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The Voice Revolution and How It Changes Business

By Duane Forrester, VP, Yext

Duane Forrester, VP, Yext

The biggest transformation in digital marketing over the last decade is underway right now—the shift in data retrieval, specifically involving voice and AI. The growth of mobile (and smartphones, specifically) led to the explosion of online business. That was an industry-shifting event as consumers flocked to mobile devices and apps to do everything from checking the weather to buying new shoes. The effects of this change were felt by almost every business, with the need to perform in a mobile environment quickly becoming a requirement for survival.

And yet, as pivotal as that moment in history was, it pales in comparison to the change we see starting now. Consumers are already on mobile, adapted and entrenched, which should not be a surprise given how easy mobile devices make task completion in our lives.

The next step is Voice. Speaking to a device is easier than typing, and humans being human, we want everything to be easier for us. Years ago, the big players in tech saw this coming and started lining up to claim space in the voice-powered world. Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple all launched digital assistants. In just a few years, their usefulness, accuracy and reach has flourished, commanding attention and driving new avenues of attachment for each company in consumers’ lives. Just this last holiday season, Amazon’s Alexa was the single item at the top of the “most purchased” list. The growth of voice will be just as impactful on the way businesses reach their customers as mobile was.

eMarketer recently shared some data that paints a clear picture of voice interactions and their growth. The bottom line is that voice-enabled devices are stealing time from other devices across the board.

"Organized public data about a business is key to today’s systems and remains an important factor as technology and adoption move towards the advent of true agents"

While that chart speaks mainly to voice-enabled speakers, the digital assistants in our phones are on the march as well. More people are using them to complete simple tasks, and with smartphones reaching a saturation point in the US, companies powering digital assistants are seeking new ways to keep consumers connected. The car is one of the next biggest areas that will see growth in this space.

Today it’s easy to find a car capable of being “connected”, with most new models in the US marketplace having Apple Carplay or Android Auto embedded. These platforms enable a consumer to mirror their mobile device on the car’s dashboard, effectively making their automobile a connected device. But this change is going even further.

Now we’re seeing Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa being embedded in automobiles. Buy a new Ford soon, and you can have Alexa built right in, allowing you to speak to her on the move and access many of the features and services available in your living room. It doesn’t take much crystal ball gazing to see big advertising opportunities here, or direct revenue opportunities via subscriptions, when the companies powering these assistants crack the monetization code with consumers.

The next big shift is already on our horizon, too. After most consumers have adopted voice-enabled assistants, the next step will be actual digital agents. Unlike an assistant, who takes orders, or direction, an agent will be empowered to act on your behalf. This has wide-ranging implications, from your agent being able to book travel for you and charge your credit card, to being a filter for all manner of information. The digital agent will ultimately determine which messages reach a person, meaning loyalty programs will be key to access customers, and random marketing outreach will be filtered away before a human has a chance to see it. This step, several years away still, will revolutionize data retrieval and redefine the concept of “usefulness” on an almost daily basis.

Yet none of this will be possible without data. Clean, accurate, factual, organized data. Organized public data about a business is key to today’s systems and will remain an important factor as technology and adoption moves us towards the advent of true agents. This field of data management is known as digital knowledge management (DKM), and it needs to be a critical focal point for businesses. If a business manages their data footprint well, trust in the business grows, ensuring today's digital assistants and tomorrow's digital agents engage with that business. Skip this step, or manage it half-heartedly, and you’ll see your competitors pull ahead.

A well-run digital knowledge management program will have a dedicated role assigned to manage oversight of all digital assets. Part of this role—the digital knowledge manager—will be to understand and integrate programs from across a company, ensuring efficiency and avoiding cannibalization. Your paid search program should know what your TV campaigns are focused on, so online paid campaigns can align as consumers come online. Your organic search program (SEO, or search engine optimization) should work with your social and paid search programs to ensure each is supported. This is especially beneficial for organic and paid search as you can effectively lower overall paid search costs through organic optimization.

Another part of the focus for this role is to understand the evolving voice landscape; to track consumer behavior and guide the company on how to optimize for voice search, as well as to tackle the tougher work in building dedicated assets like Google Actions or Alexa Skills. Each of these is another gateway to consumer attachment via each company’s proprietary in-home devices.

There is truly a lot on the immediate horizon. From digital assistants, to voice, to DKM, there is a lot to learn and plan for. It’s important that your business understands these areas as each is intimately connected with today’s consumers. People are turning to digital assistants more and more, and those assistants need your data to answer questions. An increasing number of people are using voice as their favored user interface, which is forcing other changes to the digital marketing landscape. In a world where there is one spoken answer, what does it even mean to “rank” anymore?

The companies who will win in tomorrow’s landscape will be the ones who started working on their digital knowledge management today.

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