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As new technologies emerge, the field of digital marketing evolves. What makes digital marketing so challenging is also what keeps it exciting and makes big wins all the more rewarding.
Voice technology seems poised to become the next great disruptor, but there’s still a lot of speculation around how voice tech will actually affect the various digital marketing platforms and to what extent. So what do you need to know about voice technology to not only be prepared but to position yourself intentionally ahead of the crowd?
We talked to experts and surveyed hundreds of people about the ways they use voice technology in their everyday lives. So we’ve collected this knowledge and organized it to keep you prepared and in total control of your digital marketing strategy.
Read on to discover more.
Any digital marketer who wants to stay on the cusp of developing audio trends and learn how voice technology might affect them and their efforts in the near future.
Whether you’ve been in the business for decades or you’re just starting out, knowing what’s coming down the pike will help your marketing efforts stay fresh and exciting for your audience. And that means your marketing messages will stay relevant and effective.
We share what top digital marketing experts say you should know about audio trends and the ways voice technology will shape tomorrow’s digital marketing landscape.
In addition, we surveyed hundreds of people ages 17 to 75 in order to learn how real-life consumers are using voice technology in their everyday lives, right now.
We distill all this exploration into key takeaways to give you confidence in your current and future digital marketing strategies.
We surveyed over 400 people on the ways they use voice tech. Our respondents vary in ages and in their familiarity with this new technology in order to get a broad snapshot of how real consumers use voice tech.
Maybe you’ve never known life without Siri. Or maybe you feel like voice technology is something out of science fiction. But the truth is—as usual—somewhere in between. While most people remember 2011 when IBM’s Watson won Jeopardy, or when Apple launched Siri the same year, voice technology dates back much further: In 1961, IBM introduced the IBM Shoebox, the first digital speech recognition tool.
Since then, voice technology has improved and become more present in our everyday lives. Voice recognition began with limited capabilities—IBM’s first tool only recognized sixteen words and digits—but has since developed to recognize nearly any request, even a command as superfluous as “tell me a story.”
In December 2018, a study found that 118.5 million smart speakers were in US homes, a figure that had grown 78% from the year before.
However, the NPR-Edison study found that of the people who already owned smart speakers, 69% had no intention of buying another speaker. But just because they aren’t buying a speaker doesn’t mean they won’t use the ones they already own any less.
In fact, in our own study, we found that the vast majority of our respondents—71.8%—say they expect to use voice technology more in the future.
When we asked respondents what they wish their voice technology device could do, we saw the largest interest in seeing improvements that will make voice technology more effective. For instance, 44.8% said they’d prefer their device to have more direct knowledge instead of suggesting web searches to make communication more efficient.
Similarly, 43.8% said they’d like their device to have improved understanding of speech patterns. And another 35.4% said they’d like their device to have better artificial intelligence so it could anticipate their speech preferences (like punctuation) and the businesses they frequent.
On the other hand, plenty of our respondents expressed a desire to better understand the logistics of their devices. Thirty-nine percent said they’d like to better understand and regulate how their smart device records and stores data. Meanwhile, 31.5% said they’d like an introduction to all their device’s functions, apps, and/or skills.
Only 2.0% voted to improve or change voice devices in “other” ways, with the most common response from this question being “nothing, I’m satisfied with my device.”
All in all, these results show that a majority of households have a smart speaker and that most consumers are at least familiar with the concept.
But what does all this mean for digital marketers like us?
Voice technology is already making waves, especially for the electronics industry. These days, most new products have some sort of integration with Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home. Other brands are making improvements to allow people to make payments and purchases through voice assistants.
In fact, most people use technology for hands-free tasks, like finding local businesses, making reservations, sending and receiving short messages, and finding directions.
For instance, when we asked our survey respondents to rank their most common uses for voice technology, this is how these activities scored:
Luckily for small businesses and local businesses, according to a 2018 BrightLocal study, 58% of consumers have used voice search to find local business information in the last 12 months and 46% look for a local business on a daily basis. The study also said that “What consumers want most is to be able to use voice search to make reservations, to hear business prices, and to find out which products businesses have.”
Similarly, our survey found that 74% of respondents prefer to use voice technology when performing search queries, while only 26% prefer to type the question themselves through traditional search engines.
Even while voice tech seems like it’s taking over, that doesn’t mean it’s going to totally reinvent the wheel. In fact, over a quarter of our respondents said they’d never used voice technology, accounting for 27.2%. That means if you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck—say, if you’re a marketer at a small business—voice tech might not be something you stress over.
We talked to Cody Bender, the Chief Product Officer here at CM Group, and he says voice technology will not disrupt digital marketing—at least not the way voice technology has developed so far.
As it stands, most people use voice technology for hands-free activities. For instance, when we asked respondents to rank the physical locations where they use voice tech, the most common locations were ranked accordingly:
This means that tasks that require attention—like scrolling social media, reading email, online shopping—aren’t well suited for digital marketers to tap into.
