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Marketers Are Unprepared for Voice Search
Voice assistants are altering consumer habits, and marketers need to adjust
For the rest of the September 2017 issue of CRM magazine please click here

Voice search currently accounts for 20 percent of all mobile searches, and by 2020, more than half of all consumers expect to use voice-activated and artificial intelligence (AI) technology daily. 

Nevertheless, 62 percent of marketers haven’t given voice search much thought, according to a study by marketing firm BrightEdge. Only 28 percent said they are “somewhat likely” and 7 percent “very likely” to adopt it. Just 3 percent are currently rolling it out.

This comes at a time when 31 percent of marketers identified voice search as the “next big thing.” Similarly, 32 percent believe it’s AI, but 57 percent are not likely to implement any element of AI this year either.

Marketers apparently recognize that the voice and AI revolutions are here, but few are planning to adapt their marketing strategies accordingly, leaving their companies at risk of failing to meet consumers rising expectations, BrightEdge found after surveying 252 digital marketers in the spring.

Other research found that voice search isn’t just affecting marketing. The rapid rise in popularity of voice-activated virtual assistants like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google Assistant is impacting consumer shopping behavior, according to studies by marketing research firms Walker Sands and Toluna.

According to the Walker Sands data, contained within its “2017 Future of Retail” report, one in five consumers have already made voice purchases through Amazon Alexa or a similar digital home assistant, and another third plan to do so in the next year, leading to what the firm is calling a “Zero UI” shopping experience. In this environment, visual shopping on touchscreens is being replaced by more natural user interfaces like voice. 

The study found this can come at a price: Removing the visual elements can limit the amount of information consumers receive, requiring back-end systems to be flexible and adaptable so they can fill in any information gaps. 

The Toluna Voice-Activated Virtual Assistant Survey of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers found that owning a voice-activated assistant is altering the way people shop, search online, and consume media.

More than half (53 percent) of voice-activated virtual assistant owners (and 60 percent of Millennials who own them) say they now make fewer in-store purchases. Only 12 percent of all owners (22 percent of females and 6 percent of males) say the technology has had no impact on their shopping behavior.

In addition, 51 percent say they use traditional web browsers to search online less often. Ten percent say their virtual assistants have had no effect on their online search behavior, though this number rises slightly among women (14 percent) versus men (7 percent). Six in 10 users also read and watch traditional media channels less frequently. Nearly one-fourth of women (22 percent) say it has had no impact on their media consumption, compared to only 6 percent of men.

But even as adoption skyrockets, consumers are still very concerned about privacy issues related to voice-activated virtual assistants. Two-thirds of respondents (63 percent) are concerned or very concerned that personal data is being recorded via their voice-activated virtual assistants. Concern regarding privacy is slightly higher among men (65 percent) than women (61 percent). 

Those security concerns, along with cost issues and negative perceptions about the technology’s usefulness, are the biggest barriers to purchase for current non-users. Fifty-two percent of all consumers who do not own them (and 60 percent of Millennials) cite cost as a barrier to purchase; 32 percent cite security concerns, and 31 percent say they don’t need them or don’t think they would use them. Female non-owners say more often they don’t need more technology (20 percent versus 11 percent of men) and men more frequently report security concerns (37 percent versus 29 percent of women).

Despite these barriers, though, voice-activated virtual assistant ownership is poised to grow. Nearly 40 percent of those who do not currently own virtual assistants said they plan to purchase one in the future. And nine in 10 current users say they would recommend them to friends.

“As voice-activated virtual assistants become fixtures in homes around the world, it is critical for marketers to understand how the rising popularity of AI technology is shaping consumer behavior,” said Frédéric-Charles Petit, CEO and founder of Toluna, in a statement. “While our research shows that these devices have altered the traditional ways consumers research information, consume media, and purchase products, they also create new opportunities for savvy brands to engage customers. Brands must carefully evaluate how their target consumers are leveraging emerging technology and shape their strategies around those insights.” 

That is something that Amazon has definitely been able to master. On July 11, better known as Amazon Prime Day, the online retailer’s members-only shopping event, Amazon encouraged deal-seekers to shop with their voices by offering 100 exclusive Alexa Voice Deals and by granting Alexa voice shoppers early access to select Prime Day deals a full two hours before the general public. Not surprisingly, the Alexa-powered Echo smart home device was among Amazon’s biggest sellers on Prime Day 2017. 

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