How Marketers Must Prepare for the Voice-Connected Consumer

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2018 has barely kicked off and already it is apparent that voice technology will influence many of the year’s brands and customer experiences. Between speculation of Amazon Alexa’s plans to introduce advertisements and the takeover of connected voice capabilities at CES 2018, marketers have a lot to think about when it comes to how and when they maximize the technology. As the big guys bring smart devices and connected capabilities to cars, appliances and robots, hardware and software manufacturers as well as marketers must be equally smart in their strategies to prepare for the new ways customers will engage. These strategies will be essential for creating great experiences that simultaneously offer non-intrusive advertising and useful marketing messages.

It is clear that voice technology is the next big competitive playground for Amazon, Google and other ad giants, but what marketers must be concerned about is how to convey their business information, content and reputation in the natural and conversational manner consumers expect when using voice technology. Brands and marketers can waste no time debating the importance of preparing; after all, data shows 2018 is the year digital media consumption will finally equal traditional media consumption and consumers are showing no signs of holding back. This shift marks a critical turning point for technologies like voice to become mainstays in the daily lives of consumers and marketers must get on board.

Connected consumers are more local than ever
As digital media surpasses traditional, marketers must prepare for the changes that will result from connected devices becoming a common source of customer experience. Local search will be of paramount importance as consumers turn to their voice devices, and eventually their connected cars and appliances, to find solutions, offers and services that are convenient and immediate. Brands must curate each of their location’s marketing and business listings accordingly to capitalize on voice search.

For example, “Where is the best soy milk vanilla latte downtown” is a detailed product search query that is natural for customers but something most brands have not optimized for—just look at the conflicting results below. The problem is that optimized and accurate answers to these types of queries require the development of content that is very different from the article and keyword-driven content that marketers have been building for years. Early evidence of Google trying to tackle this problem is the addition of questions that ask consumers to provide attributes about the business they visit (does it accept credit cards, is it handicap accessible, etc.), as well as Q&A’s with the business itself  (“Do you have vegetarian options on your menu?”).

Becoming the top contender, not the diamond in the rough
“Where is the best soy milk vanilla latte downtown?” Surprisingly, both Google and Siri successfully recognized this as a local search and provided some nearby results, although they were less than ideal. 

Siri provided a list of options but as you can see, it includes a sushi joint and a taco food truck—certainly not top choices for someone looking for a latte.

Google, interestingly, decided to select a single business for this query—Kuma Café—although it’s very hard to tell why. Further searching doesn’t find any significant mentions of soy milk vanilla lattes at Kuma Cafe, and there are other great coffee places nearby that Google failed to display.

It wasn’t until voice search was given a more general “best coffee downtown” query that Google provided its standard map results, rather than selecting one result like in the previous example. 

Exactly how important is this issue? In traditional desktop searches, the #1 Google result nets a 34.36% click-through rate, while the #2 result only generates 9% click-through—imagine the difference as searchers spend time listening to each option, rather than simply scrolling. With voice search, the first result is it, it is getting 100% of the “clicks,” just as we saw with Kuma Café. Since 84% of customers take action after conducting a local search, it is more vital than ever for brands to take that top spot and be the most relevant result.

Adding to the shake-up, consider how challenging it is for Google to meet this new preference for singular search results. The search engine’s #1 revenue model is displaying results pages and getting users to click on ads, which could easily be cannibalized by the adoption of voice search. If voice users are turned off by forced ad sponsorships, Google could easily fail to deliver a user-friendly experience and in turn lose the voice war. And since Apple and Amazon are not reliant on ad revenues within their results, nothing is preventing them from driving great user experiences and adoption or capitalizing on new revenue streams from voice. 

Preparing for the Ads Race
It is likely advertisements will make their way to voice before fully connected, voice activated technologies make their way to our appliances, cars and workplaces, —but how do marketers prepare? Since voice inherently takes on a Q&A format prompted by the consumer, it doesn’t leave much room for natural promotional moments and leaves us questioning what form these new ads will take. Amazon is being cautious with this on Alexa, considering only offering advertisers access to purchase behavior or restricting sponsored positions and ads to when users are adding skills to their Alexa devices. Amazon understands that flooding search results with sponsors will not only annoy consumers, it will also cause them to lose trust in Alexa altogether.

For marketers, it’s important to remember that 9 times out of 10, searches are unbranded, and that is not likely to change with the rise of voice search. Special consideration will need to be paid to identify what target customers are asking their voice devices for and what they would be interested in hearing that wouldn’t feel intrusive or annoying. Most importantly, the way that customers are discovered and communicated with will have to switch from a keyword-centric style to a conversational style so voice users can experience the brand while going about their existing conversation with their device. The main success factor will be finding the perfect balance between the desired ad model and the convenient user experience.

Collin Holmes is co-founder and CEO of Chatmeter.