The voice boom is coming, so brands need to start shifting their focus: Forget what advertisements in the future will look like – what will they sound like?
The rising popularity of voice-enabled devices, be they digital assistants or smart home speakers, means advertising on such platforms is in its nascency – and paid opportunities are almost non-existent.
At an event in New York, held by The Drum, Microsoft’s head of evangelism for search, Christi Olson, said her company isn’t yet advertising on its platforms because consumer trust isn’t there yet. The company ran a survey that found consumers are unsure of how their data is being used, and when exactly the devices are listening. Olson explained these devices have ‘wake-words’ that trigger listening, but there’s still a dissonance on both sides.
“The average consumer just doesn't understand it today. They know that it's listening, but they don't get the technology behind it. So part of this comes back to we, as technology companies who are fueling these experiences, need to do a better job educating our customers of how it works and what we're doing with that information,” Olson says.
This friction may hinder paid advertising opportunities, but it isn’t deterring consumers from engaging with voice-enabled devices. Information from Alpine.AI shows there are over one billion voice searches per month on smart assistants, as of January 2018.
Jim Cridlin, global head of innovation at Mindshare, explains this consumer-platform relationship as a ‘trust truce,’ where consumers are using a device that meets their needs, while companies like Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Apple are taking a cautiously deliberate approach to advertising so they don’t alienate users.
“It's not that brands don't want to take advantage of [paid advertising opportunities],” Cridlin claims. “I think it's the other side of the equation. It's the platform owners that aren't yet ready for brands to advertise their content. They want to get the behavior in place, go from the trust truce to one of total trust, before they introduce advertising on their platforms.”
The simple fact that speaking is easier for most users than typing means voice-enabled devices are here to stay, and advertising on such platforms must reflect that seamless mode of communication. Senior vice president of digital commerce at Geometry Global, Doug Chavez, said platform owners are wary of paid advertisements because they may disrupt the user experience.
“As long as the ads are complementary to what [users are] looking for versus interruptive or intrusive consumers would be fine with that,” said Chavez. “One of the things that's interesting — if you look at millennials, they are happy to give their data away if it makes their experience better. It's just a matter of looking at the data you have and how does that magnify rather than dilute [users’] experience.
A report from Mindshare outlined an instance where Google Home users “kicked up a fuss when Google Assistant reported that ‘Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast opens today’ after it delivered the time, weather and travel update.”
Google took that ad down, but there are other ways for brands to reach consumers via voice. That starts with content optimization, as search is the what drives responses from devices.
“It's not necessarily advertisements. It's serving answers to the questions that are getting asked today,” says Olson. “It goes back to really understanding organic search optimization to become that spoken response, and making sure that you are writing your content on a page in a conversational tone so when the search engines crawl the site, that they can see the questions and the responses that can then be spoken aloud back to a given customer or consumer.”
According to Cridlin, the web of the future will be invisible, thanks partly to the proliferation of voice-enabled technologies. With this inevitable platform disruption, brands that prioritize optimization on the back-end will find value in owned opportunities that can provide valuable content addressing the needs and questions of consumers.
“The advertising opportunities are going to be more things like delivering value to the consumer so they choose to buy you,” adds Cridlin. “The other opportunities are going to be things [like] sampling and couponing, by being able to leverage your voice assistant to enable a coupon or order a sample for a product.”
Brands can build a presence on voice platforms around tools like Amazon’s Alexa skills or Google Home’s actions by attaching their name or products to a given question. Olson gave an example of a brand like WebMD creating a skill around a question like, ‘what are the symptoms of the flu.’
Chavez says brands are starting to embrace skills and actions, as it’s a good entry point to learning about advertising on voice platforms.
“That's a great place to go test and learn, to see what the usage looks like from that, and use that as a proxy for if and when the voice platforms open up to advertising. You can use that knowledge to help guide what you do from a voice advertising perspective,” Chavez says.
There are other opportunities for brands, too. Earlier this year, Target and Google partnered on a voice-activated coupon. On Amazon Prime Day, Mindshare’s client General Mills offered a free box of Cheerios to customers with the hopes that the cereal would become part of consumers’ replenishment schedules, which is a valuable way for brands to circumvent getting lost in the sea of search.
“That’s how you win,” states Cridlin.
Consumers are increasingly moving toward voice, and it’s only natural for brands to follow. The big names that adapt and find their voices on these platforms could be the ones to have the hearts of future spenders.