Search and search results change… with Voice Assistants

The digital transformation is not only limited to B2B or even only to companies, we all live in times of “digital life transformation”. The speed of technological change is faster than we think and the adaptation of technologies is not necessarily slow either. For about 2 years now, the media has concentrated more and more on Alexa, Google, Siri or Cortana. Sometimes there is information about how “smart” the Voice Assistants are and sometimes about “they are listening in on everything” and violating our privacy etc.

But what exactly does Alexa, Google and the other Voice Assistants mean for the user/end-user? What does the relevance of Voice Assistants mean for media consumption? What do the changes mean for advertisers?

There is the convenience of Voice Assistants. A huge advantage! Think back to the time without navigation devices. Think about our online shopping behaviour and the convenience of changing buying habits. Convenience has become a kind of religion and of course, there are more and more followers who believe in convenience religion. All want convenience, but the costs of this convenience, or the opportunity costs of “convenient lifestyle or comfortable quality of life” are immense. Not much is said, written or spoken about how insidiously we consumers give up power.  We are used to letting the navigation devices and smartphones navigate us. Now the journey with smart speakers and Voice Assistants is in the direction of “let us search” rather than searching on our own.

User behaviour changes with the dependence on Voice Assistants. When the first smartphone came onto the market 11 years ago, no one probably thought that the smartphone could one day be an “addiction” for many, a “must” for many and probably a business essential for various business areas. The smartphone phenomenon is not only present in certain age groups or socio-demographic layers, it is really “omnipresent”. We will experience the same development with the use of Voice Assistants. What we are currently seeing is probably not even 10% of the total potential in “assisting” that smart assistants can do. This is just the preview… we still have the film ahead of us.

The app stores came with the smartphones and the Alexa Skill stores (action stores at Google Assistant and Capsule marketplace for Samsung Bixby) now come with smart assistants, which make smart speaker devices even smarter. Functionalities that Voice Assistants or smart assistants do not yet have can be “taught” with a Skill. You could use Voice Assistants or smart speakers without Skills, just as you can use a smartphone without apps. But you will find no smartphone without any app installed on it.

The advantage of Voice Assistants is that the commands that the user has said are then executed. It starts with questions like “Alexa, how is the weather today?” or “How can I get from Hamburg to Berlin in the fastest way?” now we have moved to “Alexa, start my sprinkler system” or “Alexa, turn off the lights”. The assistants give us the “boss feeling”, do not complain, and execute the commands as best as possible and as quickly as possible. Once, twice … always. What more do you want?! At some point, we have learnt and trusted that the Voice Assistants will always help us. They help us in everyday life, they help us day and night. They also help us on vacation days, they are there when we need them. We are slowly giving up control because we trust them, or rather because we have become familiar with the Voice Assistant. The role of the boss remains with us because we have the last word when it comes to executing orders.

Another world with the gradual change that we as users are not aware of is the “power of Voice Assistant searches”. Before Google’s search engine, there were a few more search engines. Many have lost search power or are no longer there. Google is now a synonym for “search engine”. We’re not searching, we’re googling. The same thing happens again and will happen even more extensively … we will “Alexize” more and more. At the beginning there was no advertising on Google. Currently, users can hardly differentiate between the ads and organic content. As soon as the user has entered a search term, Google ads are placed, and only then do the organic results come. There is also an algorithm that decides what is placed and where it is placed. Search results look different depending on the end device of the user, for example on smartphones or desktop PCs. This is just one example of the market power of search engines, how “neutral” the output is shown when users provide specific search terms as “input”. The good thing is that at least several results can still be seen. That too will change a lot with Voice Assistants! Although in this case, it will not take 15 and 20 years, like in the case of a normal search.

