Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Bixby and Co. Say hello to the age of voice tech.
As a nation, we’re talking less. Yet voice technology is on the rise. But what could this mean for your brand? We explore the impact of voice activated technology in a world where our use of language is changing fast...
Are you talkin' to me?
That's a good question.
We’re lucky if we see a human being to interact with these days – they’re not serving us in supermarkets - and driverless public transport is just a heartbeat away. In fact, driverless taxis are destined to be on London’s streets from 2019.
A lack of offline conversations isn’t unique to the UK either – in Japan there are even reports of a population decline as young people are so busy not having conversations, they aren’t even dating any more.
NO SPEECHES PLEASE, WE'RE BRITISH
Our research tells us that 31% of smartphone users make no traditional voice calls in a given week. This is compared to just 4% in 2012. By 2020,85% of customer interactions will be managed without a human. Scary, right?
People are getting more and more used to being contacted by faceless alerts, directing them to the nearest promotions and latest offers via their smartphones. There simply isn’t the same trust in telephone customer service, with 74% of consumers now preferring to make financial transactions using their smartphones.
WHY IS Voice recognition on the rise?
It isn’t to say that consumers don’t want a ‘human’ experience.
What would a marketing campaign be without it resulting in an engaging emotional response? It’s why Marketing Execs turn up in the morning.
But this move away from actual human encounters is certainly one reason why voice recognition is on the rise.
By the end of 2018, ‘customer digital assistants’ will recognise customers by face and voice across channels and partners.
Advances in this area are going to have a big impact on brands who fail to keep up.
This rise in voice recognition technology already has the likes of Sony, Google, Apple and Amazon falling over themselves to keep up with developments.
And that spells massive opportunity for brands looking to attract customers.
EVERYONE'S TALKING TO ALEXA
You may already be a lucky owner of Amazon Echo, the voice activated virtual assistant now sitting pretty in many British homes.
It launched in April 2014 in the US and has since sold over four million units worldwide (source: 2016 Internet Trends Report, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers).
In case you don’t already know, the Amazon Echo is a Wi-Fi enabled speaker bought to life by virtual assistant, Alexa.
She is the voice that responds to just about any task she can put her virtual brain to. The owner wakes the device using the word ‘Alexa’, and she can then go on to answer just about anything its asked.
The range of questions this sophisticated bit of tech can respond to is what makes the Amazon Echo so interesting to marketers. And this is where its true value will be measured by the history books.
The device is powered by Amazon’s cloud-based Web Services platform and deploys Artificial Intelligence (AI) to learn about its owner’s likes and dislikes, as well as adapting to speech patterns and vocabulary.
By absorbing this information, the device can tailor its service, making it a super intuitive piece of kit.
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BRands in bed with smarthome tech
A number of brands have already integrated their software and products with the Amazon Echo.
These partnerships include Dominos, The Guardian, Jamie Oliver, JustEat, Network Rail, Spotify and Uber.
For example, you can order an Uber, ask Dominos pizza to deliver your last order to your home and check train times from your local station. Too easy!
Apple’s equivalent to the Amazon Echo is the Apple HomePod, powered by Siri smarts. Yet unlike Apple who are usually quick to market with latest technology, it’s not out in the UK until the end of 2017.
That’s despite Amazon Echo already kicking out further models such as the Echo Show and Echo Look.
It’s also set to be more expensive than the existing Amazon and Google models. If adoption continues to be slow, that could mean Alexa will dominate as the voice of choice.
Google Home powered by Google Now technology is the main contender to Amazon Echo’s leading position in the UK, promising to connect everything in the home from lights to heating and more.
“Connected technology is still a niche concept for consumers, but any time a company like Google takes a step into a market it’s significant.”
Brands need to sit up and take note.
TECH ON A MISSION
With developments in voice technology, more and more of us will be talking to smart appliances like this over the coming years to help us do everything from turning our heating on, through to helping cook our meals.
Voice recognition technology has improved significantly, rising from approximately 70% to 90% accuracy in the last five years alone.
WHAT does a brand tie-in look like?
Seth Dallaire, Vice President of Global Advertising Sales at Amazon encourages brands to work with developers to create ‘skills’ for the Amazon Echo: “Amazon will help to find the right developer to ensure that each brand’s ‘skill’ is appropriate for both the customer and the device.”
This is where opportunity lies for brands who are brave enough to take bold steps in creating these partnerships.
Capital One was one of the first ‘skills’ to launch.
It allows customers to ask Alexa for real-time account information, including balance updates, recent transactions and to make payments.
The Capital One team put a lot of time in to getting the conversation right, from the start.
This meant anticipating the nature of customers’ questions, as well as the way in which they were going to ask them.
But it was an approach that has since paid off for the company and proved a big hit with Amazon Echo users.
VOICE: A game changer for brands
It’s pretty clear that marketers will be making moves to get on board with voice activated partnerships as a matter of course, if they want to thrive and grow.
Early partners of this tech will be the winners here. Thomas Husson, an analyst with Forrester Research told Campaign magazine that the evolution of voice recognition presents huge opportunity for brands.
“Moving forward, people will not open apps whenever they need to simply glance for information, they will expect to be served proactively via timely and relevant messages. Leveraging natural language processing to answer the needs of consumers in context will be a game-changer.”
There’s even a suggestion that technology will move brands away from standard messaging and advertising, prompting them to shift their focus to ‘brand behaviour’.
If people can talk to a robot and interact with a brand, it could narrow the numerous messaging options brand managers currently use (and foot the bill for).
Smart home systems will of course have to be respectful of their users and not overwhelm them with ads, but there is definitely room for brands to live and breathe alongside this technology as it becomes more widely adopted.
WHere are the marketing opportunities?
Amazon are currently seeking ways to monetise their Echo and Dot smart home devices through paid advertising.
One of the existing functions is for consumers to buy previously ordered items from Amazon, or new ones- just by telling Alexa what they want.
If a competitor could have a few seconds of time to advertise their product over the one mentioned by the customer, this could have valuable point-of-purchase pulling power for brands. We could begin to see all sorts of customer promotions move in-home – advertising everything from cinema promotions to travel promotions and more.
Amazon Echo already has tie-ins with companies such as Spotify and this is where sponsorship could be of even more value to marketers. For example, when Alexa is asked to play a song by Beyoncé, a brand could sponsor that content with a timely advertisement explaining this.
At the moment, most of Alexa’s ‘skills’ are content accessed via free apps but that isn’t to say that different versions of these couldn’t be monetised down the line.
There’s also room for Amazon to expand its current offering into different sectors.
We don’t think it will be long before Alexa is giving us the best deals for flights to Europe, helping us choose an outfit or giving us the Best Buy ISA accounts.
No sector is off limits - and the opportunities for customer engagement here are huge.
As the virtual assistant platform grows and moves into these different promotional areas, it could create other, new revenue streams and open up all sorts of new variations of advertising.
THE FINAL WORD FROM ALEXA
Amazon’s Dallaire says there has been tonnes of interest from brands keen to tap into the customer behaviour intelligence offered by Echo.
In addition, Amazon can share feedback with brands on how and when customers are interacting with the device and its various skills.
It’s a powerful tool for marketers seeking insight for future promotional campaigns.
After all, Hollywood – and now leading tech developers like Elon Musk – have been telling us for years that Artificial Intelligence is set to take over the world.
Either way, it’s certainly going to lead to the next big space for brands. Watch this (big) space.
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