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The voice shopping boom is here

The voice shopping boom is here – but what does it mean for marketers?

Categories: Conversational UI, PPC

According to findings from OC&C Strategy Consultants, voice search shopping is forecast to grow to a massive $40+ billion market in the US and UK alone by 2020. That’s up from a comparatively measly $2 billion today across the two countries, which tells us the voice shopping boom is officially on.

If these bullish predictions are even remotely accurate, advertisers don’t have much time left to adapt their strategies for the impending voice revolution. The only problem is we still don’t have anything in the way of voice ads or the technology needed to make our content rank in voice search – so what does this mean for advertisers?

Rethinking the consumer journey and user intent

There’s no doubt voice search is changing the way people buy products online, but consumers aren’t suddenly going to buy everything from Google Home and Amazon Echo. The first thing advertisers need to do is assess how voice search is changing the consumer journey and how this impacts user intent.

According to the same OC&C study we mentioned above, the majority of voice purchases are currently groceries (20%), entertainment (19%), electronics (17%) and clothing (8%).

However, the study also points to the fact that most of these purchases are for standalone, lower value items. We’re talking about people ordering loo roll or another packet of the dog’s favourite biscuits. When it comes to more expensive purchases that require tough decisions, the consumer journey naturally becomes much longer and voice search will often be the place these journeys begin. It won’t be where most of them end though.

The image below shows what voice-activated speaker owners would like to receive from brands. (Image Source)

What do people want from smart speakers
Consumers might not complete many purchases through voice search, but they’re already showing how willing they are to interact with brands and start the journey through devices like Google Home.

Pinpointing those profitable interactions

The biggest problem with voice search for advertisers is that, at this stage, there’s no space for ads. The only existing ad format that really works with voice technology is Amazon-style product recommendations but these aren’t making much of an impact outside of entertainment purchases.

If voice ads are going to work, the likes of Google and Amazon will figure it out – but we can’t wait around for this to happen. Instead, we’re going to have to extend our reach beyond ads and capture organic voice leads so we can bring them closer to a point where our ads are deliverable.

US company Mattress Firm is already doing this by offering sleep tips for voice queries like “how to get a good night’s sleep” with the goal of establishing itself as a trusted source of information. Of course, the brand’s mission is to sell mattresses, but it’s using voice search to target non-commercial queries and then nurturing these leads into potential customers.

Another key opportunity is going to be hyper-localised searches, which are increasingly common via search – something we’ve looked at before.

“A lot of voice searchers tend to have a local intent. Users typically want to look up the nearest open Indian takeaway, rather than get directed towards a popular food court in Mumbai. In fact, mobile voice searches are three times more likely to be local-based than text-related searches according to Search Engine Watch.” – Vertical Leap

500% growth in near me searches

Image Source

Google keeps telling us how much “near me” searches have increased over the past few years and this fits perfectly into the voice search experience. More importantly, these searches demonstrate an immediate purchase intent, as highlighted by the 900%+ increase in “___near me today/tonight” searches Google has seen.

New opportunities are coming – so get ready to move

As we’ve mentioned already, the key issue with voice search is the lack of advertising options. Google and Amazon aren’t just going to sit back and allow voice to remain an organic channel though. They’re going to find ways to monetise the technology, whether this means working ads into the voice experience itself or innovating new ways to connect voice search to ad opportunities. These innovations are coming, so make sure you’re ready to move when they land.

Interestingly, Amazon’s currently in the best position to make the first breakthrough, according to OC&C:

  • Amazon Echo is in 10% of US homes, compared to 4% for Google Home.
  • 39% of consumers say they trust “personalised” product recommendations from their smart speakers.
  • “Amazon Choice” products generally sell three times more than regular products.

This comes at a time when a growing number of advertising agencies say they’re moving as much as half of their ad budget from Google over to Amazon.

Meanwhile, Google has teamed up with Schema to make content more accessible on voice search. While Speakable Schema will initially roll out for news publishers, the same technology is compatible with all kinds of text content and this could be the answer to ranking in voice search.

Google and Amazon aren’t the only innovators in this space though. We’ve already got tech companies like XAPPmedia coming up with their own solutions for voice landing pages, designed to make the most of opportunities from voice traffic.

However, the most important thing to keep an eye on is how user habits change as voice search evolves. This is where new opportunities are really going to originate. A recent Digiday article features Pandora’s director of data science, Siddharth Patil, talking about optimising music content for voice using metadata so users can request playlists based on their mood or the activity they’re doing (e.g. working out), instead of requesting specific songs.

Instantly, voice technology starts to sounds like a channel that opens the doors to mood-based advertising and targeting users based on the activity they’re doing right now.

To sum up…

If voice search shopping becomes a $40 billion industry by 2020, there are going to be a lot of changes happening over the next four years. The current state of voice search means it will continue to be a discovery tool and there isn’t much advertisers can do to change this until new ad innovations are introduced.

However, voice search is already starting the consumer journey for a growing number of purchases and business interactions. This means advertisers need to figure out how to capture these voice leads – with the technology they have available now – and bring them over to channels where ads are more deliverable.

Michelle joined Vertical Leap’s Portsmouth office in 2011 as Marketing Manager, having spent the previous 15 years of her marketing career in the recruitment, leisure and printing industries. Her passions include yoga, swimming, walking, the beach, mountains and nice food.

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