While voice-assistant devices have the potential to become the preferred human-machine interface, the question remains whether there’s sufficient demand for consumers to incorporate the emerging AI into their homes and daily lives while receiving deals, sales and promotions.
As a range of brands announce new tech at CES, marketers and industry insiders are bullish that the fairly nascent messaging method will strike a chord.
“Brands today need to have a representation in the audio world, or sonic branding, as I like to call it,” Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer for MasterCard, told AListDaily. “With the evolution of the smart speakers that’s coming in a big way, how the brand gets into the audio space is going to be mission critical for the future.”
Tech giants and competitors are bidding and battling for consumer attention with voice and AI interfaces, whether Google, Amazon, Cortana or the like.
Google, for one, showed that it’s game with an unprecedented marketing push and coming out party, which served as a warning shot to Amazon and the rest of the digital assistant pack that it will be taking voice seriously—this year and moving forward.
Prognosticators are predicting that it will impact business strategies as well.
“Voice will become a preferred human-machine interface in 2018,” said Steve Koenig, senior director of market research of the Consumer Technology Association, which owns and produces CES. “Moving forward, we see voice as the fourth purchase channel, along with in-store, online and mobile.”
Koenig said that during the holiday shopping season, CTA research indicated that more Americans than ever planned to use smart speakers powered by digital assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant to help them research holiday gift ideas or make purchases. Smart speakers were a popular gift over the holidays, as Amazon’s Echo Dot was the top-selling product across all categories on Amazon, as reported by the Jeff Bezos-led brand.
According to Yin Woon Rani, vice president of integrated marketing at Campbell Soup Company, using applications for voice assistants to provide frictionless brand experiences that serve the consumer will be key for voice to continue to gain momentum.
“Voice marketing is an interesting journey—it’s about delivering value in a more intuitive way for people to access content,” Rani said. “We believe that voice will have an important use case in the future, but we do not have it completely cracked yet.”
With simple propositions like “what do I make for dinner?” Yin said that the brand has been seeing positive engagement metrics with Campbell’s Kitchen app for Amazon Echo. When consumers cook, it frequently means stopping for directions on second-screen experiences.
“I’m excited about the use cases we haven’t even dreamt up yet, but brands have to balance reach,” said Yin. “The more user-centric you can design solutions, the better off you’ll be.”
Yin said that marketers need to test and iterate voice innovation philosophy focused on solving sustained business and consumers needs and repeat different pilots against it. Applying data from voice to do the work for marketers means Campbell can monitor if people are searching for specific recipes for chicken, turkey, beef, pork, seafood, pasta and of course, soup. In turn, the brand can use insights to deliver more pertinent information.
“Every time we iterate voice, we learn something new in the logic structure.” said Yin. “The first time was very hard. Our plan is to learn, iterate and scale. Voice is the most intuitive interface ever, but because we grew up in a screen-based world, we have to reteach ourselves how to talk.”
Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant is also priming itself to advance platform communication. It used CES as a springboard for its Echo smart speakers into verticals like car entertainment systems, light switches and even shower heads—electroshocks not included.
According to eMarketer, over 45 million Americans will use a voice-enabled smart speaker this year, and according to Sara Kleinberg, group marketing manager of ads research and insights at Google, 72 percent of consumers who own a voice-activated speaker have already admitted that their devices are often used as part of their daily routine.
Patrizio Spagnoletto, head of media and subscriber growth at Hulu, says that he sees these kinds of AI integrations “as a way to communicate and find out the moods of consumers.”
“AI is a tool at our disposal, and it’s on marketers to make it right,” said Spagnoletto. “It’s a tool to drive conversation. As marketers, we need to balance data with creative, real-life senses. Once you have an audience defined, you still need to answer questions. It’s about engaging the audience in personal ways.”
Rajamannar, who’s overseeing MasterCard’s efforts in such areas like their briefing skill on Alexa, said that voice-based authentications are going to play a more prevalent role in the biometric cloud moving forward as well, adding that he’s surprised by how few brands are taking sonic branding seriously today.
“We’re engaging senses with a two-way communication that were not [being engaged] before, and that’s where the big change is happening,” he said. “Voice is absolutely a key marketing area for brands moving forward.”
In the meantime, platforms kingpins are pouring resources into voice, and somewhat forcing brand marketers to take the lead as well, Yin said. Whether or not consumers are clamoring for such luxuries, specially from brands, is another thing.
“Consumers want things that will make their life easy,” she said. “I think voice will play a role in that. Non-screen based interactions, whether its gestural or visual, will be the next frontier of experiences. Voice is just an obvious one, and at the tipping point of scale.”
Yin is convinced that there definitely is a future for voice marketing for brands—one that is not controlled by a monopoly—but she warned that it won’t be figured out anytime soon, or even by the next CES.
“I’m glad for both big and small players trying to learn, but there is no silver bullet yet,” she said. “You will see experiences at all kinds of scale both from brands and tech partners. As marketers, we’ll be a lot smarter in one year than we are today.”
“The wave of voice is coming very big,” added Rajamannar. “If you as a brand are not in that space, you will get yourself very quickly excluded, and that’s a risk to your brand in a big way.”