What will your brand sound like? And what will it have to say?
When it comes to the rise of new voice technology and voice marketing within the home and mobile space, the question is no longer whether consumers are adding voice to their shopping cycle. It’s to what degree they’re adding it and what brands and marketers will have to say when these new channels are opened.
Already more than one-third of polled consumers have made retail purchases via voice, according to research. Meanwhile, it was reported that Alexa and Hey Google dominated the 2018 CES conference. Bottom line: Voice will be heard. Wall to wall, the home is transforming into a new kind of marketing environment — and brands and marketers must make critical decisions about how to respond in 2018 and beyond.
Voice in the consumer space goes to the heart of how brands market in new and challenging ways. When it comes to voice search, how do brands become a digital voice assistant’s top pick at the end of a query? Solving for search in this way takes us deep into questions of consumer wants and intent. Search, however, is only part of the voice story.
The second major challenge in the voice-technology space revolves around introducing new ideas to consumers — incepting new questions into the consumer mindset, anticipating their next discovery and then inspiring them with a verbal prompt — and doing so in the private, personal space of a consumer’s home. “Good morning, Julie. I see you listened to all of that classical album yesterday; there’s a box set of new recordings of that composer. Want me to add that to the queue?” The feat we’re talking about here comes down to proactive communication — anticipatory inspiration. “If the black heels you had delivered last week are working for you, I have some ideas for wedges. The same brand just announced a sale.” The future of marketing lies in skillfully crafting these conversations. And it’s going to take a new kind of marketing expertise to build it.
New Roles For Marketers
As voice takes its place in the marketing mix, the industry will witness the rise of the voice marketer. Search engineers will address voice-search consumer questions, and voice marketers will perform their own tricky task: crafting the “scripts” that fuel new and anticipatory inspiration for voice-ready consumers.
Of course, humans have marketed in the voice-only arena before, to some extent. Listeners invited radio into their homes long ago. Part of that invitation included advertisers, and we know there’s a mandate for radio creative still. Even in recent years, Nielsen tells us, a single dollar of radio-ad spend can generate an average sales return of $6 from listeners within 28 days of hearing an ad.
The prospect of voice creative and voice marketing can build on these ideas, but voice-assistant interactions are going to be different. “You don’t want [voice assistants] shouting to you like you’re on the radio,” said Susan Panico, SVP of strategic solutions at Pandora, in a recent GeoMarketing interview. “You want something that’s a lot more contextual, connected, authentic, and natural.”
Radio is passive listening. We aren’t passive in our digital voice-assistant interactions. We also won’t want to be bossed around. Voice marketing and voice marketers will be tasked with shaping the dynamics of this voice approach, fostering experiences and helping them to evolve. Technology changes and grows more sophisticated, and consumer expectations grow along with it. Voice is the next green field for marketing roles and innovation.
Cautious Markets And Moments For Bold Marketers
Brands are understandably cautious about making quick moves in the voice-marketing space. Even companies like Amazon are being cautious. The goal is not to replace organic, helpful interactions with hard sells. And it’s also not the goal to confuse users with a labyrinth of paid and unpaid answers to queries. We shouldn’t craft voice to interrupt, disrupt or distract — we want it to empower and not encumber the consumer experience. This is fair and wise, but do we even know what we mean by “consumer experience” in the voice space?
Let’s assume voice works in the way of conversations that we already understand: When we ask a question, we want a relevant and tightly aligned answer. On the other hand, when we’re doing something aligned with our interests and a friend has a good idea that can help make that activity even better, easier or more interesting, we can be receptive to inspiration. We’re willing to open up the conversation in directions we didn’t initially intend. The voice marketer’s immediate challenge, as we enter a future of increasingly ubiquitous voice-assistant tech, is to identify, craft and capitalize on those moments.
Our challenge as marketers will be to define the role of voice marketer in this new, fluid, in-home mobile space. And then we must iterate on it. This is the vanguard’s opportunity. If some brands and marketers are moving cautiously, that means there will be moments when other advertisers and marketers can make choices that are bold. There’s risk in being first, but the first bold move in voice marketing that works will likely be the story that we tell in the future. The story of voice will be a conversation going forward. It’s up to mobile marketers to decide if their organizations will be the ones that get to tell it.