The truth about marketing in a voice search world

It’s not what you’ve been told so far…

March 27, 2018

advertising week europe

The great thing about recording live episodes of this podcast at an event like Advertising Week Europe is the serendipity of it all. Some things you plan, some things you don’t. And it’s those that simply happen that often produce the most surprising insights. I knew I would spend time last week talking to thought leaders about diversity, disruption and video marketing. I didn’t know that I’d have the chance to grab 25 minutes with the VP of Sales for Bing to talk about the future of voice search – and I certainly didn’t know that it would fundamentally flip my outlook on what voice means for marketing.

In the 25 minutes of this podcast episode, Axel Steinman calmly and charismatically torpedoes many of the preconceived notions about what marketers need to be doing to prepare for a world where voice is the primary means of accessing information. And his message is a fundamentally empowering one. If you’ve been feeling like a deer in the headlights wondering what an earth happens to your role when audiences buy something just by talking to Alexa, then you really, really need to listen to this episode. I guarantee you’ll walk away after those 25 minutes panicking less – and planning a lot more.

Axel doesn’t just enlighten what voice search really means for marketers. He also explores how our perceptions of search itself needs to change – and he shares some strong views on the relative strengths of human creativity and AI algorithms as well. This won’t just make you feel better about marketing in the new era, it will make you feel fired up about building brands and your own innate creativity.

Click on the link below to listen to the Podcast in full – and then scroll down for three ideas on the future of search that changed my outlook on what a screenless world can mean:

Marketing through voice is probably not going to involve Alexa

Ask most people to think about voice search and they’ll imagine Amazon’s Alexa or Microsoft’s Cortana. If those people work in marketing, they will probably also be trying to imagine how to integrate their brand and products into the conversation between consumers and these voice-driven virtual assistants. Axel believes that this is the wrong approach. Just because virtual assistants are the most obvious manifestation of voice search so far doesn’t make them the only way voice search will be used – and it doesn’t make them the most relevant opportunity for marketers.

Virtual assistants tend to be used for simple requests and questions that can be answered in a few words. Trying to integrate your brand into those contexts isn’t easy – and it might well be annoying. It’s also probably the wrong use of resources, because audiences will also be using voice in other ways that create far more opportunity.

A voice search world doesn't mean a screenless world

Start a conversation about voice search and the chances are someone will quickly refer to the challenges of a ‘screenless world.’ But they might well be imagining a world that will never fully exist.

Axel describes how humans have three systems for taking on information: visual, audio and tactile. The vast majority of people are visually oriented. They remember things better when they see them rather than when they are just told about them. They can also take on information faster that way, scanning and selecting content visually. The great advantage of voice is that we can speak far faster and more naturally than we can type – but that doesn’t mean that all of the information coming back in response to a voice search has to be audio. It would be irritating and inefficient if that were the case.

Axel questions the assumption that screens will disappear when voice takes over. He thinks it’s just as likely, if not more likely, that we’ll gravitate towards a fusion of visual and audio information, all accessed through voice. Screens may look very different to how they do today (they won’t necessarily be carried around in your pocket as phones), but they’re not going to disappear altogether – and that leaves plenty of room for visual branding.

The future of content delivery – we’ve only been perfecting it for a century or more

What happens to content distribution in a voice-first world? The answer’s more obvious than we sometimes realise: there will be a lot more appetite for podcasts and great digital radio content. The good news for marketers is that we’ve been perfecting the art of creating compelling radio ads and content for almost longer than any other format we work in. We could be entering a golden age for podcasts and an exciting era for creatives ready to reinvent that old content marketing staple, the soap opera. As marketers and content creators we make far too little use of the potential of sound at the moment. It’s time we started.