If the media forecasters are right then the majority of our internet searches will be done with the power, and authority, of our own voice as home voice assistants like Amazon’s Echo and Alex become as familiar in our kitchens as a kettle and toaster. But what does this mean for brand owners and retailers alike? Richard Siddle looks at the threats and opportunities that voice search presents.
Major brands work tirelessly to ensure it is their products and their names that consumers think of when they go to order things online. But how do you do that when it comes to ordering by voice? It’s a new minefield for us all to explore.
One of the funniest viral videos doing the rounds on social media is increasingly frustrated users shouting instructions at Amazon’s Alexa voice search assistant only to be repeatedly given the wrong information back.
It seems the angrier a particular retired Scotsman becomes trying to get Alexa to play one of his favourite traditional Scottish folk songs the less Alexa can understand him – offering him suggestions of the Black Eyed Peas, or what he would like to “add to his shopping list” instead.
But it would be foolish to dismiss voice search and new devices such as Amazon Alexa, Echo and Google Home as being destined to join the likes of Wii video games in the digital dustbin.
In fact voice search is already making up a significant proportion of how people are using online search to find out the information they need.
The pace of change is astonishing. Voice search, for example, went from practically zero at the beginning of 2015 to make up 10% of all searches globally by the end of it. Resulting in 50 billion searches in December 2015.
Now it is thought 40% of adults use voice search at least once a day, 30% of all search will be done by voice in 2018 (Gartner) and that will increase to 50% of all searches by 2020 (ComScore).
Over 60% of Brits are using or happy to use voice-operated devices, according to Mintel, to listen to music, search, check the news and shop.
All of this is being driven by the widespread use of household products like Alexa or Google Home, with technology experts, Gartner, predicting 75% of US households will have a voice device by 2020, up from 7% now.
Voice search is also not just confined to dedicated speaker devices or your smart phone, 25% of searches, for example, on a Windows 10 taskbar are now done by voice (Microsoft).
The applications of voice search are still very much in their infancy. Currently capable of carrying out tasks such as finding an address on Google maps, or picking out a song (preferably a non traditional Scottish one) from your iTunes collection.
Ultimate in personalised search
But the real magic of the new voice search applications are that they are designed to get smarter, more intelligent, accurate and relevant to our individual needs. They all have machine learning technology built into them that allows them to adapt, and learn.
Google is said to leading the way in what is known as AGI – artificial general intelligence – technology. Its new Deepmind platform is the first step in to AGI.
All of which comes at a time when we are all, knowingly or not, looking for more personalised and individual services and products that are relevant to our wants and needs.
Ask any major restaurant, retailer, hotel, bar, cinema, or service provider and they all taking steps to tailor what they offer to the individual needs of their targeted community of consumers.
Crucially voice search does not give you an infinite number of choices that a Google search would. It gives you one.
Which is where businesses and brands are really scratching their heads. What happens to me if my brand or business does not come back in that reply?
Threat to brand power
Voice search has the potential to turn the world of brand advertising and brand power on its head, where it will become increasingly difficult to build brand loyalty.
New research shows that smart speakers, for example, will suggest a different brand than the one a user is currently using in nearly one in five searches when ordering a product via voice. In the majority of cases, 61%, of speakers won’t ask if you want to order the product you had before, or, in 62% of searches, ask if you were looking for a specific brand (ComScore).
It clearly has major ramifications for brands. Particularly in a sector as a fickle as wine where there is not the brand power of the big FMCG categories and so much wine is bought on impulse, or recognising the name of a brand when you see it.
Behshad Behzadi, director of conversational search at Google told Campaign early this year: “The algorithm that selects the answers does so based on the search itself. It’s fair to say that content ranked highest in search is most likely the one to be selected for the box. But there is not a formal answer to getting picked by the algorithm. It depends on what the algorithm deems to be the best content, and how it defines ‘best’ is continually evolving.”
“The concern is whether Google will charge to have Actions discovered,” Joe Evans, senior research analyst at Enders Analysis, also told Campaign.
How easy will it be to voice check that wine next time you want to order another one?
It also opens the door for private label and retailer own brands to become even more important and powerful. If you are buying your groceries via a certain store then why not just ask for their top Prosecco, or Pinot Grigio than worry about which brand you like.
And then there is Amazon which is not only acting as the search engine, the voice assistant with its Alexa and Echo machines, but is also the end retailer too. In the US, for example, 15% of Alexa owners already use them to buy products direct from Amazon.
Not surprisingly the big FMCG and advertising industries are already in talks with the search companies to see where their futures lie. Don’t be surprised if we see agreements put in place that allow brands to pay to influence the algorithms in these voice assistant machines to ensure their products and services are being promoted first.
It’s also a concern for wine companies, be it producers, suppliers or retailers, that have spent the last few years working tirelessly building up their own communities of loyal and interested customers through social media and direct marketing.
Communities that self-learning machines can potentially take away from them with their voice recommendations.
Local is best
There is, though, some better news for those operating in the on and off-premise sectors. Much of this new technology will also include increasingly sophisticated location data applications.
This is seen as the real game changer for voice search as it will mean the responses will become more relevant as they pick out the nearest businesses, services and products to where the user is user.
So potentially you can just jump in your car and ask its voice search system to bring up the nearest wine shop selling a particular type of wine on the sat nav. Wait another 20 to 30 years and it will be able to drive you there itself.
Already 82% of people use a search engine on their smartphone to find a local business and the number of people using a “near me” command has doubled in the last year.
It might sound a bit too much like Big Brother, but if these devices help you get to where you need to get to be it physically, or emotionally then expect them to become a bigger part of both your personal and working lives.
Whether voice search assistants will ever be able to help an angry Scotsman with the thickest, most impenetrable Glaswegian accents remains to be seen. But I wouldn’t bet against it.
- This is an adapted article first published by Vinventions, the specialist closure business.