Voice Search: A Rare Opportunity for Brands to be Heard

Tech and The City
October 9, 2020

OK Google… A short phrase that will see various devices in my house simultaneously go on standby ready to help with switching on lights, turning on the heating, putting on music, helping me to find the perfect recipe, read me the news, book me a table, the list goes on. Virtually any problem solved, and all I need to do is ask. It’s a phrase I say every morning and night, and countless times in between. You probably do too.

In our connected homes, we’re no longer strangers to the concept of talking to our devices, or even our devices talking to each other. Many of us have experienced that surprising moment when a smart speaker will suddenly spring into life, perhaps because of a barely noticed phrase said on TV. It reminds us that our homes are now intelligent and bidding to extend a multisensory experience around us.

In an era when brands are struggling to be heard, and barely disguised sponsored content is  met with cynicism on our social media, an interesting thing has happened. Brands, and indeed our things, have discovered a way to communicate. Not on screens where the noise has reached fever pitch, but in quieter spaces – ironically our ‘speakers’. They’ve started to listen, and now the commanding voice that can be heard is our own.

Voice search statistics – why brands should pay attention

For digital PR professionals, the idea that brands should think ‘audience first’ is not a new one, but a rare opportunity now exists for brands to take advantage of a relatively new channel, and with it some new rules of play. It’s worth taking note at this point that the game is really kicking off.

Back in 2018, Canalys launched a report that revealed smart speakers were the fastest growing consumer technology in recent history. The same year, Gartner reported that voice search was the fastest growing mobile search type. Gartner went on to predict that, by 2021, early adopters of voice would increase digital commerce revenue by as much as 30%.

Fast forward to January this year and research has revealed that 43% of internet users aged 16- 64 around the world use voice search and voice commands each month, and the number of homes with at least one smart home device had increased by over a third over the past 12 months. The UK along with the US is leading the way.

Our voice partner, Rabbit and Pork, has since found that 27% of UK households now own at least one smart speaker, nearly tripling the figure reported in H1 2018. Among the 12.6 million smart speaker owners in the UK, 70% use their smart speaker daily, compared to 40% a year ago. Rabbit and Pork has also reported that the pandemic has seen more people using their voice assistants than ever before, with usage of third-party voice apps increasing by 67% since the start of lockdown.

Of course, widespread adoption of voice isn’t limited to a consumer audience, there are many opportunities for business use too. In 2019, Gartner predicted that, by 2023, 25% of employee interactions will be via voice, increasing from 3% that year.

Noting the unprecedented impact that COVID-19 has had on the way we live and work, and the fact that working from home culture is unlikely to disappear anytime soon, the opportunity for smart speakers within businesses seems even greater.

Voice Search Engines

A stepping stone for many brands keen to embark on a voice strategy will be to review their current website to make sure it is optimised for voice search engines to ‘read’.

Smart speakers and other voice assistants will return one audio response when asked a question. Voice-aligned SEO should focus on conversational patterns, more so than individual ‘keywords’, to match with the questions people ask. Think about long-tail phrases that mirror natural speech, and maximise local targeting.

Voice apps: Flash Briefings, Alexa Skills and Google Actions

Beyond ensuring a brand’s existing website is findable to voice search engines, there are lots of opportunities to incorporate voice within a wider digital marketing strategy.

The key is to align content with consumer habits – behavioural cues that enable a brand experience to seamlessly fit within regular touchpoints in our daily lives.

For example:

  • Flash briefings: While making a coffee in the morning, our smart speakers can give us a digest of that day’s news. Forward thinking publishing houses are now creating flash briefings as one of their content outputs, for audiences that prefer a break from screens or the chance to multi-task, alongside their existing digital services. Flash briefings provide a one-way broadcast of information.
  • Alexa Skills and Google Actions: These ‘apps’ provide an opportunity for brands to share engaging and interactive content, and are being used to great effect by forward-thinking brands, for example by aligning with our TV viewing habits, or fitting in to how we spend our leisure time.

Voice apps represent some of the most exciting opportunities for brands to create a truly innovative digital marketing campaign, coordinated with a well-timed and executed PR strategy.

The opportunity here is to think about how brands can enhance their product or service via audio – and the conversation that may be happening or that could naturally occur.

Some of the most celebrated case studies include Talisker’s whisky tasting notes that create an at-home drinking experience to compliment a chosen whisky – a great example of ever-green audio content as a product enhancement. Nike, in contrast, utilised a voice activated experience, available for a limited time only, to support a new trainer launch. By promoting a voice activated, exclusive giveaway as part of its influencer campaign, which saw a basketball team wearing the new model for the first time during a televised game, the trainers sold out within six minutes.

The opportunities extend far beyond those examples, appealing to young and old, and tailored for all interests. Whether bringing a favourite TV programme to life in the home through interactive add-ons, storytelling that bring toys to life during family playtime, or content that supports us in establishing better routines in our own daily lives, the time is now for brands to gain a share of ‘voice’.