We’ve all done it, asked Siri or the voice assistant on our smartphone what the weather is like today, we’ve tested its knowledge and probably got an ‘I’m sorry I don’t understand that question’ making us feel superior, or laughed at a preprogrammed ridiculous quip.
Beyond these basic commands the reality is voice assistants for the majority are limited to barking common orders at our devices to ‘call now’ or ‘play Ed Sheeran on Spotify’.
When we think about where we engage with devices via voice they are primarily used in private. This makes total sense as people are more comfortable talking to voice assistants on their own, away from the ears and judgement of others. A detailed study by Creative Strategies in 2016 supports this behaviour as 39 per cent of consumers surveyed use their voice assistant in their home and 51 per cent in the car.
Products centered on voice such as Amazon Echo and Google Home have penetrated our lives further, capitalising not only on their proprietary technology, but on our becoming more comfortable of using such devices within private spaces.
The fact that they are effective and efficient means that they are being frequently used, thus becoming woven into the very fabric of our daily lives.
As history has frequently shown, where there are changes in consumer behaviour related to technology, opportunities will present themselves; and for voice these opportunities are only going to increase. If we reflect, it wasn’t that long ago that we used to complain of people using their mobile phones in public. With the ubiquity of smartphones in the UK, how many of us today take any notice of people having personal conversations in public as we once did? The fact is we don’t because we also have those public conversations. Both our behaviours and expectations from technology have changed.
I’d like to take a moment to look at a few broad trends that highlight the new ways in which we are becoming more comfortable in speaking at our device. It is these changes in behaviour that will result more opportunities for marketers to create content that requires voice as the primary input.
The first behaviour worth commenting on is the high user adoption of features such as Instagram Stories or Snapchat Stories. The use of these requires people to take mini video clips and allow for voice storytelling commentary over the top. So, in a sense, more people are vlogging their lives and sharing these publically amongst their networks using voice as a key component of content production.
The second trend and closely aligned to the first, is live video. Many experts predict that 2017 is the year that Facebook Live will explode in popularity. Again with live streaming you can provide voice commentary by speaking at your device to an audience that you cannot see. Therefore the more frequently we use, interact and are exposed to others using tools such as Facebook Live, the more comfortable we will be in accepting that we can talk at our devices.
Thirdly, and this is more of a personal observation, I’ve noticed that I have started to FaceTime (video call) more of my contacts in public and do not feel embarrassed by holding a device in front of me and talking at it. I’m also starting to see more people do the same as I walk to and from work, but this could be the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.
My recent adoption of this functionality is because of better wireless connectivity and cheaper data. But a couple of years ago I probably would have felt too self conscious to FaceTime along the high street in public.
Fourth, developments in AI and its increased adoption such as the daily use of personal assistants e.g. Alexa and Google Voice already discussed, means that we as humans are coming to rely more on voice as a way to successfully search for, send and receive information.
Related to AI are bots which incorporate machine learning linked to popular networks such as Facebook Messenger and indeed Alexa. These bots actively encourage voice interface.
One market where voice has been adopted into the mainstream is China, and more specifically on the dominant messenger platform WeChat. Here users have substituted the trusty qwerty keypad to that of using just the voice for messaging, simply because it’s quicker and easier to do so. It is this convenience just as that which is found with using voice search via in-home devices that will fuel the adoption of voice not just as a driver for search but also our interactions with content.
Therefore, the opportunity in the long term for marketers when considering voice is in providing utility, and this can start with bots. Brands should look to exploit bot technology by turning current voice assistants into true digital agents able to have natural exchanges. In an era of customer centricity, customer service agents that are intelligent and provide real value based on personal interactions will truly provide relevance.
In the short term, content that we currently produce should take into account voice search for discoverability. Because more and more people are frequently using voice assistants to discover and learn - myself included. In 2016 Google made changes to its search engine algorithm to give preference to those sites and content that give equal consideration to mobile as well as desktop, in time their algorithms will no doubt rank content that favours the voice.