Speech assistants or their algorithms decide which answer should be given to which question or, in the best case, how many answers should be provided. Welcome to the powerful world of Voice Assistants. Letting people search through Voice Assistants or smart speakers comes at a price. Asking Alexa “Which shower gel do you like?” Or “Which toothpaste do you like?”, Alexa may theoretically know all brands and products on the market, but she will not recommend using 10 brands or products, but only one product, or in the best case two or three products. That’s all! So imagine that “Generation Z” only receives a particular brand in response to a specific question: How do these users find out about other brands and products through Voice Assistants? How much effort do they make to look for other brands or products? The user trusts his Voice Assistant and the Voice Assistant determines the brand… so everything works, right?

There are also practical aspects: Alexa can also read good night stories for children. Parents can rely on Alexa or other Voice Assistants and smart speakers. Alexa can wake up, and turn on the lights when the kids are at home, or play games with the kids. There are many Skills for games in the largest Skill category. In all the categories on the Skill store, you can find Skills that enable the Skills of the Voice Assistants to be expanded. With numerous Alexa Skills you can let Alexa work for you. Control the television with a voice command, water the garden with a voice command, or even make phone calls.

The more time we spend with the Alexas and Smart Speakers of the world, the more critical the touchpoint they become for publishers, content creators and advertisers. Media consumption behaviour will be several hours every day for the next 10 years, not just several minutes. The reasons are obvious. Voice Assistants can help us on the go. The Voice Assistants can help us as a family member, at home. Smart speakers are almost omnipresent and no longer just stay in the living room, but also get their own place in the kitchen or bedroom. They are the new roommates and companions when we are on the move. Skills provide added value for the user, which means that the user stays in touch with his Voice Assistant even more. He uses it more and more for everyday tasks. From the point of view of brands, product manufacturers and advertisers, the relevance of Voice Assistants, smart speakers and Skills automatically increases.

As an advertiser, all companies want to reach the right target group at the right time, and at the right price. When the target group is reached, it is also about connecting the target group to the brand or the product, instilling trust and then increasing it. Voice Assistants and Skills for Voice Assistants could help immensely to reach the target group. Based on the target group behaviour, an individualised brand image can be presented and, if necessary, the exact “purchase time or consumption point” can be forecasted. A dream for many advertisers: getting closer to the target group and being able to accompany them in everyday life. The problem is there isn’t room for everyone. Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant scan the market and only recommend what they want to recommend. And this does not necessarily have to be what the user really wants to see or hear. So, optimisation for voice searches and Voice Assistants is a “must” and will remain a “must”.

Advertisers must already use the existing touchpoints such as their websites, and should take the Voice Assistant and voice searches seriously. How can you be found when a user uses a voice command to search for a product if your own brand or services is not offered? The existing content, content hubs, touchpoints etc. on your own website and profiles elsewhere need to be optimised for voice search and Voice Assistants because voice search works differently than type in/ text search. In the future, where it will become increasingly relevant that Voice Assistants also recommend the brand, products or services that the advertiser offers.

It is advisable to already be present in the Voice Assistants’ world. With a Skill and optimisation for voice search, you can start well, generate the learnings and gain the experience about user behaviour, as well as Voice Assistant preferences and algorithms. Voice Assistants and Skills are not an issue that “comes at some point and you can start later as an advertiser”. There are already more than 100,000 Skills in the Amazon Alexa Skill Store alone. The number of Google Actions is also growing and in 2019 Samsung also joined the race with their Bixby Capsule marketplace. The future is now!

In the future, Voice Assistants will coordinate the networked world of “household appliances”. Microwaves, clocks, refrigerators, television, speakers and other devices that we use almost every day at home will be networked and can be controlled by voice. The connections with the automotive industry should not be underestimated either. Cars are increasingly being equipped with Voice Assistants. Over the next few years, we should be curious to see how the alliances of the “Big 5 Voice Assistants” develop. Amazon (Alexa), Google (Google Assistant), Apple (Siri), Microsoft (Cortana) and Samsung (Bixby) are currently marketing their own Voice Assistants.

Last, but not least: the Voice Assistant theme will be a Frenemy theme for many… neither Friend nor Enemy.  In that case, use the development for yourself and be there now rather than regret it later.