It’s been just over two years since Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai made that memorable demonstration of Duplex, Google’s AI Voice Assistant booking a haircut appointment. Our superstar virtual assistant managed to capture nuances in conversation and even paused for a breath and a considered “Mm-hmm.” The salon manager didn’t really know she wasn’t actually speaking to a human. We wouldn’t mind an assistant like that, getting our jobs done, effortlessly.

It hasn’t taken so long for digital voice assistants like Alexa, Google Home and Siri to take over our daily lives. Recent reports estimate about 83.1 million people will use a smart speaker this year, a 13.7% uptick from last year. Device adoption figures are projected to rise even higher, and at a much faster rate than we expect, with consumers adopting voice search in their homes, and vehicles, and investing in smart home gadgets with built-in voice functionality.

But smart speakers and voice-enabled appliances represent only a fraction of the voice market. There are over half a billion Siri-capable devices out there, and half a billion Google Assistant users. People interacting with voice assistants are just as likely doing it on their Apple or Android phones.
Voice technology is changing the way brands think and engage across key customer touch points, in every global market. Here in Asia we have a unique challenge — with over 2,000 languages, hyper-localisation will be key to reaching the region’s billion-strong, digital-first audiences.

A voice for the youngest and the oldest

Voice presents unique advantages for both the youngest and the oldest generations. The age groups with the heaviest voice search usage are often the youngest (post-Alexa Alphas who haven’t learned to type yet, and voice-first Generation Zs ) as well as the oldest (Boomers aged 65 and over who find it easier to speak than type). Both cohorts report using voice search multiple times a day with variations in device preferences. Alexa is overwhelmingly popular with 65-plus users, and Siri with the youngest. What’s illuminating is that the youngest users are also the most concerned about privacy. Brands will have to focus on transparency and accountability when marketing to Alphas and Generation Zs via voice.

When AI gets better at social interactions than the average Joe

Voice adoption in Asia Pacific is surging, particularly in mobile-first, high population markets like China, Indonesia and India, voice is increasingly becoming essential to daily life. In a survey of smartphone owners in Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan and Singapore, over 50% of users say they opt for voice when performing their online searches. 60% feel future interactions with voice assistants will one day resemble a real relationship, where voice assistants act on their behalf. Part of this success can be attributed to recent improvements in speech recognition accuracy of character-based languages, with over half of regular voice users in China and Japan using voice because it means they don’t have to type.
Voice assistants may be the ticket to building trusted customer relationships in Asia’s digital-first economies. With China’s strong ecommerce ecosystem, and growing digital adoption in both India and South East Asia, voice technology and smart assistants are set to have an even larger impact on sales and purchase decisions in the region.

How does voice search impact marketing strategy?

While voice search has made seamless search possible for users, it comes with its own set of challenges for marketers. Pre-voice marketing strategy relies heavily on search engine optimisation, and not making the transition to the voice-based search might eliminate a late adopters from the race altogether. There’s a reason for this. While text-based search yields up to 10 results on search engines, voice-based search yields only three results for mobile and just one for smart speakers. Just one. Which means…

If you’re not on the top of the game, you’re out of the game

Voice engine optimisation is set to impact us all, some of us will be much harder hit than others. It’s possible you’ve already implemented a voice engine optimisation (VEO) strategy if you provide products exclusive to a location (think restaurants, supermarkets and hairdressers) or if you offer immediate and time-sensitive services, but that’s not really enough. As market leader Nike demonstrated last year, voice really is the future.

Hey Google, ask Nike how I can get these shoes

Ever wondered what footwear your favourite athletes are wearing on court? Sports fans do. Nike tapped into this curiosity to create a live in-game shopping experience that was powered via voice. Just voice. At the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics NBA game, a half-time prompt reached an estimated 2.6M viewers live on-air. Fans were invited to use Google Assistant to “Ask Nike” to buy the pre-release Nike Adapt BB shoes worn on court. This wasn’t a commercial. It was a direct call to action. And fans were intrigued. Thousands queried their Google Assistants, and made purchases. Voice search is new behaviour, but Nike’s experience only goes to show how a well-designed strategy (with a well integrated ecommerce platform) has the potential to capture attention at key moments of interest, drive authentic conversations, and guide customers along their journey to purchase.

Image credit: Nike / R/GA

Voice commerce — 3 simple hints

1  Start a conversation

Voice searches are 30 times likelier to be “action” searches than a typed search. Users tend to use long phrases and colloquial expressions to address their queries. Much like a conversation with a friend within a specific context (where we’re not shouting out relevant keywords).
Steer clear of technical jargon and complex phrasing. Include questions in content. It’s a good idea to figure out what people are asking, and how they’re asking for it. Dig for insights into their intent and motivation and tailor a strategy that works. 

2 What can your brand teach consumers?

Amazon Alexa Skills Kits are an interesting thought starter. Tide, for instance, helps harried parents clean clothes with a voice-activated library of over 200 different stains and how to get rid of them. Möet Hennessy inspires consumers to learn more about champagne (what foods pair well, how to serve it best). The key is figuring out how brands can address a customer need, teach a skill or provide a service. This works especially well if the content is easier to navigate via voice.

3 The need for speed, and getting the details right

We’re living in a world that thrives on speed. Consumers are looking for quick fixes in every aspect of their lives, and they’re not ones to wait. For higher rankings on voice search, site speed is critical (VEO seems even less forgiving than SEO on this one).

But speed isn’t enough. It’s also important for brands to get the details right. Brands lose an estimated US $10.3 billion every year due to inconsistencies and faulty search information. In this environment, when businesses are making sure to leave no stone unturned to capture and retain customers, even minor mistakes can prove costly.

Voice Commerce: Drive authentic conversations between brands and consumers

Regional and consumer diversity in Asia Pacific mean that although VEO looks easy to execute at first glance, it’s a bit of a learning curve. Understanding search habits is fundamental to building an effective voice strategy. Pay close attention to how customers use voice to find products and services. Paypal, Nestle, Tide, Campbell… they’ve all implemented voice strategies to enhance their customer experiences. There’s no reason to wait. In a world that’s rapidly transitioning to voice-based search and the stakes are higher than ever, businesses have no choice but to adapt. It’s time to optimise for the future of search.