How can brands make the most of voice search?

6 Nov 2018

Image: © DanielDusPhotography/

Roz Thomas poses three questions to help brands unpack a whole new world of content design and marketing that comes with voice search.

Have you ever gazed at your box of cereal and wondered what it might sound like if it could talk? ‘Snap, crackle and pop?’

Probably not, but you may be about to find out, thanks to the rapid rise of voice-assisted technology.

Today (6 November) marks four years since Alexa, the original queen of voice assistants, was born. In that time, voice has become an increasingly hot topic and is set to comprise a whopping 50pc of all searches by 2020. If that wasn’t enough of a draw, there are more than 50,000 Alexa skills available, so it’s understandable that brand owners and web engineers might feel the FOMO.

But before anyone opens up their developer console and races to catch up, there are three questions they should ask:

1. Why will customers use this?

In many cases, it’s easy to see that a skill would be successful. For example, French supermarket giant Carrefour recently teamed up with Google to offer voice shopping.

It’s the same behavioural truth behind Alexa and its predecessor, the Dash button: decision-making is contextual and humans are cognitively lazy. When my washing powder runs out, I need to add it to my shopping list. Alexa makes reordering easier than lifting a pen, so why would people ever want to shop around elsewhere?

Aside from convenience, there are skills that make life genuinely better or safer. Like the ones that help your elderly relatives get help if they have an accident, or keep in touch with family without navigating an iPad. Again, tapping into those behavioural truths.

So, the answer has to be honest. Does the idea genuinely make life easier or better for people? It needs to if it wants any chance of resonating, which brings me to my next point.

2. How will customers use this?

Shopping is a weekly activity. People don’t have any trouble remembering the commands to make shopping lists because they use them so often, and they offer such obvious convenience. Meditation, controlling music and adjusting your heating are all top of the wish-list. But tips for hand sanitation? Elf name generators? They’re unlikely to stand the test of time.

Research shows that voice is best suited to convenience purchases, with the most popular categories for voice shoppers including ordering meals (56pc), electronics (52pc) and groceries or toiletries (45pc).

But just because these transactions are based on regularity, that’s not to say a voice assistant couldn’t help with less-frequent purchases and bigger decisions. Hypothetically, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t use Alexa to help you choose a car or book a holiday.

Yet, in reality, you’re left with Alexa’s ‘Help me choose a car’ skill. It’s primitive. It’s not nuanced enough and, until someone figures out how to make this user experience smoother, consumers are unlikely to trust voice when it comes to making significant purchase choices.

3. What will your brand sound like?

So, you have a genius idea that will help people, providing something they have a regular need for. What’s next?

Brand managers across all sectors are scratching their heads. After spending years crafting and honing their brand voice, they are now trying to figure out what that voice will actually sound like when conversing in real life. Is Coco the monkey really the voice of Coco Pops? Will celebrities or regular people be the voices of massive brands in the future? Will they have regional accents? Will those accents change depending on customers’ location? Their age? Their occupation? It opens up a whole new area of content design that’s largely untrodden.

The insight comes at the start of voice’s efficacy as it enters the marketing pantheon. We all know by now that with all things tech – and especially with digital transformation – behaviours we wouldn’t have dreamed of adopting on first look are now commonplace. Look at digital banking, Apple Touch ID and, of course, voice assistants.

This is partly driven by the might of Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, which both lead the charge and make voice an exciting, innovative platform. Voice search has nowhere near reached its full potential and offers a whole new world of content design. Something to think about over your next bowl of cereal.

By Roz Thomas

Roz Thomas is director of experience at Dare, an experience, design and engineering company.