Viewpoint: Voice-first strategy is the future

Read time 3min 10sec
In less than two years, 50% of all searches will be voice searches.
In less than two years, 50% of all searches will be voice searches.

Virtual assistants Siri, Cortana and Alexa have quickly become the world's go-to voice bots for friendly and helpful searches, and are all strong female representatives of the current adage that "voice is the future", says Pommie Lutchman, CEO of Ocular Technologies.

Developed by Apple, Microsoft and Amazon respectively, the three virtual assistants add their own personality to what would otherwise be an emotionless (ironically robotic) artificial intelligence (AI) personal assistant.

For those raising the gender stereotype query: in-depth psychological and sociological studies are the reason all three are female.

Although the timeline for the development and innovation of "voice-first" personal digital assistants is booming, the history of speech recognition can be traced back as far as the 18th century, when the not so famous Wolfgang von Kempelen created the "Acoustic Mechanical Speech Machine" in Vienna.

Fast forward through a history of Edison, Bell Labs and IBM, and the stage was set for the current forecast by ComScore, that in less than two years, 50% of all searches will be voice searches.

These findings are not surprising considering that, on average, a person speaks about 150 words per minute, yet types only 40 per minute. So, if this is the more natural, easier way to communicate, then a #VoiceFirst strategy to engage consumers is a pretty excellent business plan.

It's not only the big corporate players getting in on the voice gig, but as highlighted at Opus Research's Conversational Commerce Conference held in San Francisco during September, "smaller, nimble firms are recognising how to use #VoiceFirst data to deliver new personalised services across intelligent assistant devices in the home, car and on smartphones".

Colin Morris, director of Adobe Analytics Cloud at Adobe, states the impact of voice perfectly: "The popularity of voice devices is proving to be a first credible challenge to touch as the primary interface for consumer electronics."

The growth, according to a 2018 study by Adobe Analytics, is driven by a steady increase in consumers' smartphone speaker ownership. Stats are currently not available for South Africa (a country of early adopters) but percentages in the US jumped by 14% in only a few months this year. Considering the festive season is around the corner, it can be expected that this percentage will grow even more.

The research is especially valuable for brands wanting to enter the #VoiceFirst market and benefit from this interface. It zoomed in on definite popular uses showing what consumers used voice control for, and by Adobe points out "the study found the most common voice activities are asking for music (70%) and the weather forecast (64%) via smart speakers. Other popular activities include asking fun questions (53%), online search (47%), checking the news (46%), basic research/confirming info (35%) and asking for directions (34%)."

The study also uncovered some newer voice-based tasks. "Thirty-six percent of consumers surveyed said they use voice to make a call, 31% do so for smart-home commands, 30% for shopping/ordering items, 17% for food delivery/takeout, and 16% for flight/hotel research."

Having a conversation with consumers has taken a major leap. It's definitely time to make voice part of your overall strategy, or risk the mute button in a #VoiceFirst world.

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