Over 50 Percent Of Millennials Are Using Voice Commands At Least Once A Month

Over 50 percent of Millennial (18-34) use voice commands once a month or more, according to research from Mindshare and J. Walter Thompson, and Google has stated that a full 20 percent of searches on Android in the United States are now conducted by voice — meaning that brands need to think about voice search and commerce not as a distant eventuality, but as tidal wave sweeping the industry today.

At this week’s Cannes Lions event, J. Walter Thompson’s Elizabeth Cherian,  UK director of The Innovation Group, talked to GeoMarketing about why voice is more intuitive than text or swipe — and how brands can stay discoverable in the world of intelligent assistants.

Voice has just recently reached to point of viability. Per the findings in JWT and Mindshare’s recent ‘Speak Easy’ voice report, what is the state of voice and AI today? What do brands need to know?

Ultimately, there have been so many changes in artificial intelligence, and voice technology essentially fits under artificial intelligence. In particular, there is voice recognition; that’s when the computer takes in what you’re saying and turns it into text to one degree or another of accuracy. Right? Then there is natural language processing. Which is much more complicated, because that’s understanding intent — and there is more work to be done there, [but] we’re getting there.

Nonetheless, what’s incredible about voice recognition it is currently on par with human voice recognition. So, if you were writing down what I’m saying, you, on average, should have about 95 percent accuracy. That is exactly where [voice] AI is today. We’ve gotten there, and we’re quickly going to surpass that, and we’re going to be looking at something like 99 percent accuracy – which is all the difference in the world; that’s the difference between hardly ever using it and using it all the time.

So, what’s [important to know] is that this is happening now — and it’s going to be picking up even more quickly. In our report, we are already seeing, amongst our global respondents, that 37 percent of smartphone users are using [voice search or voice commands] at least once a month.

That’s a really healthy number, especially considering that in the UK, Alexa didn’t even hit our shores until the fall — so as a category, it is brand spanking new, and yet already we’re seeing [more than a third using it]. And [intelligent] voice assistants in particular are coming fast and furiously: It’s projected that there are going to be more on the planet than humans by 2021.

In your keynote at Cannes, you identify three of the major trends in consumers’ desires related to voice-activated connected devices. What are they? What are people looking for?

In [the report] we identify nine, but there are three of the nine that we’re really focusing on [talking about] today. People want voice assistants to: ease their cognitive load, help them as a ‘digital butler,’ and to create intimacy.

For the ‘digital butler,’ that just means that they want a useful service. Not just voice for voice sake — they want it to solve problems and they want it to be proactive. The more that technology gets smarter and is more effective, the more that productivity is going to be an expectation.

With easing the cognitive load, what we found is that a major reason for taking on voice technologies is how efficient it makes [users] feel; they talk about how more efficiently they can manage their daily lives. And this makes sense: We’re humans; we’re built to exchange information orally.

Swipe and text, on the other hand, are not intuitive. Actually, we thought, wouldn’t it be cool to test what’s happening in the brain when we’re using voice as apposed to text or swipe. Is it indeed easier, and could we prove this from a physiological point of view? We teamed up a company called Neuro Insight to hook 100 people up to devices called SST — they’re very much like EEG but more accurate and better measure of brain activity.

To sum up, when our respondents took in information by text [their brains] worked far harder than when they took information in by a voice. What the implications of that are is that humans follow the path of least resistance — it’s just in your nature. If you’re sitting there as a consumer and you have two ways of accessing information, ultimately, once you get used to it… you’re going to opt for voice over text because it’s easier.

So, are people actually transacting over their voice-activated devices? E.g. saying ‘Alexa, find me a sun dress’ and then purchasing it that way? Will we start to see more of that?

It’s slower, certainly. Especially through a device like Echo, right now, users are primarily listening to music, they’re asking questions. They might say, ‘send me an Uber to pick me up.’ Set an alarm.

But [the commerce element] is surely coming in terms of trying to get at what brands need to think about for the future. Really, right now, they need to think in terms of being discoverable.

53 percent of global smart phone users are excited by the prospect by their voice assistance anticipating their needs — making suggestions and even going so far as to take action, even buying something on their behalf. Like, if my [digital assistant] knows that Charmin is my favorite toilet paper brand and just orders it for me.

What works really well over voice is just one good answer. That’s scary for brands for the reason I just said: If someone loves Charmin, and the assistant knows that, how, as another brand do you get into that very loyal relationship just that keeps repeat purchasing your favorite toilet paper?

Right. How can brands approach this challenge?

What we are seeing is that there is a couple of options there. Firstly, could there be paid recommendation? Could you, as a brand, pay to have the voice assistant recommend your brand? Especially when there isn’t that bond already formed. It;s not the best option, it’s not maybe the cheapest option, but it is an option that theoretically a brand could pay to get to the top of the list.

