Voice technology was everywhere at CES this year – toilets included – which means we are undoubtedly in an era dominated by voice assistants. This, in turn, means the way consumers perform even the most mundane day-to-day tasks is changing.
And, as a result, the way brands and marketers interact with said consumers is changing, too. The time respond to this technology is now.
Here’s a closer look at ten ways voice assistants are impacting marketing strategy.
The most obvious change in marketing as a result of voice assistants is the emphasis on featured snippets.
In other words, voice assistants like Google Assistant frequently pull answers to voice queries from sites that are ranked in position zero for given queries, thus making getting a featured snippet a popular optimization tip for voice search. And, coincidentally, Danny Sullivan, former chief content officer at Search Engine Land publisher Third Door Media and current public liaison for search at Google, just published a blog post “reintroducing” featured snippets, including an explanation of what they are, as well as how Google is working to improve them.
“Conventional SEO strategies are predominantly focused on the way users perform text searches,” said Tom Caulton, digital marketing executive and SEO consultant at digital marketing firm Dijitul. “It’s predicted that by 2020, 50% of all searches are to be voice initiated. Therefore, it’s now more important than ever to optimize your website for the different types of searches.”
In addition, Matt Jones, SEO executive at online tutor platform Tutorful, said Google Assistant will now tell users they can open the Google Home app to see more at the end of a verbal answer.
“So not only are you raising brand awareness through the initial answer, Google is now directing users to head to the app and navigate to your website to read more,” he said. “As time goes on, this will become more and more common with more users navigating to websites – meaning you’ll get more traffic coming through to your site from voice assistants. It’s also worth noting that these users have fairly high intent.”
As voice search has yielded longer queries with more natural language, voice assistants are changing the way marketers tell stories.
“The first thing that comes to mind when I think of how voice assistants are changing marketing is the Alexa Super Bowl ad,” said Anna Crowe, product marketing manager at Search Engine Journal. “In the closing moments of the ad, [she says], ‘Thanks, I’ve got this.’ This is Amazon telling us they’ve got our back. Alexa has it. They are taking care of things in the background that we don’t have time to think about.”
Voice assistants have also been pushing brands to create new kinds of content.
For his part, Justin Shaw, managing director of One & Zero digital marketing agency, pointed to the Ask Purina Alexa skill through which dog owners can ask Alexa questions about their pets, enabling Purina to be an authority in the space on a broad spectrum of dog-related information, which, in turn, builds trust and mindshare.
“For brands to get their message across they need to think about their customer experience, both in how their audience engages with content, but also the ways in which their products can integrate with AI from a technological standpoint,” he added.
Steve Pritchard, search content manager at mobile network giffgaff, agreed voice assistants are driving diversity and variety in marketing.
“In order to keep up, marketers need to revise their communication production process to make sure they can deliver a variety of content across a broader range of channels,” he added.
And, naturally, voice assistants have prompted advertisers to think about how they can capitalize in new ways.
Robb Hecht, adjunct marketing professor at Baruch College, called voice assistants “the true first interactive tool in the home that provides brands the capability to dynamically offer up ads in the future that could be user controlled.”
In other words, he said, “Today, Alexa and Google Home don’t offer much advertising outside of allowing brands to build content and sponsor skills or apps within Alexa. Skills are functions that allow Alexa to react to a customer’s audio commands.”
But, he added, that may soon change if Amazon allows brands to sponsor skills directly.
“In the future, we can imagine ‘pick your story’-type advertising,” he said. “So, for example, if Ford wanted to advertise on Alexa, they might do so within a skill about ‘how to buy a new car.’ As the user answers various questions, Alexa responds with differing answers or information choices, based on how the user responds.”
But voice assistants also offer the potential for far more personalization for individual consumers.
Per Tyler Riddell, vice president of marketing for eSUB Construction Software, the specificity of a voice search helps give details about a user’s context, which yields a more personalized result.
In addition, both Google Assistant and Alexa can recognize individual voices, offering catered results for things like messaging, briefings, shopping and music.
And Pete Meyers, marketing scientist at SEO software firm Moz, said Google has been pushing toward individual voice print identification on all of its devices, which has even more implications for personalization, like using someone’s voice to access their own settings, search history, etc., just as logged-in search normally does. But, he said, it’s still early.
“Unlike a computer or phone, where profile switching takes a couple of steps, this would be automatic,” he said. “I could ask for something like, ‘My flights,’ and my wife could turn around and ask the same question ten seconds later and get an entirely different answer.”
Meyers said there’s also been talk about factors like a user’s accent or emotional tone triggering different results from a voice assistant, but, he said, “that’s longer-term and there are a lot of potential issues to overcome.”
The ability to distinguish voices and manage account profiles also means marketers will have more insights into multiple users in a single household who make different purchase decisions, have different brand preferences, wish lists, music playlists and other personalized characteristics, said Miné Salkin, digital marketing manager at Absolute Marketing Solutions.
For his part, Marty Weintraub, founder of Aimclear marketing agency, said it’s fabulous for marketers to have the ability to inject retention and up-sell brand messaging with assistant information design to enhance customer service.
“At the heart of all assistants is a flow chart, a diagram, if this then that, so the system knows where to go next,” he said. “That sort of system has been around forever – think airline or hotel systems on the phone. With AI and machine learning, the system can learn and skew assistant verbiage towards effectively applied flow. Online assistants may learn more easily than fixed systems.”
