7 Things Engagement Marketers Need to Know About the Voice-activated Future of Marketing

Eva Maria Schmidt
February 22, 2019

In 2019, an increasing amount of search queries and brand interactions start with “Hey, Alexa,” “Hey, Siri” and “OK, Google”. And these voice assistants are no longer limited to smartphones, tablets and smart speakers: This year’s edition of CES tradeshow in Las Vegas foreshadowed a future of voice-activated everything, from alarm clocks to refrigerators, lightbulbs, mirrors, and microwaves.

Speaking is the new typing and if consumers have their way, a whopping 50 percent of all search queries will be voice-based by the end of next year. As touch points become ‘listening points,’ marketers are scrambling for ways to inject their brand messages.

But voice marketing is a dark landscape that’s proving difficult to navigate, at least according to traditional marketing roadmaps. Case in point: Conventional advertising is not even allowed on major voice-first devices and Amazon recently banned a third-party advertising network from its Alexa Skills platform, despite backing from major brand conglomerates.

So how can engagement marketers join the conversation? Here are seven things you need to know about the voice-activated future of marketing:

  1. Relax, it’s still early days…
    No worries if you’re still figuring out your voice strategy – so is the majority of the marketing industry. In a current BrightEdge survey, only 21.2 percent of global marketers considered voice search as a “big marketing trend”, while artificial intelligence and consumer personalization remain top priorities. In a 2018 survey by AppDynamics, only 11 percent of IT decision makers had already invested in voice technology. The majority (26 percent) is planning to invest over the next three years and 12 percent ruled it out.

    Why is our otherwise innovation-friendly industry on the fence about voice? Mainly because marketers are still experimenting with SEO and content delivery for voice channels (see 3.). Plus, the lack of designated ad platforms and monetization models complicates budget allocation. Then again, 52 percent of smart speaker owners would welcome info about deals, sales, and promotions from brands (Google), so marketers should be all ears.

  2. …but the voice revolution is moving quickly!
    There has been tremendous growth in voice activation since Apple first introduced its Siri assistant in 2011. And it’s rapidly changing consumer habits: A whopping 56 percent of U.S. voice assistant users already spend less time on their smartphones for digital research because of their device and 51.2 percent rely less on web browser searches. These changes are especially pronounced among 18- to 34-year-olds.

    Across age groups, speech activation has fully gone mainstream: Voice search is the most common activity on personal assistants, as 82 percent of voice-assisted searches in the US and Western Europe happen on these devices. In the U.S. alone, the number of voice assistant users will top 100.5 million (30.3 percent of the population) in 2019 according to eMarketer. In other words: The audience is listening, which brings us to the next point…

  3. Prioritize optimizing your brand for voice search
    If you’re planning to focus on a single aspect of voice marketing in 2019, make sure it’s optimizing your brand for voice search. It’s an altogether different beast from SEO for two reasons: First, while search engine results pages (SERPs) present a handful of results in direct view above the fold, voice tends to focus on a single hit. And second, browser searches revolve around keywords, but voice searches take the form of questions in a conversational tone. Talking to a voice-activated speaker feels natural, said 53 percent of device owners.

    As direct takeaways, marketers need to focus on ranking top-of-the-list – called “position zero” – in the featured snippets displayed prominently by Google. These snippets are the source of 80 percent of answers on Google Home devices. And to respond to conversational searches, pepper your website with so-called long-tail keywords that mimic natural language. A well-maintained FAQ page also raises your voice query profile. Playing with a website such as Answer the Public shows how to phrase common questions in your field.

  4. Prepare for the battle of voice ecosystems​
    The future of voice-first ecosystems will be a high-stakes battle for dominance. The key pieces In this Game of Thrones are already on the board, mainly Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, Baidu’s DuerOS, Microsoft’s Cortana and Samsung’s Bixby. Amazon reigns supreme with about 70 percent market share. But just in time for CES 2019, Google fired shots by announcing that Google Assistant will soon be on 1 billion devices.​

    As the battle heats up, marketers need to choose their alliances wisely and build strong relationships early on. Plus, marketing insiders agree that despite the current ban on third-party ads, they are very much the endgame for major players. With Google’s ad dollar clout and Amazon now the third-largest online advertising platform, it’s only logical. Looking ahead, expand your view to include players that captivate large audiences on the world stage, like Alibaba (AliGenie), JD.com (DingDong), and Xiaomi (Xiao AI).

  5. Develop some skills​
    While Amazon does not allow ads on Alexa-powered devices, brands are free to include promotional audio in Alexa Skills. These voice-based apps allow customers to make purchases while providing useful functionality. Popular Alexa Skills word recipes, household tips, or financial management tools on command. Amazon closely monitors adoption and performance of these apps, while Alexa ranks high performers more prominently in search rankings.

    The main caveat for Alexa Skills and Google actions: These are not “me too” products for brands to develop just because they’re trendy. And they are not to be treated as advertisement vehicles. The graveyard of “zombie apps” in the Amazon library is a clear warning, as 62 percent of Alexa Skills have no ratings (and minimal users), while 4 percent have over 1000 ratings (Voicebot). Either demonstrate a clear use value – like Domino’s pizza ordering app or Zyrtec’s allergy-related weather forecast – or save your money. ​

  6. Stake your claim now
    Remember when YouTube didn’t have advertisements? That’s pretty much the state of voice marketing in 2019 but it’s not going to stay this way! Three out of four smart speaker users perform local voice searches at least weekly, and almost half will do so even daily. If your brand is on the cusp of adopting voice marketing, make sure your brand marketing is location-optimized and Google My Business listings are up-to-date.

    Remember that voice searches tend to be conversational, like: “How long does the closest hardware store stay open?” And the most prominent trigger words in spoken queries, according to SEOClarity are question-oriented, like “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “why,” “how,” “can,” “top,” and “best.” Answer these questions in your web properties and you will rank up when it comes to your SEO.

    Voice searches also don’t always ask for brands or businesses by name and focus on products, store hours, and location instead. Make sure these breadcrumbs are easy to find on your digital properties and again: Appearing in the featured snippets box on Google search result tremendously boosts your voice profile.

  7. The future of voice marketing will be personalized
    As 40 percent of adults use voice search every single day, they will come to demand the same level of personalization and relevance found on other channels. This also goes for brand-developed apps: When a consumer asks for on-taste product recommendations, for instance in a voice-based e-commerce app, results need to factor in personal preference data and purchase history. To make this kind of magic happen, marketers need to optimize their data architectures so insights from consumer profiles are available across all channels – including voice – for a seamless journey.

    With that said, the big question is: Will you need to switch marketing platforms to cover voice marketing? And will you be able to store behavior from voice channels and individual voice characteristics in consumer profiles for deeper insights? “Databases don’t really need to adapt their storage, as many allow for binary storage. What will have to change is more on the algorithmic front, as in the kind of information you want to store,” said Lode Vanacken, VP of Engineering at Marigold Engage, while also pointing out the ability to integrate third-party data architectures and a host of APIs as keys to supporting the personalized future of voice-based marketing.