“Voice technology will affect ads, but not digital marketing as a whole,” Bender told us. “If voice technology does ever become a huge disruptor, it will be in such a different form than what we have now, there will be no way to prepare for the changes in advance.”
He can imagine some potential places for digital marketing to use the sea of data collected by voice technology, but at this point, there are far too many barriers to make this area a real utility for digital marketers.
For instance, users would have to choose to opt-in to sharing that data with marketers—which is hard to imagine—and, furthermore, voice technology devices would have to learn how to differentiate between family members before being able to deliver the personalized, one-to-one marketing digital marketers aim for.
That means that, ultimately, voice technology doesn’t really have great commercial value for digital marketing. Similar to virtual reality, voice technology is really neat, but unrelated as the technology has advanced today.
Nothing will be as efficient as email marketing.
The experts at Chief Marketer believe the future of email will mean incorporating this real-time data in order to deliver a personalized message.
For instance: If a customer tracks their health or eating habits through a product, that person could ask voice technology tools like Alexa for a synopsis while eating breakfast or driving to work. The company could then send a follow-up email with recommendations or links to related services or similar interests.
This type of integrated campaign would provide digital marketers a wealth of information, but only if users choose to share that data, and that’s not something we can count on anytime soon.
For now, it seems that while voice technology is an important consideration in some industries, the rest of us can focus on adopting these emerging audio branding trends in order to stay at the forefront of voice technology.
Branding is a crucial component to any marketing efforts, and the same holds true in the emerging world of voice technology. People listen to four hours of content every day, in what Pandora is referring to as the audio renaissance, which means there are plenty of opportunities for digital marketing teams to take advantage of audio branding.
Staying up-to-date on these trends means you’ll already be a step ahead as voice technology becomes more ubiquitous in our digital marketing landscape. As smart speakers and virtual assistants become ever-present in our world, the sound of your brand will be as unique as your graphics, logos, and typeface.
So what trends should you be considering now in order to make the most of this new audio world?
Just like you created visual cues that your audience recognizes as synonymous with your brand, so too should you consider creating audio cues. Thinking about it this way, any notifications or alerts you deliver—whether it’s through an app or on your website—should be totally unique to your brand. That way, whenever your audience hears your tones, they immediately recognize you and your company’s aesthetic.
This is especially helpful if you’ve developed an app with your services or products (even more so if an app is your service or product), but these earcons can also come in handy on your website. If your audience uses your chatbot or downloads a whitepaper, a sound can alert them to when a new message or piece of content is ready for them. Again, you want to create sounds that your audience can associate with your brand and your aesthetic.
Whenever someone hears these specific sounds, your users know it’s you—whether they’re in their car or at home with their virtual assistant. The audio branding leader Audio UX knows that an audio branding strategy that connects a brand’s core values with sound allows brands to reify their ethos and their identity in consumers’ minds.
To take these audio cues one step further, consider adding them and similar tones to your videos, your social media accounts, and throughout your audio branding. Remember, your unique earcons and music should always sound consistently similar, in the same way you want to keep your visual branding within the same aesthetic.
Along the lines of creating value today while waiting to see how this technology develops, consider creating promotions and discounts that have to be activated through voice tech-enabled devices.
When your audience is listening to your ad or reading an email, allow them to access a special discount by asking Alexa or their Google device something specific. Then, you can automatically trigger an email with that specific code. Whether this is a hidden easter egg in your marketing department or an all-out campaign, have some fun with it.
Your audience wants to connect, so use this opportunity to showcase the fun-loving, human side of your marketing efforts.
As we say in our survey, the second most common use of voice tech is to listen to music. Similarly, Pandora found that streaming audio is now a mainstream lifestyle activity by 53% of the US population weekly—and voice control of connected smart devices is driving big increases in streaming.
That means that your audience is streaming music online more than ever before, giving you an opportunity to connect with them.
Consider creating a branded playlist that resonates with your core values, and then share it with your audience. You could also create a playlist for events and videos you keep within your marketing team, or playlists for your customers to listen to while they use your products. For example, if you sell workout gear, create workout playlists.
Consider this email from Native that shares a weekly playlist with readers:
Their audience is the creative community in Nashville, and they know that music is important to their readers. By sharing a playlist they’ve specially curated, the Native keep their brand top of mind and give their readers high-value content, which helps them build a loyal following.
This email from Warby Parker is a part of their welcome series, and it includes a playlist they’ve created that embodies the feel-good vibes they want their audience to associate with their brand.
Whether you create a playlist weekly like Native or just a feel-good playlist to say, “Welcome,” consider how music can help you connect with your audience on a deeper emotional level and cement your brand identity.
You already know how important it is for marketers to know their target demographic well. In fact, you should know your audience and your target audience better than anyone.
And voice technology is no different. When we asked our survey respondents about their age, we learned that out of more than 400 respondents, the largest groups ranked at 21.8% between the ages of 25 and 34 and 20.9% between the ages of 35 and 44.
Additionally, 15.8% of respondents were between the ages of 45 to 54, 14.4% were between the ages of 18-24, and 13.0% of respondents were between 55 to 64 years of age.
