12.03.2018 4 big reasons why your brand needs a voice strategy

Voice is the most primeval human medium. From the minute we’re born, we recognise our mother’s voice from our time in the womb. We instinctively cry for help, and laugh when we’re happy. Now that we have technology sophisticated enough to turn vocal interactions into scaleable, monetisable platforms, voice is being hailed as the fastest growing – and most important – content and commerce platform in the world.

Remember, many moons ago, when marketing meetings were full of talk of mobile strategies? Well, we think voice is the new mobile, representing as it does a fundamental shift in the way we navigate the online world.

So does your brand or organisation have a voice strategy?

If not, here are four reasons you need to get on it, sharpish.

You can thank us (verbally) later….

1.The rise of the voice-controlled home and office

In June 2017, Radiocentre released a survey that suggested 40% of UK households will own a smart speaker in 2018, up from 9% at the time of the survey.

That is an astonishing growth in the adoption of this tech. Apparently, that means 11 million households will expose smart speaker content to an audience of 25 million people this year. Us Brits are going MAD for the smart speaker and its infinite convenience.

To illustrate what this means for brand content, let me tell you a story.

I am usually a relatively early adopter, but I was initially a bit sceptical about this tech. I didn’t like the idea of having speakers that listened to you in your every room in the house. Not that I’m planning a revolution anytime soon, I just didn’t like the THOUGHT of it. I’ve probably read too much dystopian fiction.

So when my mum bought me an Amazon Echo speaker for Christmas in 2017, I put it in a drawer and forgot about it (sorry mum. Please read on though…).

Then my 11-year-old son came home all excited because he’d seen one in action at his friend’s house, and asked if he could set it up in his bedroom. I said yes, he proudly showed me what he could do by asking Alexa – Amazon’s intelligent digital assistant – and I was overcome with a serious case of gadget envy.

It was that easy.

We now have three Echo devices at home, connected to Sonos and various Bluetooth speakers. If I want to turn the lights on or off, or dim them, or turn them pink (surprisingly addictive, yes!) I ask Alexa.

If I want to listen to the new Belle and Sebastian album, or a relaxing playlist in the bath, I ask Alexa. When I’m ready for sleep I ask Alexa to turn my lamp off and read my audiobook to me (I’m still a sucker for a bedtime story).

When I wake up, I say “Good Morning Alexa” and she reads me the news headlines from outlets of my choice, and tells me what the weather is like so I have an idea what to wear that day. She then turns on Radio 4 so I can ease into a new day with the Today programme.

If my son wants to know how Cardiff City are doing in the Championship table, he asks Alexa. If he wants to know a date in history for his homework, he asks Alexa.

So far, so Brave New World.

I quickly got used to asking Alexa to do stuff, so we got one in the Brighter Comms office. Suddenly, as well as the battles over who requests their favourite radio station first, and the fun to be had asking it to miaow like a cat, we realised we could order printer paper, books and office equipment just by asking Alexa. She’s become a cross between PA, concierge, encyclopaedia and children’s entertainer.  

Something I’ve noticed since hooking up with Alexa (which sounds like the beginning of a bad Tinder date story…) Is that many of the things I used to ask Google, by typing with my fingers, I now ask Alexa instead. It was surprising how quickly I got used to talking to Alexa. In fact, in my car, I find myself annoyed I can’t ask my car to do stuff in the same way.

And it’s not just my talking that ramped up; it was my listening too. I found I was listening to more audio at home – more radio, more music, and more podcasts. In fact, since Alexa moved in, the TV hasn’t had much of a look in.

According to “The Smart Audio Report from NPR and Edison Research”, 70% of smart speaker owners say they are listening to more audio at home since acquiring their device. In addition, 42% of owners say that their device is now “essential” to their everyday lives.

Consider what this means for brands. In a future where people will expect their queries to be answered verbally through smart speakers, people’s patience for perusing the internet and typing search queries will gradually decrease.

“Alexa, what’s the best MOT garage near me?”

“Alexa, what’s the best marketing agency in Cardiff?”

“Alexa, what’s the best restaurant in Bristol?”

“Alexa, find me a podcast about employment law”

It’s easy to see how brands will be able to capitalise on this, and how compelling audio content – be it factual, entertaining, informative or all three – will be crucial to a brand’s marketing efforts.

2. Voice searches are on the up

According to a recent Search Engine Land article, more than 20% of Google searches on a mobile device are now carried out using voice instead of text.

