Voice as a media platform is growing exponentially. Around the world we are seeing almost every major tech brand developing for voice, with consumers beginning to follow as the technology rapidly improves. In recent weeks we’ve seen that voice-powered search will be central part in Unilever’s ongoing digital transformation, and will be a focus of Samsung’s Family Hub innovations. With speech recognition error rates now as low as 5%, on par with human transcribers, we are poised to enter an age of human-machine interaction based on our most natural and instinctive form of communication – our voice.

Of course, this technology has a long way to go before we see universal adoption, especially here in New Zealand where we face challenges in infrastructure, distribution, and language. Yet it is nevertheless already changing how we discover, how we shop, how we work and how we experience the world around us.

Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home are fast becoming many people’s go-to search mode for everything from checking the weather, finding recipes, settling arguments, to ordering taxis and the weekly food shop. Comscore estimates that 50% of all online searches by 2020 will be voice.

For us in marketing, advertising and media, this has far-reaching implications for how people will interact with our brands in the future. We need to look to understand how Voice and voice data can help us create experiences that people love and drive the consumer actions that our brands need.

How Voice and voice data can help us create experiences

We see three distinct areas that brands will need to address in order to take advantage of the changing landscape that Voice will unleash.

The Rise of the Fleeting Thought

As voice recognition improves we will see the rise of the “fleeting thought”. Those random thoughts in the shower or when driving to work that were never worth the effort of research or action in the past will be just a simple voice enabled query away.

While of obvious benefit to the casual pub-quizzer, we see more serious implications for these fleeting thoughts, specifically in enabling more spontaneous behaviour. Given the fact that a majority of voice queries will be met with a single “best” answer, brands will need think very hard about how they can be relevant to these spontaneous moments. Every fleeting thought becomes an opportunity for research and further understanding, and a battle ground for brands to provide that one “best” answer.

Accessibility for All

Over the next few years we will see a shift in Voice from mere utility to enabler of richer, more personalised experiences. Yet access remains a key barrier to wider adoption. In New Zealand we know all too well the problems our accents and idiom can cause other English-speakers, let alone voice assistants like Siri. And as yet, there is no platform with universal language capabilities. However, some brands like Molsen in Canada are already looking to tap into this notion of connectivity and universal communications, making it a point of differentiation.

Brands must also look at how voice can not only open up new experiences, but enhance the impact of existing assets. Optimising owned assets for voice will be imperative. If a brand’s online footprint is not designed for the way people are actually talking about it, that brand will quickly fall behind those who do and are designing their experiences for the way people actually talk, question, and  explore.

Influencing the Next How-To

We see voice playing a fundamental role in the ongoing evolution of guided learning and discovery, in a similar way to how “how-to” videos have revolutionised the written instruction guide.

Already brands like Johnnie Walker and Jamie Oliver Recipes are experimenting in this space with Amazon’s Alexa. Any “how-to” moment will become an opportunity for guided learning and deeper interaction via a given voice assistant.

This raises important questions; what does a brand’s personality, tone and style need to look to like in order to stand out in a world where competing experiences are delivered through the same assistant’s voice? How does a brand tell its story and establish differentiation? Does this even matter, if the experience is seamless and provides the right solution to the consumer? And must brands (retailers in particular) simply accept that major voice tech 3rd parties such Amazon clipping the ticket is now just a part of doing business?

We’ve a long way to go, but as more and more homes around the world become voice connected, there is little doubt that the brands that actively look to engage in this medium will have significantly greater opportunities to engage people more constructively. This has the potential to go far beyond just the product or service, but into actually addressing the real needs and desires of people.

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