As a consumer technology, there’s no doubt that voice interfaces have gone mainstream. More than one third of Americans use a voice assistant, per eMarketer.
Just as we saw in the early days of mobile when some marketers forgot to employ common sense – a QR code on a highway billboard comes to mind – mistakes are being made that have limited brand success in voice efforts.
I learned of five common errors while conducing interviews for my The Art of Digital Persuasion book.
Failing to understand that many tech neophytes are in
Smart houses have become commonplace – many home developers offer the tech as a value-added feature -- as has the gifting of smart devices to members of generations who have historically been late or non-adopters of consumer tech.
“The great thing about voice and conversational UI (user interface) is that it's the first big consumer tech trend where it’s not relying totally on technology,” Dave Isbitski, Chief Evangelist, Alexa & Echo, Amazon, told me. “Think about that for a second. The web, mobile, desktop apps, all of them, and even social media in some respects, have required a new technology curve to be understood. But everyone understands how to have a conversation, voice is very natural, and those who are good communicators, not necessarily technologists, are creating some of the best experiences today.
“This opens up the ability to have these voice-driven experiences created by people who may not have been part of that process in the past. Being able to tell a story and have an engaging conversation that feels human-like are powerful skill sets in this new voice first paradigm.”
Painting all users with the same brush
The use cases in voice are many, including streaming music, finding out the weather forecast, and determining what to have for dinner, among many others.
Those in the market to purchase a product or service fall into two categories.
“There's a difference between shoppers and buyers,” Sheryl Kingstone, 451 Research’s Vice President, Consumer Experience & Commerce, said to me. “Where voice comes into play is with transactions. Look at groceries. You are reordering things that you do from second nature over and over and over again. You're getting milk. You're getting (printer) ink. You don't necessarily have to shop for them. Those are things where you can easily put them on a shopping list or order on Amazon and do it in a voice scenario.”
Misunderstanding users’ intent
In interviews for two of my books, Jason Spero, Google’s Vice President, Performance Media, has shared that mobile is for action. The same, according to his colleague and others, goes for voice interfaces.
“You can access the (Google) Assistant almost anywhere you are throughout the day -- on the phone, in the car, or on a speaker in the living room,” wrote Scott Huffman, VP, Engineering, Google Assistant, on Google’s blog https://www.blog.google/perspectives/scott-huffman/five-insights-voice-technology/. “So it makes sense that when people use the Assistant, it’s largely driven by their environment and what they’re trying to accomplish in their daily routines.”
Amazon’s Isbitski urges marketers to simplify matters when it comes to voice.
“Really where you should start thinking is if I had my customer in a room right next to me and I wanted to have a conversation,” he said. “Because voice is so natural and simple to do, you find the types of questions and engagements that you get with your customers are really much more meaningful.”
Miscomprehending what ‘voice first’ means
Name one person who has traded in all of his or her tech in favor of a voice interface. OK, I can’t, either. Marketers must account for a broad and varied consumer mix of devices and screens.
“’Voice first’ doesn’t mean ‘voice only,’” Amazon’s Isbitski told me. “Voice will always be, in the short term, the fastest and most natural way for people to communicate with your brand or product. But it doesn't mean they'll be throwing away your website and your mobile app. In fact, it can add to those experiences tremendously.
“For example, let's say I'm using your website to purchase a new financial service offering. My mobile app may tell me the current mortgage rates or information about the product, but it’s far easier to just ask and have a conversation around the service or if there are any other services that you might recommend.”
The upshot on all of this?
There’s no doubt that Amazon’s Prime Days and the upcoming back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons will boost voice use. And with adoption comes greater user expectations. Patience for bad experiences in consumer tech already is thin. Brands would be wise to get voice right now.