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GUEST COMMENT How true voice search will change marketing and the way we buy our cheese

“Tell me a joke.” How many times do you think Google or Alexa have been asked that in the last year? And the answer? Well, perhaps you should ask her. You’ll find plenty of tips and tricks online to get her to tell you the best joke, so it’s pretty clear that we humans still regard voice assistants as a bit of a novelty. This, however, is all about to change.

According to emarketer, more than 35 million Americans used a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month last year and ComScore estimates that by 2020, more than half of all searches will be done via voice search. The fact that neither Google, Amazon or Apple share all of their data means that this may well be the tip of the iceberg.

These are serious numbers and this is definitely not a joke. What we as marketers need to understand better is how people will use voice. How years of training to become pretty efficient text searchers is about to change and what this means to us.

Search is advancing. Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella has talked about human language being the “UI layer” and developers building for “conversational canvases” meaning any app where people converse, from email to chat to SMS.

It’s no secret that voice searches have resulted in SERPs, in fact, a query across voice can lead to a SERP with ads being served, so it’s starting to make an impact. When you consider that lots of voice searches don’t use a screen to share results in its clear just how much of an impact voice is having.

Marketers want to find out people’s intentions when they search because that makes it so much easier to personalise. A text search via a laptop or PC for a Soundbar, for example, is great data but we are not entirely clear what the person wants if they just type “Soundbar”. We don’t fully know their intent. Are they interested in buying one? Do they need one repaired or perhaps they’re just looking for an image? We just need a bit more from the search.

That will change with voice search as a person’s intentions will be much clearer. They will likely ask for a local Soundbar stockist or the price of the latest model. This natural language could well be the key to a new level of search marketing and, while it is still relatively early days for many of us – the young are much more comfortable talking to voice devices – we are learning how to search in a much more human way using conversational sentences.

We know that voice is changing the approach to marketing across every sector but the industry that will see a dramatic change in the way they market their products is the FMCG sector. Once the stalwart of traditional marketing methods that have been the basis of their strategy for decades, groceries and supermarkets are now just as vulnerable as pretty much every other industry. That’s because the connections between Alexa or Google Home and supermarkets’ home shopping services are seeing a difference in consumer behaviour. Voice search and order will affect the brands we buy and where we buy them from. The way we buy our bread and cheese is changing.

When we go shopping for groceries we don’t really care too much about the brand, unlike if we were looking for a new Soundbar because it doesn’t really matter if we make a bad choice. We are likely to buy based on its sugar content or if it’s on special offer but there’s usually a little spark of something that makes us reach for the Cathedral City cheese.

FMCG brands, therefore, work in a very basic way. They generate awareness and perhaps a bit of brand image and that’s all. The consumer just needs a “little” nudge to complete the process. This is how the big brands operate. They rise to the top of people’s minds by advertising through TV, radio etc and are there when that subconscious nudge is required in the supermarket or online.

Voice search will change all this. Consumers will not be in supermarkets looking for something to guide them they will be in their homes realising that they’ve run out of cheese to make their kids’ packed lunch for school shouting “Alexa, add cheese to my shopping list.” And there you have the biggest change in FMCG.

The newly voice activated consumer is building their shopping needs over many days and the brand may no longer play a role. Alexa may search for brands on special or go for the store brand because that’s the setting we’ve put it on. What’s happening is that Alexa is making the choice for us – one less thing for us to worry about – which means that brands and FMCG advertising will need to change. Logistically, there are likely to be smaller, more frequent and lower value orders made meaning there is an impact on the supply chain and more vans on the road to deliver (if they don’t do a “add to by shopping list” for a weekly delivery feature).

Through each device, Echo & Google Home, FMCGs will have to adapt their technology (Mobile Apps and Alexa Skills) to accommodate the needs/habits of the user. It’s very unlikely that someone will try and order a frozen pizza or veggies through a device as a one off. They need their apps/skills to be seamless and allow the user to say “Alexa, add milk to my list” and it know you normally ask for 1litre semi skimmed then ask you to confirm. FMCGs will also need to promote their Apps to the user base properly in order to leverage this. However, it doesn’t just end there.

When we walk into our local supermarket we have made a commitment to buy practically everything we need to stock our fridge and kitchen cupboards from that shop. There is also a great deal of loyalty involved in making the trip. However, Alexa or Google Home don’t worry about loyalty. They look for deals and offers and if Tesco are cheaper this week they’ll order from there but could well be buying from Sainsbury’s the week after if their prices are more competitive. We could see a release of Apps from supermarkets to lock consumers in and get them using their voice tools to buy groceries.

None of this will happen overnight but the technology is there and our shopping habits are changing, so it’s on its way. The big global brands need to think hard about this or risk another tech company taking over their patch.

Author: Chris Simmance, managing director of Optus Digital

Image credit: Fotolia

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