Finally, 9.5% were from 65 to 74, and respondents who said they were 75 or older came in at 2.8%. Only 1.9% said they were 17 or younger.
That means you can’t simply assume that if you are targeting an older demographic they won’t use or understand smart devices.
Instead, we see that people across demographics use voice tech regularly.
Similarly, it’s important that you know what devices your audience uses to communicate with you and conduct business. Without knowing what kind of technology your audience is using, you’re missing out on key data that will inform the ways you optimize your marketing strategy.
Just like you need to know which email clients your audience prefers, you need to understand your audience’s devices in order to deliver a seamless and delightful audio experience.
When we asked our survey respondents what devices they use for voice technology, the majority of respondents—an incredible 82.1%—said they use their smartphones. Additionally, 32.8% said they use Amazon’s Alexa.
Google Home use came out at 24.4%, and 17.9% said they use voice technology through their smartwatch.
Of the 4.5% of respondents who answered “Other,” we saw many specify they use voice tech in the car, through smart televisions, and similar devices.
The bottom line? If you don’t understand how your biggest fans and most loyal customers interact with your brand, you won’t be able to fully optimize your campaigns for conversion, which means you’re leaving revenue on the table.
People who use voice tech use it regularly. When we asked how often our respondents use voice technology, we learned that 41.8% answered every day. This accounted for the largest percentage by far.
The next largest percentage of our respondents said they’d never used voice technology, accounting for 27.2%. Similarly, 21.3% of respondents said they use voice technology at least weekly. Only 9.7% said they use voice technology monthly.
This means that the people who use voice tech aren’t checking in here and there, but rather the ones who have invested in voice technology are incorporating it many aspects of their daily lives.
Similarly, we learned that almost half of our respondents—47.7% to be exact—have one device on which they use voice technology, while 20.8% of respondents have two devices and 17.2% have zero voice tech devices.
Surprisingly perhaps, 7.8% of respondents actually have more than four devices and 6.5% have three.
Our results show that people use voice technology for tasks and hands-free functionality most often, such as texting, streaming music, and getting directions. This came as no surprise to Cody Bender in our interview with him, as he told us, “Voice tech is really good for task-based things.”
While he believes voice technology might one day be able to possibly scrape inboxes and summarize offers and such, the technology still has a way to go before that’s any simpler than skimming an inbox.
Instead of just jumping on the voice technology trend indiscriminately, your brand should consider whether or not the technology allows you to anticipate your customers’ needs and solve their pain points.
After all, voice technology is all about making life simpler and easier, asking a question and having it answered immediately without having to pick up a phone or open a laptop. So when deciding how voice technology can help your business, keep the customer experience your number one concern.
Voice technology still needs improvement before digital marketers can seamlessly incorporate it into their digital marketing strategies. In our survey, we heard common complaints that voice recognition doesn’t always understand accents, and the punctuation needed for composing longer messages leaves plenty to be desired.
That being said, many email marketing platforms already use at least some elements of artificial intelligence as well as audio and video. As virtual assistants and voice-tech enabled devices gain more market share, there’s the opportunity for email marketing to become more interactive and more personalized.
For instance, perhaps an email could allow subscribers to buy directly from a message or pay a bill, or even ask questions about the email’s content. Similarly, if someone allows a third party app to share data, perhaps an email could be triggered after someone asks about the weather, incorporating that information into the dynamic content of the email.
However powerful this sounds, these capabilities aren’t currently possible with today’s voice technology.
Ultimately, because people primarily use voice tech for tasks, platforms like email marketing won’t change that much. When we asked how often people use voice technology to check their email, 31.5% of respondents use voice tech to check their email daily. The second largest percentage of respondents—over a quarter of respondents, 25.0%—said they never use voice tech to check their email.
Meanwhile, 28.2% of respondents answered weekly and only 15.3% said monthly.
That being said, most of the considerations that make email friendly to voice technology are the same considerations that make email accessible, and you should already be designing for accessibility in order to make sure that all your fans subscribe and stay up to date with your brand.
Voice technology has crossed over into the mainstream, but digital marketers have yet to feel the titanic disruption some people prophesied. While there’s still a chance for voice technology to become a major disruptor in some industries, most digital marketers won’t see a huge shift in how they interact with their consumers.
Instead, voice technology is an opportunity to go above and beyond for your consumers and deliver a first-class experience every time someone interacts with your brand. Playlist marketing, earcons, and voice-activated offers will allow you to impress your audience and turn repeat customers into loyal fans.
When we asked respondents to tell us what they wished marketers knew about voice technology, we saw a lot of people frustrated with the lack of understanding around their speech patterns.
Some of the specific answers we received (edited for clarity):
It’s clear that voice technology has room for improvement before it forces a total remodeling of your digital marketing strategy, but that doesn’t mean you should wait to start reinforcing your brand’s use of audio and voice technology in your marketing efforts.
After all, however you decide it makes the most sense for your company, audio branding will bring another dimension to your company, fostering a more human connection with consumers. And in this digital age, human connection should continue to be true north for any marketing campaign.
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