Digital Marketing & Voice Search: What Marketers Need To Know

The smart speaker marketplace—think Amazon Echo and Google Home—is growing like gangbusters, and digital marketers who are in the know, are bracing for its impact. Even though the category has only been around for a few years—having launched in earnest in 2015—there will be more than 50 million devices and 100 million users in the U.S. marketplace by the end of next year. The emerging category is evolving rapidly, and could affect the digital marketing landscape in a similar way that mobile devices and smartphones did a decade ago—except maybe faster and more pervasively. That is to say: voice marketing, voice search engine optimization, and voice advertising are going to be game changers.

Here’s what marketers and advertisers need to know about the smart speaker channel. 

The Train Is Leaving The Station

To paraphrase Malcolm Gladwell: we’re watching the “tipping point” happen in the smart speaker category right now. Or at least that’s what the indicators strongly suggest. A confluence of market forces are propelling growth at a rate that requires marketers to take notice and shape strategies. Consider:

  • The market didn’t even exist five years ago, but 1-in-3 Americans will be using smart speakers regularly in 2019
  • One of the most influential companies on the planet, Amazon, owns more than 60% market share and considers the technology vital to its future success
  • The other major player in the space is Google, and though smart speakers aren’t as critical to the company as its Seattle-based competitor, it’s not un-important, either
  • Most important of all, the category has attracted the attention of influential and deep-pocketed competitors like Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Bose, and Samsung
  • Otherwise peripheral trends will achieve deep and lasting momentum when a flood of big organizations invest in their evolution, and that’s begun to happen with smart speakers

Even for the most ardent voice naysayer—of which I am admittedly one—the evidence supporting its growth is hard to refute. Indeed, voice technology has been steadily and quietly creeping into our daily lives for several years now, sometimes without us even knowing about it, such as how it’s now a standard add-on with most new mid- and upper-tier mobile phones and laptops. Once the movement “tips”, it’s probably going to be difficult to remember life before voice technology’s pervasiveness—like trying to think of life without smartphones, the internet, or TV.

Why All The Fuss?

Smart speakers are transitioning from a noteworthy movement to a part of everyday life for many of the same reasons that new categories like mobile applications evolved in rapid fashion.

  • Technology has improved to the point where studies report that some devices are 90%+ accurate. Complementary and requisite infrastructure such more widespread WiFi also facilitates adoption.
  • Price points are consumer friendly. Many can be had for less than $100, which make the initial commitment accessible. And the add-on versions attached to phones and laptops are especially cheap, and cheap availability fuels adoption.
  • Kids love them, and with entry-level devices priced at around $50, the Amazon Echo and Google Home device were big hits during the 2017 holiday season. With a year of noodling around with the low-end versions, affluent Americans are more ready to take the plunge with higher end devices.

Not “If” But “When”

For any marketer who depends on digital to be successful—which, of course, is all marketers—voice won’t be an optional tactic for much longer. And the only statistic that one needs to know is this: researchers forecast that 50% of all internet searches will be done via voice in 2020. Whether the ratio is 25% or 75% isn’t really the point; it’s going to be a huge volume, and 2020 is less than a year away.

For now, Google still dominates the online search space, but Amazon has been successful in taking market share from Google when it comes to search engines for the online shopping space. About half of all product searches now start on Amazon. Their success is not expected to slow down anytime soon; in fact, Amazon is expected to generate 50% of all ecommerce sales by 2021. With Amazon going big on voice search just as they did with the ad tech space, savvy digital advertisers are keeping close watch on where they will need to put their dollars in 2019.

Fortunately, we marketers have been here before—think: search engine marketing, mobile marketing, etc.—and shouldn’t get blindsided by the emergence of voice. Here are five steps to follow to make the most of the movement:
  1. Get Out Ahead Of The Issue. Most non-marketing executives at big companies only have a cursory understanding of digital marketing, even if they claim otherwise, and aren’t necessarily excited about having to embrace a new tactic. Start the education process—or begin “socializing the concept”, in corporate parlance—during this year’s planning sessions.
  2. Carve Out a Test Budget For 2019. A test run can be accomplished for minimal dollars—think a $10,000 - $20,000 campaign. Don’t expect much from the initial effort(s), and set expectations appropriately, or not at all, by using a stealth approach. Initial passes at voice marketing are unlikely to yield overwhelming positive outcomes, and could even fail outright. Avoid failing spectacularly and in full view of senior management at all costs. 
  3. Seek Out Partners. Voice technology is already being employed in a significant way by customer groups, for example. As a result, these groups have real life use cases and institutional knowledge—such as what words customers use to describe their issues, or what marketers call a “keyword strategy—and can help marketers avoid known problem areas as a result of their experiences. 
  4. Prepare To Dig In And Embrace Voice Marketing. Marketing trends come and go, while few are enduring. For a time, keyword stuffing, MySpace, and link buying were cornerstones of digital marketing strategies, but no more. We think voice marketing will stand the test of time, and emerge as a foundational digital marketing tactic along with content marketing, search engine marketing, and email marketing. Marketing professionals who develop a real understanding of voice SEO and voice advertising will be more successful than their out-of-the-loop peers. 
  5. Partner With A Specialist. Voice marketing is shaping up to be a close cousin to core digital marketing tactics like search engine marketing and programmatic advertising, which means biddable media agencies are in a good position to add a new capability to their offerings. If you don’t have a relationship with a company that can offer you the latest channel in digital advertising, then now is the time to find one.  

Don’t Fret—We’re Good at Navigating New Tactics

While the underlying technology driving smart speaker performance is complicated, savvy marketing professionals are well-positioned to embrace this new tactic. For the past decade or more, we’ve been constantly required to embrace new techniques like search engine marketing, social media, and native advertising.  

Though voice marketing will present new challenges, marketing organizations have become skilled at scaling learning curves quickly, failing fast, and rolling out new programs. Voice marketing will require our full attention, but it’s more of a new arrow in our quiver than a massively disruptive force in our operations.

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