Voice marketing: hype or a game-changer?

21.07.2020
12 min.

Natural language processing and machine learning have moved forward significantly, making customers feel much more comfortable when communicating with brands via a voice-enabled interface. Voice technologies are an emerging ecosystem that can make a leap similar to what mobile experienced around a decade ago. In this regard, companies are challenged with the dilemma—to stake on voice-first marketing full on or just throw the voice channel into the mix of other customer data sources.

One thing is clear though—voice-enabled devices are not going anywhere. They will continue to mature and evolve in order to better connect physical and digital experiences powering contextualized interactions with customers.

The time is now to begin experimenting with voice, as the space is not yet cluttered and getting through to customers may not be as difficult as it is on other channels—yet.

Vivek Pandya

According to the 2020 Smart Audio Report by NPR and Edison Research, 24% of the US population aged 18+ owns a smart speaker, while 63% say they use voice assistants of any kind.

How often users use voice personal assistant on their smartphones

Naturally, most companies harness voice technologies built into smart speakers and other smart devices to reach and engage with their customers. At the same time, some businesses choose to adopt voice-activated interfaces to let their own employees use voice to automate processes and increase productivity.

Let’s explore voice technologies from the perspective of both customer-facing and back-office operations and look at how businesses can leverage voice.

Customer-facing voice technologies now

Although voice is a dynamically evolving technology, there’s an obvious vendor lock-in on the global voice assistant market. Alexa powers Amazon Echo, Google Assistant takes care of Android and Google Home devices, while Siri is the built-in voice bot in Apple gadgets. As a result, thousands of Alexa Skills, Google Actions, and voice-powered Apple apps serve almost any purpose, be it entertainment, education, logistics, information, or other.

How does it work? Companies turn to CRM development to enable voice technologies for their business or leverage purpose-fit Amazon Skills or Google Actions to help customers research, make orders, or get instructions. For example, users can send PayPal payments with Siri, create a Walmart shopping list with Google Assistant, or follow a night skincare routine with Estée Lauder’s virtual beauty assistant.

Voice-operated users say

From a marketer’s perspective, voice technologies represent a new touchpoint that allows customers to talk to brands directly, engage in emotional and contextual conversations, and enjoy consistency during those. Commercially, voice apps and skills may bring direct revenue from premium services, in-app purchases, and upselling.

Harnessing voice in customer interactions

People who use voice-enabled devices invite brands to provide relevant information above all.

To satisfy this requirement, companies first need to answer the following questions:

  • Can there be any voice touchpoints along customer journeys?
  • What do my customers prefer to do via voice?
  • What can I do to better connect with my audience via voice?

To amplify their reach, companies can use voice marketing tactics, such as contextualized promotions and ad campaigns and extend their interactions with customers to voice-enabled devices like smart TVs, watches, and even cars.

In order to understand how voice technologies work in real life, let’s review their current most popular and revenue-generating use cases.

Voice commerce

Consumers are constantly changing their buying patterns by adopting new channels and trying out new gimmicks, which makes businesses think of elaborate ways to improve digital customer experience. The booming market of smart speakers and the omnipresence of virtual assistants in smart devices push people to try something different and move from voice-based product research to voice-based purchasing. In spite of these intentions, most customers are still cautious about buying without a prior item inspection or until they make sure the transaction is secure. Acknowledging this tendency, eMarketer lowered their forecast for purchases made via smart speakers from 23.6 million projected in 2019 to 21.6 million actually expected by the end of 2020.

US smart speaker buyers

Nevertheless, the percentage of voice-based purchases is slowly growing, with people purchasing cheaper products or reordering familiar items that don’t require inspection prior to buying. As a result, brands that offer groceries, books, entertainment, or care products, to name a few categories, are able to benefit considerably from investing into voice marketing.

Following the lead of customer behavior, businesses need to understand that voice is not going to be a revolution (yet) but a handy instrument to support the buying process. Under these circumstances, businesses need to provide connected and secure experiences that will build customers’ trust.

AI-powered voice assistants are a treasure trove of data necessary to fulfill this task. They can build customers’ profiles by systematically collecting their preferences, purchasing history, location, and other metrics, and use this information to engage into highly contextualized conversations.

For instance, when an Alexa Skill has access to a purchasing history, it can perform exact or broad matching automatically, thus allowing users to swiftly review their options and make an informed decision.

Alexa shopping flow

Roadblocks to voice commerce

Apart from the inconvenience of using voice in public as well as speech recognition blunders, customers are deterred by two much more serious factors, namely trust and privacy.

Similar to the algorithms of social media and ecommerce giants, voice technologies offer products based on users’ purchasing history, personal preferences, and paid content, thus reducing visibility of product alternatives. This way, when receiving a recommendation from a voice assistant, customers have a difficulty understanding whether it’s an item promoted by the platform’s partners or that really based on their needs. A serious implication of such choice delegation is users’ loss of decision-making autonomy. As a result, to avoid ending up with an illusion of choice, customers can’t completely trust businesses to make choices for them.

Other serious concerns are personal privacy and payment security. Many users believe that once they start using voice-based apps, their devices will be listening to them, recording their private conversations, and sharing this information with the government. They are also afraid that someone can hack the platform and steal their personal data or make an unauthorized purchase from their account.

