Philip Ellis
News & Views
Here’s how voice is changing marketing

Twice as many Americans are using voice-enabled virtual assistants as were this time last year, according to research from eMarketer. Nearly half of these 60.5 million consumers are part of the millennial demographic; perhaps unsurprisingly, this younger group is more likely than Generation X to interact with voice assistants on a regular basis. Millennial voice users are expected to grow to nearly 40 million by 2019.

Data published by BI Intelligence suggests that the primary reasons people use voice assistants are: asking questions (75%), search queries (58%), checking the weather (57%), dictating text messages (55%), dialling contacts (52%) and selecting music (50%). Only 13% use their voice-enabled speakers to control home appliances, and 3% use voice as biometric authentication.

Amazon Echo currently has a 70% share of the voice-enabled speaker market, with 24% going to Google Home. There are a number of reasons Amazon is dominating this space at present. First and foremost, it has an affordable device. While the Amazon Echo is on a par with Google home price-wise, Amazon also offers the smaller, inexpensive Echo Dot. According to Josh Lowitz, co-founder of Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, the Dot “definitely helped drive Echo sales” thanks to “aggressive” pricing.

Publishers are busy building voice-oriented teams to develop products centred around news and games (the two most popular skill type on Amazon’s platform).  Marketing budgets for voice remain small, because experimentation in this area is relatively cheap and easy — and some of the audio content quality reflects that. But rough-and-ready products can be a way for marketers in burgeoning categories to learn.

“Look back at the early app store days for the iPhone — the large majority of apps were gimmicky and silly,” says Andrew Howlett, founding partner of digital agency Rain. “But voice technology will continue to improve in its accuracy and efficiency, and this will allow more opportunities for brands to create useful interactions for consumers and revenue opportunities will too follow.”

One thing sure to move the development of new products along is the fact that Amazon is opening up its Echo microphone technology to third parties. This means brands can bring devices to market more quickly, and consumers won’t have to risk buying a system of unproven quality. Developers will receive software kits for free, but first they have to apply and make a case for the product they’re building.

Commerce is a voice feature used by approximately 9% of consumers, and that figure is expected to grow. Voice is the new e-commerce platform, and Amazon is making it as easy as possible for users to make purchases through simple verbal commands — even offering lower prices on products when they are ordered via voice.

;" target="_blank">Scott Galloway speculates that without the visual cues of brands which we often follow during the ecommerce experience (consciously or otherwise), Amazon is steering consumers towards the products it wants to sell, be that its own label version, or the item with the highest margin. “Retailers often leverage their power and custody of the consumer to swap out brands for their own private label. That’s nothing new,” he says. “Only we’ve never seen any retailer this good at it.”

Amazon is now also offering consumers their very own personal stylist in the form of the Echo Look, a voice-controlled camera which uses algorithms developed in partnership with fashion experts to help you decide what to wear. Echo Look is predicted to eventually play a role in boosting Amazon’s apparel business, by allowing users to virtually try on clothes before making a purchase.

Analysts expect Google’s voice-enabled devices to claw back some of this growing market in the next couple of years, along with whatever slick version Apple ends up releasing. But for the moment at least, the name on everybody’s lips is “Alexa.”

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