As a result, brands can weave retention and up-sell into the assistant’s flow.
“For example, as users zero in on the hotel room they seek, know to test the up-sell interjection after the user enters a credit card with which the hotel has a partnership, saying, ‘a $57 upgrade gets you 7X credit card points, say yes to take the offer or no to complete booking,’” he said. “There is little friction. It’s great branding for the credit card partner and the user might feel special.”
Weintraub also pointed to user data, which can help refine assistant verbiage.
In other words, when the assistant knows the user is close to re-upping a cell phone contract, the assistant can offer the user a free month to do it now. And if the assistant knows the user has been checking out Samsung phones, but has been a long-time iPhone user, the assistant knows to echo the existing online offer or sweeten the pot.
“The key here is the ability to gather data and business intelligence. Assistants can monitor market conditions, meaning competitive intelligence,” Weintraub said. “Marketing is the same as it ever was: We communicate by design, testing timing, words used, etc. Dream what you wish your assistant can know and apply creativity to solving marketing challenges with clever marketing flow. After all, assistants are a UI, not a strategy.”
According to Anna Lebedeva, head of media relations at SEO tool SEMrush, one of the greatest ways voice assistants are disrupting marketing is the way they can push companies and products to customers.
Take Domino’s Pizza, for example.
“Prior to the Super Bowl of 2016, they synced with Amazon’s Alexa to promote voice-enabled pizza orders. And they justly got big buzz out of it,” she said. “But what was different is the positioning of that move – they promoted the idea of having no need to actually do anything to order a pizza – you can simply lie on your couch watching the Super Bowl, give Alexa a command and receive your pizza from the nearest Domino’s. Isn’t that impressive?”
And that, in turn, created a new experience.
“Locally focused advertisers can learn a great deal from the way Domino’s employed voice assistants in its brand positioning – it simply pointed out that no one needs distractions on Super Bowl Sunday, so logging in to an app, or, worse, switching on your laptop or making a phone call to order a pizza delivery is so 2015,” she added. “In 2016, you can do it all with your voice – just as when you’d ask your mother for an ice cream and it would be right there with you without any extra effort. That’s what the new wave of marketing looks like: marketing for the sake of human comfort without any additional push.”
Nikki Lam, SEO account manager at Power Digital Marketing, noted the rise of voice assistants is a reinforcement of something digital marketers have known for a while: Consumers want everything as quickly and easily as possible without sacrificing quality.
“Whether it’s restocking their laundry detergent, finding healthy recipes, or comparing pricing on shoes, consumers are favoring brands that nail speed, convenience and quality experiences,” she said.
Brett Downes, SEO manager at digital marketing agency Traffic Jam Media, agreed voice assistants should soon have the ability to integrate with a user’s favorite brands so they won’t need to sign into a specific app/website each time, but can rather access brands with simple commands, like, “What’s my bank balance?” for a bank app, “When’s the next train to London?” for Google Maps, and “I’m hungry” for Just Eat.
“This simplifies and increases the efficiency of queries and objectives,” he said.
Lam pointed to brands like PayPal, Patron and, yes, Domino’s, as good examples.
“PayPal customers can send money with a simple, ‘Hey Siri, send Sam $20 using PayPal.’ Patron’s Bot-Tender offers consumers personalized cocktail recipes from bartenders via Amazon Echo and Domino’s customers enable the brand’s Alexa skill, they can order their favorite pizza on Echo without lifting a finger – or their butt from the couch,” she said. “A virtual door has opened, allowing brands to interact with consumers in endless ways on more platforms. These voice interactions are molding branding into a set of interactive experiences that consumers are happily opting into.”
Because voice assistants have names like Alexa, Siri and Cortana – and related personalities – interaction with them is much more conversational.
“With their conversational UI, voice assistants are embracing humanity into technology, with customers communicating with these gadgets like a friend, not a machine/computer,” Downes said. “Brands are able to connect with a wider demographic, especially children and seniors.”
Through third-party skills, Purna Virji, senior manager or global engagement at Microsoft, said brands can reach their customers in more natural and compelling ways. And, thanks to skills suggestions, she said Cortana can understand a much wider range of topics and recommend the right skills for users.
“You don’t need to remember the name of every skill she has – just tell her what you want to do and she will suggest three or more relevant skills that can help you,” Virji added.
And, noted Beerud Sheth, CEO of AI and bot developer Gupshup, conversations are proving to drive conversions.
“A rich, engaging, meaningful conversation catered to the user’s needs is more likely to convert to transaction or, at the very least, identify a lead,” he said. “Conversations offer brands a chance to fully understand customer requirements and to position their products just right. Just like in offline retail where a good shopping assistant can convert customers and upsell or cross-sell products, while an overly aggressive salesperson will likely drive customers away. Whether your brand appears to be a friendly shopping assistant or a used-car salesman will now determine your conversion rate.”
And, at the end of the day, advancements in voice assistants and related content increases demand for writers and editors.
“With the rise of Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Homepod and Google Assistant, your content not only has to be written well, without any grammar and spelling errors, but it has to read well, too,” said Stan Tan, digital marketing specialist at sign company Selby’s.
Everyone needs editors
Has the rise of voice assistants changed how you think about marketing yet? It will!
Lisa Smith is a freelance writer who has covered the digital marketing industry for more than a decade.
See other posts by Lisa Smith
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