Smart speaker owners vs smartphone owners

Voice advertising

Compared to shopping, voice advertising is currently a much more promising use case for voice technologies. It doesn’t require any uncomfortable actions from users, and it fits into their current activities while providing contextual interactivity. Users should just say ‘yes’ if they want to learn more while listening to an ad or ‘no’ if they want to resume their activities. For example, one of the most popular uses of voice assistants is creating shopping lists. Brands can deploy their ads to play during this routine and suggest similar items during the list setup.

According to Adobe's 2019 Voice Report, 25% of the US population aged 18+ have heard an ad on a smart speaker and didn’t mind it. Naturally, at this point in time, customers easily tolerate ads in exchange for free content. In case of voice, the personal nature of what customers use smart speakers for allows for more personalized and relevant advertising that feels less intrusive. The statistics proves it: 38% of the surveyed users claim that voice ads are less intrusive than those on any other channel, be it TV or social media, with 39% saying that voice ads are more engaging.

Accessibility and convenience

The growing popularity of voice assistants, particularly in the context of IoT home automation, comes down to one thing—voice-enabled devices make life much more convenient. Talking to a voice assistant provides a hands-free experience where users can get things done with their voice while also doing something else. It’s a great instrument for multitasking, which is time-saving and makes daily routine much more efficient.

One of the benefits of voice technologies is that they are more intuitive and easier to start with than any other technology. All users need to do is start conversing naturally with a voice assistant as if with a person. When necessary, a voice assistant can guide a user in completing a certain task. In a way, voice assistants simplify digital experiences, capable of catering to visually impaired or illiterate people. What’s more, controlling their devices and completing tasks with voice let people spend considerably less time in front of a screen.

Leveraging voice in back-office automation

While some businesses can’t decide whether to invest into customer-facing technologies or not, others are actively adopting conversational interfaces for back-office automation. Among the most prominent voice interfaces are Alexa for Business, Digital Assistant by Oracle, Cortana by Microsoft, and Einstein Voice by Salesforce.

As Einstein Voice offers the widest and most advanced functionality for back-office automation, I will use this Salesforce product as well as the advice of our Salesforce consultants to illustrate the benefits of conversational interfaces for employees.

What is Einstein Voice?

Einstein Voice is an extension of Salesforce Einstein that enables various voice-powered actions directed at automation and higher productivity.

With Einstein, Salesforce is bringing the power of voice to every business, giving everyone an intelligent, trusted guide at work.

Bret Taylor

Einstein Voice Assistant

It lets users interact with the Salesforce platform via mobile phones or smart speakers and perform tasks by voice instructions. Einstein Voice Assistant leverages a built-in AI to provide suggestions and optimize workflows.

Einstein Voice Assistant

Einstein Voice Skills

It let users build Salesforce-based voice apps to automate workflows within a CRM platform, be it data entry, scheduling, or navigation, which brings voice capabilities to any role or industry.

Einstein Call Coaching

It uses automatic speech recognition and natural language processing to detect trends in phone conversations and provide users with real-time insights.

Streamlining processes

For employees, Einstein Voice Assistant and Einstein Voice Skills do what voice assistants do for customers—make their lives easier. The technology allows working hands- and screen-free, which is helpful for field workers and multitaskers.

In effect, Salesforce combines all its voice capabilities within a single platform and provides access to the following features:

  • Conversational data entry and record updates to eliminate typing and save time for more valuable tasks.
  • AI-powered suggestions on updates, next best actions, related training, and more.
  • Recording of daily briefings to share with colleagues, who can listen to them while driving to work or to a meeting.
  • Capturing notes with voice and relating them to associated records.
  • Opening and reviewing dashboards and records, applying filters, and drilling down into details.
  • Creating voice-powered apps for specific roles or workflow automation.

Call data mining

Phone conversations with customers contain a wealth of valuable insights necessary to provide seamless customer experience and build meaningful relationships. Einstein Call Coaching uses AI to automate the process of data mining and trend alerts, thus sparing employees from the extremely time-consuming task of reviewing call transcriptions.

Einstein understands whether calls are driven from specific product pages and picks up frequently asked questions and mentions of competitors. It keeps an eye on conversations around certain products, which allows for proactive actions in case there are spikes or drops in demand. The tool can be fine-tuned to track specific keywords to pick up what’s important for the company at this very moment.

Einstein Call Coaching also provides a number of handy features for managers. For instance, they can analyze the talk/listen ratio and make sure customers are being properly heard. Managers can also skip from entire call transcripts to mentions of keywords as well as analyze calls by exception or filtering. Additionally, the best call bits can be saved to a library and used as a training material for new employees.

Marketing data analysis

Conversational voice interfaces serve as an additional data source for marketing analytics as voice assistants aggregate important customer data, such as user location, activity history, behavior patterns, and preferences. Using voice as a unique fingerprint, companies can track customers along their entire journeys and engage with them in a personal way even if a few customers share one smart device. By combining this intelligence with marketing data from other customer channels and applying existing marketing techniques, companies can provide excellent experience within the new risk-free voice channel.

Is voice the new marketing staple?

Taking into account the wide reach of voice assistants through smart devices, optimizing for voice presence is certainly a must for brands, particularly in terms of user experience. However, voice monetization is still in its nascent stage. Although customers have already formed a certain mindset for making purchases via voice, it still requires a significant leap of faith on customers’ part and stricter data privacy and security practices from companies.

One thing is clear: as voice technologies continue to mature, being backed by such giants as Amazon, Google, and Apple, voice marketing and voice commerce will follow suit, opening new opportunities for highly contextual customer engagement as well as more efficient work.