Remember when touch screens were brand new and felt revolutionary? It’s time to adapt again, in a much bigger way. Audio search is growing rapidly with questions simply being voiced out loud, triggering digital AI-assistants on our phones or other devices at hand, to find the answer for us. What does this mean for marketers and brands? Spoon-editor Malin Sund finds out.
Who hasn’t dreamed of an assistant in everyday life, to organize a few pieces here and there to streamline our lives? Well, the digital AI-assistants are here, at least in a limited way. And we’re adapting fast – voice googling for dinner recipes, train schedules, weather forecasts and even applying for jobs with the help of Siri, Alexa, and the other AI-assistants.
Audio search – a new reality
If you have teenagers in your home, chances are you’ve already heard them ask Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa to tell a joke or sum up the weather forecast. According to eMarketer forecasts, nearly 100 million smartphone users will be using voice assistants in 2020. U.K.-based analysts at Juniper Research also say that so-called voice commerce will grow to 80 billion dollars per year by 2023.
Admittedly, a lot of things still have to fall in place before we all do our shopping by talking to digital assistants. But our search habits are already changing fast. Reports say we can expect over 250 billion voice searches in 2020.
Google is even said to be working on a search engine dedicated specifically to sound and voice. Swedish entrepreneurs, Tor Rauden Källstigen and Håkan Waara have actually already launched All Ears, a search engine focused on voice content, quickly acquiring large companies like H&M as clients.
What kind of results does audio search bring?
But what do you actually get today when you enlist Siri, Alexa or Google Home in your online queries? So far many of the answers being served up by the different digital assistants are collected from Wikipedia. This means that a smart and relatively simple first move for marketers, in regards to the rise of voice search, is to make sure Wikipedia entries are up to speed on the company or brand.
Also optimising content for conversational “trigger words” such as who, what, why, where, when, how, and so on should be a priority for any brand. Consumers simply ask their questions differently when they speak them instead of typing them. Logically your content answering these questions should be constructed for being read out loud by Siri, Alexa, and the others.
So far so good. After this, it all gets a bit trickier. No standard is set yet – every developed AI-assistant has their own way of ranking information, via their own algorithm. In other words, content needs to be SEO-optimised in different ways for various voice assistants, at least until one of the versions has become dominant. SEO experts give some advice here.
By now, you might need a short pep talk, weighing up lots of new work in sight. Here it is: Businesses report that a great benefit of voice technology is building highly valued relationships with their customers. AI assistants have enhanced the relationship between brands and customers by giving birth to a new, emotionally engaged interaction.
In Sweden a few early adopters are already experimenting with the new possibilities of connecting with potential clients and customers: ICA, SJ, SAS, and PostNord have each launched voice apps, helping consumers with dinner recipes, train, and plane schedules etcetera.
Branding – how does your brand sound?
For marketers beginning to see the perks of adapting to voice search, there are a few important decisions to make – and pitfalls to avoid.
According to Resumé, 87 percent of brands have a visual strategy in place. Meanwhile, only 17 percent seem to have a strategy for how their brand should sound.
This is an increasingly hot topic since the number of consumers, who will be interacting with your business via voice and sound, is growing so fast. This naturally involves several different aspects. For example, what tone and which language should customers associate with your brand? Also – whose voice represents your brand? An interesting interview with expert Diana Mosa, founder of Talking To Me can be found here.
Diversity – not so much
The choice of voices is pretty limited so far if you want to benefit from the artificial intelligence part of digital assistants when you’re designing automated conversations with clients and customers, for your website or social media channels.
A majority of the digital assistants so far have been given female voices and names. Apple has Siri, Amazon has Alexa and Microsoft has named their AI assistant Cortana after a character in the online game Halo. IKEA’s voice assistant is named Anna, while SEB’s is named Amelia.
This aspect has already sparked discussions and a UN-led study I’d blush if I could: closing gender divides in digital skills through education highlights the risk of enforcing tired old (submissive secretary-)stereotypes and gender-biased prejudice via the digital assistants.
BBC taking on Google and Amazon
There’s also the democratic aspect of customers actually being understood when speaking to an AI-assistant. How fast will the available assistants learn to understand questions asked in different dialects or by immigrant citizens, not yet fully mastering the pronunciation of a new language?
BBC is putting effort into building their own digital assistant, making sure to train their AI on a variety of different voices and dialects, to try to enhance inclusion and diversity. Or as they put it, “ensuring public service values can be protected in a voice-enabled future”.
Things are evolving very fast in the emerging voice tech field right now and there are lots to figure out. No matter how fast or slow your brand aims to move when it comes to enabling spoken, automated communication with your customers, it helps to be aware of the challenges in inclusion and diversity.
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