While this is less than half of all mobile searches, it is important to note voice search is a very recent technology. Experts estimate that voice will soon account for half – if not more – of all mobile searches.

With the launch of Google Home, Apple’s Homepod and Amazon Echo, more people are using these devices to interrogate the internet, instead of smartphones or laptops.

And people search by voice differently than they do with text. It’s more conversational, more natural.

Have you thought about your voice SEO strategy?  Or what content you need to create to ensure you show up in voice search results? If not, it’s time to get your thinking cap on.

A clue: you’ll need to think long-tail keywords based on how a human being would have a conversation.

Here’s a great article on optimising your content for voice from the team at SpinSucks to get you thinking. And then, why not ask your SEO team or agency what they’re doing to adapt to the rise of voice search? SEO needs to be a crucial part of your voice strategy.

3. The great podcast explosion

 It’s no surprise that as the popularity of voice assistants soars, podcasting is getting a boost in its already meteoric rise.

Now, I write this as a huge fan of podcasts, so I’m a little biased, but I really believe that this is the medium to watch in 2018. 

(No kidding, I wrote a piece in 200-freaking-5 for the Western Mail about podcasting being the future of radio, so I guess I was WAY ahead of my time, but I think this is the year my Nostradamus-like prediction comes into its own…)

In the US, more people listen to podcasts every month than use Twitter regularly.

Advertising revenue from podcasts ($220 million in 2017) is doubling every year. Podcasting is an opt-in medium offering an intimacy, convenience and loyal fan base unrivalled by many other media. Episode completion rates are around 90% which means users are highly engaged.

Some of the best podcasts handle advertising in a way that makes ads cool and funny (Adam Buxton’s podcast is a great example of this). They feel native to the listening experience and not intrusive, so there’s no motivation to skip them – gold dust for advertisers looking to place their dollars.

Unsurprisingly, the space is now seeing a goldrush-style race for those dollars, with an explosion in ad networks, tracking and targeting software and ad-building tools. And it’s not all about the ads. There are also some really interesting tech start-ups in this space, including one that uses voice actors to turn your written content into audio, all at the click of a button.

At Brighter, we work with Bengo Media – a podcasting consultancy launched by ex BBC Wales Editor Steve Austins and his wife Marina – which is experiencing huge interest and growth, as brands and public bodies alike seek professional guidance as they take their tentative first steps into this exciting space. The lovely team there will train you how to podcast, or produce your series for you, and even upload your podcasts onto all the main platforms along with episode notes and artwork.

For brands, podcasting is a great way to bring your stories to life, and deliver them directly into your audience’s smart homes, cars and commutes. And if your brand doesn’t lend itself to its own podcast, there are all kinds of partnership and sponsorship opportunities out there.

Smart brands are sharing great audio content that aligns with their brand values. Natwest has snapped up June Sarpong to front a series on inspirational women in business, while Starbucks’ ‘Upstanders’ series is a collection of short stories “celebrating ordinary people doing extraordinary things to create positive change in their communities”. Note how they’re not podcasting about banking, or coffee. They’re uncovering great human stories and aligning their brands to them.

Could your brand benefit from having an audio content strategy? We think most brands could.

4. Where Facebook treads…

When Facebook starts incorporating voice-based features into its user interface, you know it’s time to start taking the V-word seriously

Last week it emerged that the tech giant is experimenting with a VoiceClips feature, which allows users to upload audio status updates to share with friends, recognising that audio is more intimate than text but much easier to record than video. Also, in countries where users have to grapple with non-native language keyboards, voice lets them capture their thoughts without a typing barrier.

If the feature proves popular (it’s currently being trialled in India), it could roll out in other territories soon. Another sign that Facebook is getting more serious about voice is news that it’s building a smart-speaker named Portal.

Facebook, of course, is under pressure to keep users on the site and engaged, so it needs to be all over all the different ways we share.

The voice revolution is here

If you’re still unconvinced, consider this. JPMorgan Chase recently announced it has appointed an agency specifically to handle its voice marketing as it seeks to “amplify” (intentional pun?) its strategy around voice.

Financial institutions aren’t generally known for being early adopters of new trends, so I think this is an important signal that voice is here to stay.

The financial giant’s Chief Marketing Officer Kristin Lemkau said:

“Voice is not only coming; it’s here, and in a multitasking world, it’s really significant”.

We say: What Kristin said.

If you’d like to talk to our team about your brand’s voice strategy, drop us a line. We’d love to talk to you.