Google Assistant recently notched its second consecutive win in the Stone Temple agency’s 5,000-question test to determine which digital assistant is the most intelligent, besting Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana.
But Google’s victory may not be the most noteworthy takeaway. Alexa’s attempted answers increased by a factor of 171%, while Cortana’s accuracy score ticked up from 86% to 92%. As voice assistants become more advanced, and major tech players like Facebook and Amazon ramp up their investments in voice search technology, people will come to rely on these assistants more and more — not least for voice searches.
What are the ramifications for the marketing industry? Marketers find themselves mulling how best to adapt to a world in which voice searches will account for 50% of all searches by 2020, according to comScore. A BI Intelligence study suggests that younger audiences will drive further growth in voice search, with 70% of those between the ages of 18 and 34 and 84% of those between 14 and 17 years old stating that they’re either using voice search already or are interested in doing so.
A recent Capgemini analysis spells out the impacts for e-commerce: Three years from now, 40% of consumers will use voice assistants instead of websites or apps, while 31% of consumers will opt for voice assistants over visiting a brick-and-mortar store or bank branch.
For marketers, this brave new world comes with considerable challenges. In an online survey conducted by NetElixir, just under 40% of U.S. adult respondents said they would be open to ads on smart speakers if they were relevant to them. This suggests that while many a smart assistant user may love being able to ask Alexa what time her dress fitting is, she may be less likely to appreciate Alexa’s ad for a dressmaker.
But while smart device-makers say they currently have no plans for rolling out ads, that stance is likely to evolve with the market: By 2020, Gartner forecasts, 75% of U.S. households will have smart speakers — and with research from Accenture finding that people who purchase smart speakers tend to start using their mobile phones less, meeting consumers where they are will require marketers to adapt to the age of Alexa. (Opens as a PDF)
Marketers Can Aim Ads at Voice Searches
So how can marketers make the most of this opportunity — and overcome the challenges posed by public skepticism? For starters, optimizing for voice search is vital even for those who will still opt for their mobile devices over smart speakers; more and more searches on mobile are being conducted orally.
Understanding the nuances of voice search is essential to helping searchers find exactly what they’re looking for when searching by voice — and, correspondingly, it’s also how marketers can direct audiences to relevant content and identify appropriate targets for outreach.
Moreover, e-commerce marketers should prepare to harness the treasure trove of user data maintained by manufacturers of smart speakers. Amazon and Google, for instance, sit on a wealth of user data, from search inquiries to browsing habits to purchase decisions. This data can help marketers segment their audiences, phone messages and pinpoint who is most likely to be receptive to their offers.
Armed with this information, marketers can more easily put themselves in searchers’ shoes. And while such data is valuable for any kind of search, voice search must be approached uniquely. For instance, a searcher is unlikely to tell Siri, “best vacation deals,” but will instead use more natural language: “Find me the best vacation deals.” Planning around user behavior and intent will allow businesses to make deeper inroads with their target audiences.
The greatest impact from the rise of voice search will be felt by local businesses. Alexa is already capable of placing a complicated pizza order, underscoring that voice assistants will act as more than middlemen. Optimizing content for voice search, then, will be particularly critical for local businesses looking to capitalize on action-oriented, time-sensitive queries.
Planning campaigns with an eye toward steering users to content that resonates with them, the e-commerce industry can effectively navigate the era of voice search — a strategic imperative at a time when voice assistants are becoming smarter and millions more consumers are using them in their daily lives.
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