As Artificial intelligence (AI) has moved from being the ‘future’ to the ‘now, businesses and marketers need to take note of the increasing significance of voice and AI technologies and the impact of these on the way consumers will research and buy online.

The rise of voice as a tool is no longer an emerging technology, but the next wave of commerce. It is estimated that 50% of all searches will be made by voice, powered by technology, by 2020. This represents a huge shift and has some big implications for business.

Search is a critical path to purchase which is why this is so significant. In the US alone, it is estimated purchases made through devices such as Google Home and Amazon’s Echo are projected to leap from $2b to $40b by 2022. 1

With voice currently associated with wide adoption of smart speakers, marketers need to be planning for this new marketing channel.

This shift to voice, and the role it will play in the future of commerce and attracting advertising revenues, is why Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft are all investing heavily in digital assistants and smart speakers.

This year it is estimated over 100 million smart speakers will be installed. 2 On a global scale this may not feel like a lot, but the smart speaker market represents just a fraction of the devices and channels which AI assistants actually exist. By 2021 it is estimated the number of installed AI assistants will overtake the number of humans on the planet.

Siri, Google Now, Alexa, and voice and AI platforms like WeChat already exist on our devices and are becoming app consolidators, meaning they are all fighting to be that one voice assistant to give you access to millions of apps – in in the case of voice ‘skills’ and ‘actions’.

Make no mistake, these are search and commerce platforms. Platforms that will not only develop deeper relationships with customers, by making their lives simpler, but also platforms that will attract billions in marketing dollars.

Google and Amazon are both investing significantly in smart speakers, digital assistants and AI platforms to ensure customers continue to start their ‘end to end’ retail experience with them. But that’s not all they are investing in. Both Amazon and Google have acquired smart home device companies like Amazon Key, Ring, Nest and others to really start connecting the experience of ordering online and having this delivered to your home or car seamlessly.

To put it simply, they are investing in creating a personal digital assistant for everyone, and in the process, the future of marketing.

Some Amazon Alexa use cases include:

A Domino’s case study shows that one in five customers who can order a pizza with ‘one click’ through the pizza chain’s Easy Orders option, asked Amazon Alexa instead, only two months after making the feature available in the UK.

Amazon teamed up with Marriott Hotels to increase their guests access to their amenities with Alexa, through the voice-controlled Echo device. Guests can use Alexa for things like turning on the TV or ordering room service.

You can now order your groceries from Amazon Wholefoods on Alexa. You can give the delivery person an Amazon key code to access your house and have your groceries delivered just inside your door or your car. In the future, Amazon and Wholefoods envision a service that puts these groceries straight into your fridge.

These global companies are investing in simplifying the customer experience end-to-end.

Voice Marketing is clearly where we need to be moving, so where do we start?

First you need to ensure that you can be found online by voice assistants. This can be done by optimising your SEO and SEM digital strategies.

Then, establish what your customer needs are and what business problems you are setting out to solve and how a digital assistant can help solve this customer need.

“Think big, start small”. Skills and actions are easy to build on Alexa and Google, but at ClearPoint we encourage our clients to think bigger about how machine learning and your own assistant can not only interface with Google, Alexa and Siri but also how building your own AI platform can solve problems from lowering call centre volumes to assisting your clients all the way through their journey with you (push and pull interactions).

Investing in this sort of technology needs to happen for the right reasons.

If you’re approaching providers, key questions would be around:

  • What outcomes have they had?
  • What is the biggest volume of interactions for a client they have achieved in a month? (Hundreds of interactions per month is not enough, you need tens of thousands.)
  • What are their success rates?
  • How many channels are they operating in and what impact has it made for clients?
  • Who owns the data and how easy is it to move or work with multiple cognitive platforms?
  • How much IP (generally content about your company) do you need to build into their platform for it to be successful?

If you are looking to firstly just create a chat bot or skills or actions on Alexa or Google, this is relatively easy. But we encourage you to think bigger  – instead of just building a chat bot you need to build an omni-channel AI platform that can scale over time. Customer interaction in the future will largely be driven by voice, and the future of your business will be driven by machine learning – so start investing now. Ensure you put the customer need first and build a platform that you are in control of – not just a chat bot.

Use modern architecture and decouple what is proprietary and unique to your business like your customers systems of records or your knowledge base on your business. Natural language processing algorithms can then enable you to plug in third party apps as required. Then you can scale and adapt this as technology changes over time.

By Hamish Rumbold, CEO, ClearPoint

1 Study conducted by OC&C Strategy Consultants, February 2018, article here

2 Canalys estimates and forecasts, Smart Speaker Analysis, May 2018, article here