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Getting ahead before the boom of voice search

The new world of search means that it is no longer confined to the keyboard or even the screen. From virtual assistants to cars to gaming devices, search is almost omnipresent. Those in the industry already know that the keyword is no longer king, but as search branches across platforms – such as voice search, new questions arise. The Drum, in association with Microsoft, held a panel to explore how best to navigate this evolving ecosystem.

What is search today?

“I think we’ve actually gotten more vertical search that are emerging,” said Adobe vice president of advertising cloud, Justin Mericke. “Amazon for commerce, is that search? I think my argument is that it starts to be much more search-like and becomes like another engine.

It’s also important that we don’t think about Google as the end-all be-all of search…That’s, I think, where search is emerging—additional match types, additional dimensions, additional engines that have more specificity.”

As search becomes more encompassing, measuring attribution becomes more difficult, especially in the under-tested world of voice where there’s an apparent information gap in business-to-business relationships.

“A lot brands are still trying to figure out voice,” said Christi Olson, head of evangelism for search at Microsoft, “and part of that is because the data isn’t there yet. If you look at Bing, Google, Alexa, none of us are sharing the voice-specific queries, so brands are trying to figure out what are the questions that people are asking so we know how to respond.”

Olson explained brands in return aren’t sharing clear guidelines on how to optimize digital strategies because “it’s still so new that the rules are getting written as we’re in the car driving down the road, and so brands are still trying to figure out how they capture that value.”

Attributing value starts with evaluating organic search and building out from there. It’s an old standard that shouldn’t be overlooked in favor of the enticing glint of voice search.

“If you weren’t playing the organic search game, then you’re way behind,” said WE Communication senior vice president of global marketing, Kristin Flor Perret. “The platforms are evolving at lightning speed. If you don’t keep up, you’re making an investment that’s not really tied to your business goals.”

Voice search – do we trust it?

Right now, investment in voice is largely experimental because ROI is still relatively non-quantifiable, the panel agreed.

Olson added that, for instance, Microsoft isn’t advertising on voice platforms because trust isn’t there yet.

“Consumers are still getting used to asking the question and getting the response back,” she said. “We’re looking at it from a purchase standpoint of how do we get you [the consumer] more used to using the tools and technology and trusting. We are not just going to serve you an ad, but we are going to serve you the best response based on what you were looking for, and the data and information we have about you as a consumer.”

Trust not only comes from platform optimization, but also from platform security. Consumers know when they’re being marketed to, and it makes them instantly suspicious and wary. So how do you combine the power of voice search and sponsored discovery, while making sure the consumers are comfortable interacting with their devices with their voice?

“That’s the holy grail”, said Flor Perret, on building a secure relationship between the offline and online worlds. “That ease and convenience of the customer [experience] is demanding. Weighing it against what data I am willing to share, as long as the customer feels like they’re getting value out of it they’re going to continue down that path. The question comes back to brands: At what point are we overstepping that boundary, and does it become creepy…And the consumer is ultimately the one that gets to vote.”

Eventually voice search will become more measurable, and brands will understand how to toe the line between personalization and invasion of privacy, but these developments need to happen now.