But here’s what’s happening right now: Look at this idea of algorithm optimization. It’s like the new SEO; brands [need to get their] underlying data layer ready for consumption by these devices. The question is, how do you build into your product and services such as the voice assistance sees you as the best option? That’s something we think brands should be thinking about right now.

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Why Amazon Took Over Times Square With A 79-Foot Echo

Amazon has unveiled a billboard compete with a 79-foot-tall 3D replica of its Echo speaker in Times Square as part of a campaign to promote awareness for Amazon Music — and and subtly encourage users of its Alexa intelligent assistant to use more integrated Amazon services.

In addition to the 79-foot Echo — the largest installation by an advertiser in Times Square — the billboard reads, “Alexa, play the song that goes… ‘love is all you need.” Per Amazon, “our goal is to increase awareness for Amazon Music,” Josh Fein, head of partner and brand marketing for Amazon Music told AdWeek. “To highlight one of our unique and innovative Alexa voice features, the lyrics search functionality, we chose iconic lyrics that promoted positivity and togetherness through the power of music.”

Indeed, it’s possible that this lyric search functionality might cause more users to turn to Amazon Music to play tunes — after all, who can remember the song name every time? But it also displays a keen awareness that, as voice-activated searches continue to skyrocket, users often ask their Alexa-powered devices to play music from Apple music, Spotify, or other services. As interest in — and ownership of — connected devices of all stripes grows, Amazon is smart to draw a connection between the Amazon Echo and Amazon Music itself, even as the Echo’s functionality remains broad.

Times Square Takeover

There exists also, of course, the simple branding aspect of the installation. Much like when Snapchat did a Times Square takeover without geofilters, Amazon’s display simply aims to be different and to represent the tech giant’s rise to “connected intelligence” importance to both consumers and marketers.

And as OUTFRONT Media — which powered both the Snapchat and Amazon installations — said last year, “we can’t comment on the cost [of ads], but will say there’s incredible brand value in taking over one of the world’s most iconic, high-traffic locations,” Senese said. “OUTFRONT is proud to partner with Snapchat and other fast-growth companies [like Amazon] to provide a unique way to drive huge impact for their business.”

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Google And Amazon On The Connected Home: Services Have Staying Power

Voice-activated connected device usage is skyrocketing — but 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.

In a panel discussion at last month’s CONNECTIONS conference in San Francisco, Ben Brown, Google Home & Wifi product lead and Dan Quigley, STO, senior manager for Alexa Smart Home, talked about the future of IA, visual interfaces, and why customer utility — and privacy — is issue number one. Below, excerpts from their conversation.

We’re reaching the tipping point with [intelligent assistants] and the connected home: All of these platforms in the home today. Are we going to see voice activated devices talking to each other in the future? How will this space evolve?

Ben Brown: Yes, I think it’s possible. I do think there’s definitely a desire for it, especially as we are interacting with more and more different voices in our lives.

But 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. 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.

We’ve seen this in mobile phones and with mobile operating systems before: People may want to interact with multiple different devices [from different providers] in their lives, but you tend to build an affinity towards certain things over time. That will probably happen here, with [consumers choosing] Google Home, or Amazon Echo, or Microsoft, et cetera. And then purchasing [other items or smart devices] that connect to them.

Anyway, that’s why we’re all really interested in this right now. We’re all working our tails off to try to make great experiences, because it’s a pretty sticky relationship. I think we’re going to start to see that. Services have staying power.

Dan Quigley: Again, like I said, we’re at day one here in this field of experiences. By focusing on the customer and understanding what they want and listening to them, that’s how we’re going to advance the system. Think about what mobile phones were like when we first got them, and what a transformation that has been: Ten years from now, it’s going to be a very different world. A very different experience, but it is going to be driven by these [connected devices.]

I would love to have Google, Cortana, and Alexa duke it out. Let’s have a wheel-of-fortune style game-type thing. [Laughs.] I think it ultimately is going to come down to the consumer choice. At the end of the day, they’re the ones that are going to make the decision. A lot of it is going to be based on the trust that gets earned by our companies to support them and pay attention to issues that concern them on privacy.

Dan, the Echo Show just launched. Why was it developed, and where do you see the future going in that respect?

Dan: Voice is just one modality. It has crossed the threshold of being a viable modality now — in that it’s viable in day to day interactions — but there are still certain situations where [visual interfaces] are more appropriate. For example, when I go to bed at night, the last thing my wife would like to hear me loudly say, “Alexa turn off the bathroom light.”

What is part of seeing the future in the “crystal ball” here, though, is that you need look at the technologies that are behind the development of the “do what I need, not what I say” attitude.  Adding a screen to Echo or putting a camera in your closet to judge how you look — it [seemed] intuitive, natural. Again, I think it’s a consumer choice.

Ben, what’s your take from the Google perspective?

