The Rise of Voice Technology

Sean Connell, Chief Technology Officer

About 100 years ago, brands started to abandon personalization in favor of mass marketing and scalability. Mom-and-pop shops gave way to brand giants and marketers enjoyed the golden age of advertising. All of that was predicated on ever-increasing access to consumer attention.

But now that the digital channels and smartphones in general provide easy access to consumers anytime, anywhere, the pendulum has swung the other way. We value real-time engagement and personalization above all else.

These fluctuations have turned marketers into change agents, ready to constantly adapt to customer expectations. And now, we’re in the mindset of an even bigger paradigm shift—the rise of voice technology.

Voice as the Natural Customer Conversation Interface

If you’ve spent any time at all reading articles about voice technology, you’ve probably come across this one statistic: By 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice searches.

While voice technology stats vary, one thing is certain—consumers are adopting voice interfaces quickly. For marketers who have been focused on fostering customer conversations in recent years, this should be encouraging.

Voice interfaces are the most natural way to conduct customer conversations. Unlike keyboards and touch interfaces, voice transcends generations (even if some people still feel a bit strange talking to their machines). More and more, we’ll see the rise of Zero UI—a design approach that relies less on screens and more on voice/gestures, pushing branding beyond visuals.

And there’s no shortage of research pointing to this trend:

The shift toward voice as a primary means of brand communication isn’t something that can be addressed on the fly. It’s not the same as trying to update content for a new social platform or channel. Even though we’re still in the earliest days of widely-adopted voice interfaces, brands are starting to prepare.

Early Experimentation Has Begun

With consumer adoption growing so rapidly, it’s easy to see a future in which the majority of brand interactions through voice interfaces. And while voice promises to facilitate a more natural customer conversation, a lot has to change in terms of marketing strategy and technology to fulfill that promise.

The key here is that the future of voice isn’t just transactional, Q&A-style queries. It’s great that consumers are using voice assistants like Alexa and Siri to listen to music, make simple orders, get weather reports, and control smart devices. However, true customer conversations will require more complex strategies.

Recent surveys show that organizations are already preparing for this reality:

  • 25% say their organizations are actively developing and testing voice technology to go beyond simple keyword queries.
  • 42% say they are already using voice technology for complex search queries in a limited (24%) or expanded (18%) way.
  • 31% are exploring use cases and planning for the future of voice technology.

In many cases, the current rush to compete in the voice space revolves around featured snippets on Google and priority ranking for Alexa responses. These are good low-level focuses for the short term. But as voice technology evolves, you’ll want a more comprehensive strategy for telling your brand story in this medium.

Structure Is Key to Voice Technology Success

The shift to voice interfaces won’t require you to start from square one with your brand and search strategies. However, all the content you’ve spent so much time optimizing for Google will have to adapt at least a little.

One of the biggest changes will be a move away from visually-compelling content toward succinct, machine-friendly information. You’re not just trying to rank for a keyword and have consumers finish the last mile. You have to actively prepare to rank for complex queries and provide comprehensive information for searchers.

Without the benefit of human decision making in the search process, your voice strategy has to focus on structure first and foremost. While structured data is familiar to any marketer that works with databases, it’s important to bring that level of organization to your navigation and information architecture across all channels. If you want to succeed with voice as it goes beyond simple queries, you’ll need the backend technology infrastructure to support your strategic plans.

At the core, getting ahead of the competition with voice interfaces requires an understanding of where your organization is today and where you want to be tomorrow. That means developing a path forward in the context of your larger digital marketing strategy.