Digital Essay: The Voice Era by George Chivi and Piotr Rozycki

by George Chivi, digital media manager, Spark Foundry, and Piotr Rozycki, SEO manager, Performics

Voice represents a logical next step in the evolution of how we interact with information. It’s more natural than using a touchpad or keyboard, takes less brainpower and creates even more opportunity for tech to move further into the background and reduce our reliance on screens. This shift to zero-interface computing will change the way people do things, the way they think about brands and how they make purchasing decisions – expanding and shrinking marketing touchpoints along the way.

What does this new ecosystem look like? The current hype around voice isn’t slowing, thanks to continued momentum with voice-activated assistants, primarily through smart speakers and mobile phones. Today, we’re seeing nearly 200 billion voice searches performed annually. In the US, 21 per cent of households own a smart speaker. In just two years the impact of voice is forecasted to represent 50 per cent of all searches (30 per cent of which will be done without a screen) and $40bn in transactions will occur via voice.

Voice is not just your weather predictor, translator or information finder. Voice is the new front of commerce and communication.

While we look to markets like the US for early predictors, it is the rapid adoption that we see in our region that reinforces the global progression of voice across markets and industries. Just like the rapid adoption of mobile and video in decades past, the adoption and, more importantly, the desire for adoption are hitting critical figures in MENA. 16 per cent of the population own a voice device and another 46 per cent want one.

How will people embrace voice? It’s not just the fact of being accessible, and in the right language, but how brands leverage the full ecosystem in order to be embraced by consumers that will make the difference. Voice, by the sheer fact that it is a voice, is the most human interface that has ever been in mass use. This humanity, this heart of connectivity, is embraced by various consumers, at various levels, deploying various tones.

Young Adult – DJ & personal assistant – direct verbiage & tone.

Active parents – an organised person – conversational tone.

Individual-level insight of the voice user will be critical to a brand’s success in this emerging space. The changes will come in different sound waves, personas and new tech – bots and artificial intelligence. This new media pillar will decide how we do business, purchase, consume, interact and more in the years to come. Amit Singhal, senior vice-president of Google Search, sums up this voice age: “At some point pulling out a smartphone to do a search will feel as archaic as a dial-up model.”

Neurological research shows that interacting with devices through voice is easier, more convenient and quicker than other methods such as typing and texting. It shows that in general the cognitive load of both inputting and receiving information through voice is drastically reduced. The same observation of brain activity was noted about a brand when people asked a question via voice versus typing.

It was bringing facts like
this into a more human level that inspired the Publicis Media study on the Rise of Voice, which focuses on understanding brand impact (what should you do and why?) alongside the desired experience (what do your consumers want,
and why?). Our findings show
that voice, when used, is delivering results on par with or greater than traditional media.

Voice delivers twice the unprompted brand recall than TV and is on par with the well-established mobile medium. Minmax Electrodermal Activity (EDA) shows that people are physically in a more active and alert stage when interacting with smart speakers; this rise is in direct correlation with greater memory impact. People simply remember more with voice.

It is less taxing on us as people to engage with voice; it is seen as a human and therefore we listen to it more in a conversational zone, which resonates the facts to a deeper level of understanding, memory and recall.

Brand responses must be reimagined to factor in conversational words and long-tail queries.

Consider a subject like the weather. On text search, a user would type in “BBC Weather” or “Weather in Dubai”, compared with a voice input that would translate into, “Do I need an umbrella?” or “What’s the weather looking like today?”

Looking at long-tail queries and engagement on voice, let’s take a look at two brand examples utilising long-tail conversation, and in turn listening to long-tail voice.

Tide Stain Remover’s Alexa skill offers consumers new and relevant content by offering step-by-step instructions on how to remove a stain, activated by voice questions such as: “How can I remove grass stains from my son’s gym kit?” It takes Tide problem solving to a new level of mum assistance.

Comic Relief, an anti-poverty NGO, created a “swear jar” app – an application that catches people when they swear and in turn contributes money directly to Comic Relief efforts.

Both examples show how brands can quickly get it right in order to create new avenues into the homes and lives of their consumers.

Brands such as J.P. Morgan is tapping into voice strategies to compete and stay ahead of the curve. JPMorgan Chase’s CMO Kristin Lemkau sums up the need for a voice strategy: “I feel like a lot of brands were playing catchup on Facebook and Snap, and consumers are always a little ahead of brands, so it would be nice to be ahead on voice.”

Publicis Groupe has taken a step forward with the beta launch of Marcel, an AI voice communications platform that will enable employees to search for keywords as complicated as ‘fashion and data’ via voice. From here, Marcel can access Publicis’s global database and tap into agency teams regardless of where they sit to gather data.

Looking to tomorrow, every brand should consider five things:

  1. Working around people, not technology.
  2. Mapping your search keyword strategy to a voice query strategy
  3. ‘Verb’ your brand.
  4. Audit audio assets.
  5. Extend owned to audio.