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Speak easy

Voice is the most natural and intuitive form of interaction for humans. The launch of smart speakers – voice assistants such as Amazon Echo or Google Home – brings about a fundamental shift in how we relate to computers. There’s no screen to fumble around with. The computers behind the voice are increasingly smart, relevant and continuously learning about how to provide what I need. Being able to have a simple conversation forms an intimate and often emotional relationship with technology like never before.

Consumers in the UK and US are already embracing voice assistants. Amazon sold 11 million Echo devices in the period from mid-2015 to 1 December 2016 alone. Google launched Home, its domestic hardware equivalent to Echo in the US in 2016 and later expanded into the UK in April this year. Google is reported to launch the device in Australia in the next few months and now a smart speaker from Apple is on the way. Aside from these devices that sit in your home, Google data shows that 20 per cent of US mobile searches on Android are now made by voice. The change in behaviour is rapid – and there are simple reasons why.

We recently conducted global research to explore how consumers feel about voice assistants and how they are changing behaviour and identified efficiency as a primary motivation for using voice. The top three reasons for use amongst regular voice users globally were: “it’s convenient” (52 per cent), “I don’t have to type” (48 per cent), and “it’s simple to use” (46 per cent). A deeper dive into the research highlights underlying trends that explain why Australians are likely to follow the same rapid adoption of these computer-powered assistants:

Easing the cognitive load

Using your voice is simply a less mentally taxing form of interaction.

The digital butler

As voice assistants get smarter, they will take on a more proactive role in managing our lives which most of us find a welcome helping hand. This may start with pro-active notifications – such as Google Home lighting up when it has something to say – but will quickly lead to a more seamless, conversational style of utility.

Liberation from the screen

Voice commands will free us up to interact better with the world around us.

But in Australia, the gatekeepers of voice technology – Amazon, Google and Apple – could cut local retailers out of the conversation, either because their home device will default to built-in preferences (e.g. shopping with Amazon) or because algorithms will not find local retailer content if it’s not optimised. This lack of neutrality is a key issue for Australian retailers.

For example, it’s clear how Amazon’s Echo would draw directly on Amazon’s own shopping services and inventory. Convenience and simplicity will be a reason for me to replenish or spontaneously shop for something I need at home using Amazon rather than driving to the store.

Google Home draws on information it finds on the internet and this relies on the way the algorithm works. If I ask for gift ideas for a six year old, will Australian brands come up top? Australian retailers need to consider their search presence with a whole new lens. How do you rank for your most profitable items? Algorithm optimisation will become the new SEO.

Do you need a local device?

Telstra has no plans to launch an Australia-specific device – although a strong partnership with a telco could be an ideal way for big retailers here to be the default store and to ensure their services connect directly to consumers in their homes.

As voice assistants get smarter, they will take on a more proactive role in managing our lives

Short-term brand implications

What can retail marketers do to prepare for a voice-activated world in the short term?

  1. Consider how voice could genuinely augment the touchpoints on your consumer journey.
    How could a voice interaction add value to or remove friction from the consumer experience? How would speaking to consumers in their homes deepen the relationship you have with them? Can you create reasons for saying your brand name in a way that strengthens associations with your offering? Will this be the 21st century version of the jingle?

2. Learn the rules of engagement in conversational commerce.
Build a chatbot and deepen your exposure to the types of conversations consumers want to have.

3. Experiment with partners: work with product brands for maximum impact
Retailers should work together with suppliers and their product brands to maximise budgets and to design a simple consumer experience when using voice assistants. Having a deep understanding of a consumer’s deciding factors will influence this and assist in how both retailers and product brands can partner together to create influential strategies.

4. Experiment with voice-user interfaces.
Test and learn. Google Home is due to launch in Australia in the next few months, but even using Siri will give you a sense of how to engage with voice assistants. Explore how you can provide utility to your customers or drive new behaviours.

5. Think about the right voice for your business
Our neuroscience research gives an early indication that speaking to a brand delivers a deeper emotional connection than interacting with it through type or touch. So the most important decision – what should your business sound like? Is your business more Sean Connery or Tina Fey?

Josie Brown is the director of digital, APAC, at J. Walter Thompson.

This story first appeared on our sister site, Inside Retail Australia

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