Why voice is getting louder: Part 1
Voice search and voice assistants are growing in both take up and usage
...and that means they’re getting harder to ignore. There is a persistent figure from comScore quoted in most industry pieces on the subject that says 50% of all searches will be voice by 2020.
The technology is racing ahead of a lot of people’s habits (people who don’t seem to have the appetite for it, or maybe unsure of the benefits yet...) and even further behind are brands who want to get off the starting blocks, but aren’t really sure which direction to run in yet. Without understanding how people are going to use it, how can brands get ready, unless they're leading the charge themselves? To me it still feels like we haven’t reached that tipping point into mainstream yet. There’s lots of industry predictions about the possibilities, but to some it’s still a novelty. One thing brands know for sure, is that it will impact SEO. Oh yes, everyone’s pretty confident about that bit. The rest just feels like speculation.
Amazon and Google have undeniably been the driving forces behind the adoption of voice, and will only be intensifying their efforts to get people using these products comfortably and confidently. Expect to see extra discounts or incentives for ordering items through these home voice assistants for Black Friday and Christmas, and for people to shout about how surprisingly easy they found it and how they would definitely do it again. And tell their friends... that may well be the tipping point.
They will be the new gatekeepers of this ecosystem. The phrase “death of the keyboard” has already been thrown around a lot in the context of a future of image and voice searches, and it may spell a downfall in the monitor as well. And if no one’s looking at a monitor, how will Google make money by showing people ads? New revenue streams and opportunities will be presented by this technology.
There have been a few playful instances where voice assistants are being activated by adverts and TV shows; some deliberately like Burger King (aka the first brand fail on Google Home) and South Park (causing so much havoc that one user had to unplug their device), and some accidentally, like when this TV presenter activated Alexas to order doll houses. Other than that, a lot of brands seem largely unprepared. The FOMO is coming from industry future-gazing - “Get on board or get left behind, remember what happened with mobile?!” - rather than users beating down the doors saying this is something that will make their lives better.
How can these brands find their place in this new world? Easing the cognitive load for their audiences in times of mental stress can be a key opportunity to provide support and value in those instants. Taking the time to truly understand more than ever what your customers want to know, even pre-empting these questions and being front of mind. Bypassing the gatekeeper and being the go to resource about a topic you own should be the goal, albeit an ambitious one, that you’ll only ever reach if you’ve put the customer front and center.
For us, although anecdotally I don’t know many people that actually use voice search and commands yet, there are obvious benefits of doing so (parking moral implications for one minute). Help with general life admin, such as setting alarms, creating shopping lists and connecting with other devices seems to be the extent of it. Using voice, rather than text, actually eases the cognitive loads so that we’re doing less mental heavy lifting - so devices like Alexa are demanding a lot less from us. Plus we can talk far quicker than we can type, up to 150 words a minute (versus around 50 when we type).
We are looking for a human connection. When we use voice, 64% of the same parts of our brain activate as when we’re having an emotional response; it’s natural and easy for us. But hey, you’re probably thinking we can’t build a human connection with something that’s so clearly a machine, right? Well, it’s easier than you think, scarily so. In fact, 25% of people said they fantasised about their voice assistant, as described alongside some other research into how these connections can be established in this piece. Even if it’s not a romantic connection, even if it’s a bot, we can get attached. This screams that there is a really fine ethical line to tread, and when brands are working out their place in this new consumer world, considering the user first and foremost must be key. In part 2, we look at how PR will be shaken up by the rise of voice.