Commentary

Search, Tell Me Like It Is

Colin Sebastian, analyst at Baird Equity Research, wanted to know which voice platform consumers would pick if they could only choose one.

So last week, the investment firm t
weeted a survey, asking followers to choose. Some 46% picked Alexa/Echo; 30% Siri/HomePod; 21% Google Assistant/Home; and 3% a future Facebook device.

For the most part, consumers seem ready to embrace voice search -- more so than marketers. Most marketers still don’t view voice as a top priority -- perhaps because it’s a utility and not yet an advertising “vehicle.” eMarketer estimates that in the U.S. alone, 91 million people -- or 27.6% of the population -- will use a voice assistant at least once a month this year.  

The biggest challenge for marketers will be changing their thought process when designing campaigns, and helping consumers move past privacy issues such as the fear that someone is always listening in. Advertising, for now, is also limited on virtual assistant devices.

For marketers, it will require rethinking audience interactions that take advantage of the unique qualities of the voice. One of the biggest issues cited by eMarketer is that “unlike text-based search, brands cannot buy sponsored ads or keywords. Instead, they must use trial-and-error to optimize content.”

The findings in the eMarketer report -- titled Using Voice Technology to Boost Brand Engagement -- analyze the implications of voice, and the barriers to adoption for consumers and marketers. It also looks at some early experiments and offers advice to consider when planning a voice strategy.

The delay could leave some marketers behind. eMarketer cites a February 2018 survey commissioned by BrightEdge that found 22% of global marketers said voice search would be “the next big marketing trend” this year. Voice search came in at No. 3 at 21.2%, only preceded by consumer personalization at 28.7% and artificial intelligence at 25.7%.

Search is the most popular activity on voice assistants and smart speakers. November 2017 research by Capgemini identifies that 82% of voice-assisted searches in the U.S. and Western Europe used assistants to search for news and weather daily -- about 35%. Some 33% search daily for music, and 32% search daily for something they’d normally type into a search engine.

They also search for recipes, appointments, relationship advice, offers and other information.

It's not easy for a machine to think and make the perfect recommendation, especially when using your voice, but with practice it will get there. Even back in 2016 we could see promise. During that year, Bing, which powers some search for Siri, Cortana and Alexa, attributed 25% of searches from the Microsoft taskbar to voice. Google, during the same year, said 20% of queries on its mobile app and on Android devices were voice-based.

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