The Drum Search USA judges on the role of voice and virtual assistants

The Drum Search USA judges on voice and virtual assistants playing a larger role in content discovery

New voice-search technologies like Apple’s Siri, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are accelerating the trend towards voice search, but how are marketers and brands preparing for a future in which voice and virtual assistants play a much larger role in content discovery and driving conversions?

The Drum spoke to three experts from Microsoft, Acronym and Distilled, who are all on the judging panel for The Drum Search Awards USA, on conversational interaction, understanding the difference between search and service and not to expect a lot from voice in the near future.

Purna Virji, senior manager of global engagement, Microsoft

Conversational interaction is the future – search is becoming less dependent on manual input from the user, and more based on voice-activated, visual and gesture signals that are human in nature.

To best prepare, it starts by obsessing over the customer. What’s their experience like? How can we reduce any pain points? How can we reduce the number of steps needed for them to achieve their goal? With this in mind, conversation can be successfully implemented to dramatically improve the overall customer experience. A few examples:

  • Staples, a US office supply retailer allows customers to press an ‘easy’ button to re-order common items or get updates on an delivery status or a return
  • Three, a UK telecoms and internet service provider has built a bot that guides customers through several self-service scenarios such as activating a SIM card and porting their numbers using the bot (without ever having to leave the chat interface), answering general questions at any point during a conversation and give customers information on how to cancel or upgrade their contract with Three
  • Skyscanner is another travel brand that's created a bot in Skype that allows you to book travel and will make suggestions for holidays from within Skype

Mike Grehan, chief marketing officer, Acronym

The big difference is about understanding the difference between search and service. It’s easy to assume that every time someone talks to a virtual assistant via any type of device, they’re searching for something. But, actually, most of the time, particularly on mobile devices, you’re interacting with apps more than your web browser.

For instance, if I want Siri to book me a restaurant, I don’t want her to go to Google and search for it. I want her to go directly to my OpenTable app and book it there. Brands that provide not just information about a subject via their app, but also provide “task completion” as in everything done, booked and paid for, whatever that helps me the most, brands that work more closely with my personal digital assistant will be the winners.

Mike Teluka, vice president, Distilled

At Distilled, we're dubious of how large "much larger" will be. While expect voice search will grow, there are open questions about how many intents and use cases will ever become voice queries. Humans are humans, and we like to scan lists and don't often want our searches to be exposed aloud.

Google has just announced support for the new "Speakable" structured data markup (in beta), and we expect SEOs and other marketers to begin experimenting with this. How it'll be used and what kind of advantage it may provide would be guesses, but it's fairly low-cost to add this data.

We expect voice search to remain at the fringes for some time, and its role in conversions for most businesses (local service providers a potential exception) to be light and at the top of the funnel, as it were.

We're excited to see what comes but don't see a sea change yet on the horizon.

Virji, Grehan and Teluka are judges for The Drum Search Awards USA. The entry deadline is Thursday 30 August, download your entry pack now and show the industry the outstanding work you have been producing.

Sponsors of the awards are Sempo

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