The Voice Recognition Era: Is Your Business Prepared?

For the last two decades humans have interacted with computing technology predominantly using fingers, keyboard, mouse and screen in various combinations. We are however entering a new age of human computer interaction where voice becomes a key input. Here Stefan Bardega, CEO of global performance marketing agency iProspect, discusses how to best prepare for this new voice based age.

The rise of voice activation is being driven by two key forces. Firstly, we have more devices in market that are voice-activated. The most obvious being the smartphone which has reached ubiquity in most developed markets and is now shipped with voice controls (e.g Siri) as standard. Alongside smartphone voice activation we have a raft of voice-controlled devices vying for control of our home technology including Amazon Echo, Google Home and Sonos to name a few. Of the nine pieces of hardware that Google launched on October 9th this year, seven of them had voice control. The second influencing factor is the rapidly improving user experience. Over the last few years, improvements in natural language processing and machine learning have reduced voice activation error rates from 30% in 2012 to less than 5% in 2017.

Voice activation is important because it will significantly impact the current digital marketing ecosystem. Take search engine marketing for example: a critical component of this ecosystem which harnesses consumer intent, in the form of a search engine query, to connect a business to the person conducting the query. Paid search marketing represents 48% of all digital marketing spend, taking c $92bn annually. Changes in human computer interaction, such as voice, will have a meaningful impact on paid search both on the supply side (e.g Google) and on the buy side (advertisers). Even a small single digit shift in ecosystems this large is significant.

We surveyed a 1,181 representative sample of the UK population in 2017 to understand the impact of voice activation today.

Our research found that voice activation is in relative infancy with 15% of the UK population using voice activation. Although small this still equates to 7.4 m people. The hardware of choice for voice activation is the smartphone with 57% of voice activation happening on a mobile device compared with 13% using smart home devices. We found that usage is definitely not restricted to traditionally tech savvy young audiences. Penetration of voice activation is as high among 18-24 as 35-44-year-olds, for example.

We found three broad motivations for using voice activation. The first is regular and repetitive information requests, for example “what is the weather today Siri?” These make up some 20% of voice activation. The second is purchase motivation which includes queries around store location, product or service. The third motivation is action-oriented, for example “play music”. A common insight irrespective of audience or motivation is that people speak a query differently from how they type. When typing a query people use 1-3 key words, however when they speak a query they use a much longer tail of ‘keywords’ averaging about nine keywords.

So, what are the implications for businesses?

Firstly voice is still small but likely to grow exponentially in the next few years (comScore predicts 50% of queries to be voice by 2020) so now is the time to establish a test strategy for voice activation. Businesses should consider how voice activation opens up new audience segments. Young audiences who can’t type or audiences in markets with low literacy can now search using their voice. People who can’t see well enough to use a keyboard will also be able to use voice to access digital information and services in new ways. In addition, now is the time to establish how voice activation will impact discovery of your brand, purchase process, and customer service.

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