Alexa: The Voice of Generations To Come

Alexa machine

Adam is almost two years old.

He speaks a mix of English and his own made-up words. Each day he gets more confident. At night, his parents read to him from books with big pictures and words. This is helping him learn the names of animals, colors. Things like that.

Recently, his folks have been noticing him picking up their phones and telling them what he wants to see. “Moo,” Adam says, looking for the cow from one of his books. “Kakaw,” he squeals, wanting to see a bird. “Baaaa,” for the sheep. And so on. This has become a pattern, something he does without instruction.

What’s interesting is how Adam is learning to engage with technology using his voice long before he can type ― side by side while learning to use words. Language and technology are concepts being developed together in his brain.

We’ll come back to this.

We’ve been talking about voice assistants a lot lately ― technology that is so simple in practice, even a toddler can use it. What does the future hold as our browsing default changes from asking Google to asking questions? What happens when that shift bleeds into the way we buy things? And what does this mean for brands wanting to be at the forefront of this change, especially those already challenged by digital?

Voice optimization has been named a key trend for the last few years. In 2014, Google reported that 55% of teens and 41% of adults use voice search more than once a day, mainly to call, ask for direction, dictate text, and ask for help with homework. Getting this technology from our phones into our homes and appliances is a top priority for both Google and Amazon.

More recently, Alexa was the second most mentioned product or service in Amazon’s Q3 earnings report. We saw this reflected in the number of promotional deals on Alexa-enabled products this festive season. With every Echo device shipped and connected to various appliances, our homes are becoming the battleground for a voice revolution. We’re already living in the age of voice assistants; voice commerce is the next frontier.

What does this mean in the long term?

The big question brands need to ask (and answer) is how to build a voice strategy that really considers how, why, and when they can naturally engage a customer using voice technology.

The traditional levers that brands can pull to gain ground in search rankings ― unique content, competitive pricing, imagery, display ads ― are still being established when it comes to purchasing through a voice assistant.

“If the last decade was a race for keyword relevancy, the next decade is going to be a race of contextual relevance. And the adoption of voice control is changing the landscape quickly,” says Duane Forrester, VP of Industry Insights for Yext, in his recent e-book ‘How Voice Search Changes Everything’. Context is the critical keyword here. “As a business, your ability to understand these moments of context that exist for an individual, and to meaningfully map yourself to them, will determine your level of success with voice search.” The way we speak to a phone (commanding) is different from the way we type (asking), bringing with this a change in the way we create content.

Currently, voice-based commerce is in its infancy, but given Amazon’s investment into the market, this is expected to change quickly. The trick for brands will be identifying what content lends itself to the voice market, and then tailoring content accordingly

The most common voice purchases are those made at home in a moment of need. Items like laundry detergent, batteries, and diapers are good examples, and these all favor big brands with name recognition. “Alexa, I need new batteries,” or “Alexa, can you order laundry detergent.”

Right now, there are actions that digital savvy brands can take to appear in Alexa search results but note two things about this list: these are things all brands should be doing anyway, and these are long-term initiatives that should be part of a larger strategy.

How To Appear In Alexa Search Results
  • Get an Amazon’s Choice badge ― these account for 59% of Alexa Search Results
  • Be Prime eligible, have great sales history, great customer reviews, and be sold by a top-rated seller
  • Be a #1 Best Seller ― these account for 25% of Alexa Search Results
  • Be in your customer’s purchasing history ― Alexa uses this to make product suggestions

Outside of the proven basics, the best thing brands can do is add “Ask for Us” on Alexa-compatible products across all product listings, social media profiles, and packages. See how that works.

Last Word

Gartner predicts that one-third of browsing sessions will be done with voice by 2020. Adam will be five then. He’ll be talking in complete sentences. Still too young to use a credit card or exchange Bitcoin, he’ll wield a mobile device with a lot more authority, likely asking it all the weird and wonderful questions you’d expect from a kindergartner.

When it comes to voice, the future sounds bright for brands that can think about it differently, make this technology a priority, and are prepared to devote resources to development. Like the early days of social media when many didn’t see the point, the best thing you can do is embrace all possibilities ― because right now just about anything is possible.