the Apple Watch was first announced, iPhone owners’ purchase intention of that product was only 6 percent.

Homepod’s positioning starts with entertainment, but it doesn’t end there.

“If we combine with those that intend to own a Beats wireless speaker, [Homepod ownership intent] exceeds the ownership interest in both speech enabled speaker leader Amazon, and Bluetooth speaker leader, Bose,” Raymond James analysts Tavis McCourt and Mike Koban write. “Initial interest in HomePod seems better than the tepid media reaction would suggest.”

In terms of how the voice-activated assistant space is shaping up, Parks Associates has noted that adoption of digital voice-activated assistants more than doubled in Q1 as 76 percent of consumers having used spoken commands to their connected device. As such, the timing could hardly be better for Apple’s entry into the space currently commanded by Amazon and Google.

According to Forrester, 33 percent of U.S. online adults say they use intelligent agents like Google Now or Cortana, Forrester notes.

In its outlook for the connected intelligence market in 2017, eMarketer projects that 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.

Elsewhere, the native digital assistant installed base is set to exceed 7.5 billion active devices by 2021, which is more than the world population, according to a report by British consultancy Ovum.

At the moment, eMarketer has Amazon’s Echo device with a vast lead amounting to a 70.6 percent share 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.

While the role of Amazon and Google in the Connected Intelligence is largely about dominating the paths to online/offline commerce, Apple appears to be taking a slightly different path.

With Homepod, which is powered by Apple’s pioneering connected intelligence voice-assistant Siri, the company is placing emphasizing the new device as an entertainment hub first, and a Connected Home utility second.

As such, as many consumers still are unsure of how best to use Alexa or Okay Google to initiate a transaction or find a local business, Homepod users may also come at those skills more naturally, having been trained to use voice-activation for fun first. That mirrors the initial use of the iPhone, which then saw its use cases expand over the past decade, changing the way all consumers and businesses interact.

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Can Samsung Digital Assistant Bixby Find Its Voice?

Samsung’s voice-activated mobile assistant, Bixby, is the newest kid on the Connected Intelligence agent block — so new, the Galaxy S8 feature isn’t yet available in the U.S. (or in an English language version, for that matter).

But, with the relatively established brands of the voice-activated assistant landscape like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana, and Apple’s Siri already vying to the be artificial intelligence concierge through consumer’s smart home speaker systems, Samsung clearly feels it can’t afford to wait any longer.

In a sense, Samsung’s plan is far from a sudden game of catch-up. After all, the company has been at the forefront of making the “smart refrigerator” a mainstream appliance that updates the kitchen as the connected home’s hub.

Still, the company’s other efforts in voice-activated digital assistants have been plagued by delays. Samsung’s smart speaker project, dubbed “Vega,” has actually been in the works for a year, according to a WSJ piece, citing unidentified sources.

Samsung initially hoped to have Bixby’s English-language features ready last Spring, when the S8 was released. The current target for that mobile assistant enhancement is by the end of July, a Samsung rep tells the WSJ. (Note: at least one reader tells us that his Galaxy S8 with Bixby understands his English-word voice commands.)

The Outlook For Voice-Activation

As Samsung looks to its smart speaker for the home, it has clear challenges and advantages.

Parks Associates has noted that adoption of digital voice-activated assistants more than doubled in Q1 as 76 percent of consumers having used spoken commands to their connected device, the timing could hardly be better for Apple’s entry into the space currently commanded by Amazon and Google.

According to Forrester, 33 percent of U.S. online adults say they use intelligent agents like Google Now or Cortana, Forrester notes.

In its outlook for the connected intelligence market in 2017, eMarketer projects that 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.

Elsewhere, the native digital assistant installed base is set to exceed 7.5 billion active devices by 2021, which is more than the world population, according to a report by British consultancy Ovum.

At the moment, eMarketer has Amazon’s Echo device with a vast lead amounting to a 70.6 percent share 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.

Meanwhile, Apple and Siri remain wild cards in the space, as its Homepod smart speakers won’t be shipped until December.

So with all that in mind, Samsung certainly has time to catch-up to the current entrants in the race for the connected home. But if its Bixby features wind up with more delays, Samsung, which has had to endure a year of separate controversies, could have a tougher time having its voice-activation being heard by the marketplace.

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