Voice-based marketing – hype or here today?

March 18, 2019

Voice search will be one of the main ways through which consumers will engage with brands

If you happened to read any expert predictions on the top trends for marketing in 2019, you will be aware that voice-based marketing is consistently mentioned across industry publications as a trend to ignore at your peril. But what exactly is all the fuss about? Is voice-based marketing all hype or should you be adapting your marketing plan? And if so, how? In this blog I’ll delve into why there’s so much buzz around ‘voice’ and what it could mean for your business.

Why is voice hitting the top trends lists?

Remember when Siri first hit the iPhone in 2011?  The novelty was entertaining, but the utility was frustrating. If you asked Siri for directions to Westminster Abbey, the reply was more likely to make you laugh than help you navigate; ‘did you mean wasabi?’. 

But in the past eight years, voice technology has come a long way.  The evolution of natural language processing (NLP) means that the devices are much better able to understand contextual conversation. In fact in 2017, Google’s software achieved 95% accuracy for understanding human speech. Fun fact, that’s about the same accuracy as most of us achieve!

With the improvement in technology enhancing the user experience, consumers are getting on board. It’s not just smartphone assistants like Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana. Consumer uptake of in-home ‘smart speakers’ such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home devices has sharply accelerated. Comscore reported that as of February 2018, 20% of U.S. Wi-Fi-connected households have a smart speaker and Australia is not too far behind, with around 11% of Wi-Fi connected households reported to have at least one smart speaker.

Where are people using voice-based devices?

Where is important to consider because it has implications for how people use voice-based devices.  Obviously, devices like Alexa are meant for use within the home.  But what about usage of voice applications on mobile devices?  I can understand the convenience of using voice-based commands if I’m driving, or my hands are dirty, or I’m taking care of my son.  But I find it hard to see how people would be comfortable using voice commands in public places like on the train, at the gym, in the office or at a restaurant.  But it turns out I’m dead wrong. 

Stone Temple have just released the third annual study into voice usage trends and the results are eye-opening.  People are getting more and more comfortable with voice commands and they are using them everywhere! Usage at the gym doubled from 15% to 30% of respondents in just 3 years. 


 Source: https://www.stonetemple.com/voice-usage-trends/

Voice-based search uses in different environments


This begs the next question…

How are people using voice-based devices?

A large proportion of usage could be considered commands.  For example, commands to make calls, send texts, get directions and play music.  

The big one for marketers is using voice to conduct searches for products and services.  In 2016, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai stated that 20% of searches done on the Google app and on Android devices are voice searches.  There’s a dearth of statistics since, but this number is likely to have grown.  There are many expert projections that may or may not be accurate, one of the most widely quoted is comScore’s report that 50% of searches will be done by voice by 2020. This would imply a major adaption in consumer behaviour so should be read with a grain of salt, but as the chart above shows, using voice commands is becoming normalised so it is likely that voice-based search will continue to grow.

Should you act now?

Maybe, but don’t put your current marketing plan on hold just yet.  Yes, consumers are increasingly using voice applications to search for products or services.  Yes, there is research linking voice search for local products and services with intent to act (i.e. visit a store) within a day. But whether or not you need to jump on the bandwagon entirely depends on whether it makes sense for your business. 

When Facebook exploded, many businesses started pages despite having no content and being completely out of context for their customer. While a local gym could effectively use Facebook to develop deeper relationships with clients, the same could not be said of say, a tax accountant.  Who wants to be friends with their tax accountant?   When considering whether to optimise for voice-based search, the fundamental question you should ask is, ‘will this improve my customer’s experience?’  This is a lot easier to work out if your business has a human-centred approach to marketing, which is of course what we advocate.

Three tips to optimise for the increase in voice search

If you’ve considered your customer’s journey to purchase and decided that yes, voice search is something that could enhance their customer experience with your business, then here are three things it can’t hurt to start thinking about now.  I’ve scoured the internet to find the top three tips on how to review your SEO strategy. 

1. Balance keywords with a conversational tone

Put simply, we don’t speak the way we type.  Until now, it hasn’t been important to consider the differences. The implication of voice search is that your content may need to adjust to take account of this, including more conversational phrases in addition to your existing keywords that are optimised for typed searches. Michael Quoc suggests investigating how people verbally search for your product or service by asking your sales staff what commonly asked questions they receive.  Listen to the wording that customers use, then produce copy on your site that echoes it, either in the form of FAQs or blog posts.  This can increase the likelihood of your page ranking in voice search results.

Screen Shot 2019-03-18 at 1.48.04 pm

Include conversational phrases into your voice search marketing

2. Tick the boxes to optimise for local searches

According to the 2016 Internet Trends report around 22% of voice searches are ‘near me’ searches. For example, ‘Hey Siri, find a Mexican restaurant that’s open near me’.  Siri then scours the internet to return a listing of restaurants, including ratings, opening hours and distance from the user.  It’s a no-brainer to make sure your opening hours are up to date and that your business name, address and phone number are consistent across all pages. Aim for some great testimonials or reviews as well. This article by Andrew Dennis includes some great suggestions on other ways to improve your local ranking.

3. Schema markup

This is part of the metadata of your site, not visible to the consumer but used by search engines to determine whether the content on your page is relevant to a search.  This can highlight key things like opening hours, reviews and prices in a ‘rich snippet’, which is often used to answer voice queries.  In Google Home’s case, up to 80% of answers are drawn from snippets, so it makes sense to update your site’s schema data to increase the chances a search will result in a snippet.  If you’re interested in reading more, here is a great post about schema markup for local SEO.

While it remains to be seen how voice-based devices will evolve, one thing is for sure – given the pace of advancement in NLP, usage numbers look set to grow further as consumers quickly adapt to the speed and ever-improving accuracy, so it is worth reviewing your SEO strategy and keep a watching brief.  You can do that simply by subscribing to our blog or following us on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter– we’ll keep you in the loop! 

If you have a specific question on SEO, join the AskME community where you can find help with anything to do with marketing, design and innovation to help you grow your business. Whether it's related to the best channels to interact with customers, growth hacking tips, how to optimise your SEO or SEM, email workflows and titles, or insights into markets and customer behaviour, there will be someone that can help and our expert Marketing Entourage moderators are often in the room to lend a helping hand.

1If you’d like to read more, check out Forbes,ChiefMarketer.com, and CMO.com


by Helen Stevens

Helen Stevens

Written by Helen Stevens

Helen is a marketing strategy professional who has held senior positions in financial services, higher education and travel sectors in London and Melbourne. With over 18 years working for a diverse range of companies including Visa, ANZ, Intrepid Travel and Deakin University, Helen has a Bachelor degree majoring in marketing and has completed post graduate studies in international relations. Helen enjoys connecting the dots between business strategy and consumer insights and believes long-term sustainable growth comes from championing a customer-first mindset. She is a volunteer with GAP greyhound rescue and has a keen interest in the benefits of exercise to enhance mental health.

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