The Future of Voice Technology — and What It Means for Advertising

Beth Hurrle  | 

Voice-enabled devices like Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home are quickly moving into the mainstream. The influential venture capitalist Mary Meeker highlighted voice tech’s growing popularity in her 2018 trends forecast. Meanwhile, eMarketer predicts a dramatic rise in consumer adoption of smart speakers, with the number of US users rising to more than 76 million by 2020. But even as voice tech grows in popularity, many advertisers are still wondering if and how they may be able to make use of such devices to engage consumers. After all, other than a few widely talked about experiments, there’s been little apparent opportunity for integration between TV, video and voice. How then might voice tech complement advertisers’ strategies in the future? Here are three potential applications.

Making the Ad Experience More Multichannel
Many advertisers are starting to think about devices like Alexa and Google Home not as a standalone advertising channel, but rather as a channel that can complement and extend the reach of ad campaigns in other mediums. Andy Kauffman, senior vice president of global marketing optimization at Marriott International, predicted an increasing opportunity to build voice into his company’s ad strategy in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal. For example, Marriott is already experimenting with ways to more closely link smart speaker actions with TV creative, providing a new method for consumers to request website links, written text or visuals via a smart speaker and have it sent to their smart TV or mobile device. This type of cross-device integration with smart speakers is likely to get even more seamless in the near future as Amazon continues to expand and formalize its ad business. Amazon has already announced plans to bring ads to its Alexa speakers, and recent estimates suggest the company will earn more than $2.35 billion in revenue in 2018.

Making Other Ad Formats More Interactive
The second opportunity related to voice-enabled devices is to build more interactivity into campaigns. For instance, a number of audio-focused technology platforms like Shazam already use voice-recognition software to make it easier for advertisers to turn awareness into action. One example is a recent campaign the company completed with AXE, during which Shazam users could use their app to identify or “tag” an AXE commercial in order to be directed to custom AXE branded content. A similar functionality could be built into Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Home in the very near future. Another layer of ad interactivity may come from hybrid devices like Amazon’s Echo Show that integrate visuals and voice into a single interface. A number of TV programmers like Scripps and Time Inc. experimented with voice commands that would direct Echo Show users to instructional video content displayed on the device.

Creating a New Method to Drive Conversion
Perhaps the most important opportunity for advertisers with voice will be as a tool that helps them complete the sale with their target consumers. TV network AMC is one example of a publisher that is already using audio in TV commercials to trigger special actions on users’ smartphones like the delivery of a promotional coupon to encourage purchase. It seems likely that an audio trigger could also be set up to activate a similar type of conversion-driven promotion delivered to a consumer’s account that is linked to their smart speaker.

Voice-enabled tech is very much on the rise among consumers. But for advertisers, the rollout of potential applications for these increasingly popular devices is still very much in its infancy. Nevertheless, as the technology continues to evolve it’s likely that smart speakers will find their place, whether as a channel that is integrated into multichannel campaigns or as a device that can help advertisers use their TV and video creative to boost goals related to engagement or conversion. The future of voice-driven audio is not yet clear, but as consumers become more accustomed to voice activated devices, the siren song may grow harder to ignore.

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