Ben: I would just say, I think we’re all approaching this in a way of just trying to have authenticity and interaction. I think that in the home specifically, it’s such a private space that everyone is trying to be super thoughtful about kind of the interactions that we bring forward.

When we start to bring in other modalities, it’s got to add a lot of value. I actually really like the way [personal assistants] are positioned because it’s actually very focused on saying, “I’m going to help you with that.” I think that’s a really intelligent way of saying, “no, this is not about being the all-seeing, all-watching eye in the room. This is very much about being able to help you in a specific use case.” And visual interfaces, visual [search] — it’s very much part of that future.

I think that’s the way we just have to approach it, which is as we do things, we just do them super thoughtfully. It adds a lot of value. I agree with you, I think it’s important that we all do that very effectively. And take privacy and security really seriously — because if any one of us messes that up, then it messes it up for everyone.

 

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Via Partners With The New York Times For Location-Based Subscription Promo

On-demand ride sharing app Via has partnered with The New York Times to give riders complimentary eight-week digital subscriptions of the paper to riders in New York who purchase a monthly “ViaPass,” letting them catch up on the news during their daily commute rides — a bid to help both entities boost exposure and discovery on mobile.

This isn’t the first time Via has partnered with digital or physical businesses in a bid to compete with the larger-scale Uber Pool and Lyft Line. But while the benefit of the promotion for riders is clear, it’s a reminder of the fact that businesses of all stripes need to do more in order to stay top-of-mind in the age of intelligent search.

On-Demand In The World Of Intelligent Assistants

While the nature of Via’s app and the NYT’s mobile subscription model give this effort a digital bent, promotions of this type are as old as advertising itself. But why is it more important than ever for brands to make a memorable impact in order to get discovered today?

As SessionM CRO Bill Clifford put it last month, “voice, AI, and platforms like Amazon Alexa or Google Home present a pretty interesting challenge. If I’m in my house and I just say, ‘Hey Google, order me a pizza,’ it’s really up to Google what they come back with. So the platforms have more and more control for operating this invisible storefront that’s driven by an algorithm. Brands need to [figure out] how they’re going to deal with that.”

In the case of on-demand ride apps like Via, that means getting customers to say “call me a Via” or “download Via” to their connected devices — rather than simply “call me a car.” In other words, as search and discovery become even more deeply tied to voice (and AI), brands of all stripes must think about how to make sure that customers ask for them when given the chance — meaning that providing personalized offers or experiences that improve the user experience are more important than ever.

“This is just a new storefront, and we don’t see it. So I think the point is, it becomes increasingly important and integral for a brand to create a direct relationship,” Clifford concluded — and while it remains to be seen if Via’s NYT partnership drives adoption, promotions that integrate digital touch points can be one integral part of that. “It’s a lasting, ongoing engagement, so that when you do ask Google, that brand is top of mind — and you’re giving the consumer control, not the robots.”

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Think With Google: Customers Want Brands To ‘Know Them Better’ Across Devices

53 percent of consumers will abandon a mobile site that takes more than three seconds to load, and 89 percent of U.S. marketers report that personalization on responsive mobile apps and websites has increased their revenue — hardly a surprise considering Think With Google’s report on the three trends shaping the future of mobile and connectivity, which sees customers asking brands to “help me faster, know me better, and wow me everywhere” with immersive experiences.

Immediacy has always been key to serving consumers on mobile, but with the advent of intelligent assistants like Amazon Alexa and Okay Google — which can answer voice queries instantly and get ‘smarter’ about their users over time — the bar for both speed and personalization across all devices has been raised even higher.

So, how can marketers deliver?

Get To Know Me

By now, marketers know that customized content is key to engaging consumers across devices. That said, it bears repeating that “personalization is a strategy, not a feature,” as TWG’s report states. “We have an opportunity to be smarter with data, using important signals about customers—such as browsing behavior or CRM data—to shape their experiences.”

As an example, TWG cites a recent Maybelline campaign: The brand was preparing to launch new products for a type of makeup application, contouring, and it used Google Insights to make “how-to” videos, which were then personalized by customer intent, demographic, and more. The result? Maybelline’s videos racked up a reported nine million views.

Don’t Forget About New Devices

Essentially, consumers are, at the base level, looking to be recognized for who they are by their favorite brands — regardless of device.

63 percent of people expect brands to deliver a “consistent experience” every time they interact. For marketers who have been paying attention to lessons learned from experiments in omnichannel, this stat should come as no surprise — but marketers now need to take this lesson and incorporate it when it comes to a new suite of devices and touch points. Anymore, it’s not just about synchronization across mobile, tablet, and desktop; as usage continues to skyrocket, connected assistants (Amazon Echo, Google Home, Microsoft Cortana) and IoT devices matter just as much.

“As consumer behaviors shift, it will be important to rethink the investments we make in the user experience,” TWG’s report concludes. “Removing friction and bridging the gaps between channels — all while treating each customer as a unique individual — will be key.”

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