The Rise of the (Voice Activated) Machine - and What It Means for Brands
Our tech-hungry research team here at delineate have conducted a study into the use of virtual assistants in both the USA and UK. This detailed research of 2,000 nationally representative respondents in each market investigates how people are using voice assistants to make purchase decisions and what this means for brands and agencies.
The study shows us that in the UK, one in six homes (4.7 million) now owns or has access to a smart speaker or a voice assistant. In the USA, that rises to one in four homes (29.7 million). More strikingly, a further quarter of respondents in both countries say they would consider buying one.
That’s an astonishing 11.8 million UK households that either already have or are actively considering getting a voice assistant - or 22.5 million people talking to a machine. Artificial intelligence is truly mass.
In the UK, 95% of people in our survey said they have heard of voice assistants and their growth in popularity is due to smart speakers being so simple and accessible – perhaps giving previously slow tech adopters the confidence to engage.
Looking at the demographics of active users, there is a real spread across the age ranges, but users are slightly more likely to be female than male. Usage also spans income, social grade, level of education and type of employment.
Amazon, with both the Echo and Dot, lead the way both in the US and UK, with 14% in the UK claiming they own or have access to one and 23% considering getting one. Google Home is second, followed by Samsung and Sony.
Users have moved beyond the early tricks of 'play music' and 'what’s the weather like?' These devices have a lot of different uses, online search being one of them. Everything from 'learning something', 'checking facts', doing research about a new category or a brand, to entertainment choices and organising their lives. Everything seems possible with an online search powered by voice.
For brands, this poses the question: how does an existing search strategy work with voice? How does a business bid for and own keywords when someone is having a real conversation? A key difference for search marketers is that your voice assistant will likely give you just one result. Not the page of results we are more used to. These are critical differences, so a change in strategy is crucial.
One of the biggest surprises of the research was just how many consumers are using their voice assistants to shop. More than a third (37%) of owners in the UK are adding items to their virtual shopping baskets and just under half (48%) are discovering new brands through their smart speakers.
To sharpen this for brands further, in the UK, one in 10 owners are using their smart speaker to make brand and product decisions. Importantly, for first time buys, but also the big-ticket categories of grocery and toiletries.
What does all this mean?
For organic search, brands will need to be relevant to a new algorithm. The brand must be synonymous with the category and relevant moments with consumers. No one asks for plastic, multi-coloured toy building blocks. Everyone asks for Lego.
For paid, time will tell how the tech giants will partner with brands to prioritise these new search results or “basket adds”.
What we do know is that natural, in-the-moment speech from consumers will be a rich source of 'intent data'. Insights from this data will ultimately be a source of creativity for brands and will help them with campaigns that build brand affinity in life’s moments.
Successful brands will win by being part of the everyday conversation with voice assistants. They’ll become the default brand name of choice, up there with Hoover, Jacuzzi and Tupperware.
James 'JT' Turner is Founder and CEO of delineate