Smart speakers – the next big technology

Until now, digital advertising has been largely driven by visual media, however, if predictions are correct, this might soon no longer be the case. Canalys estimates that 56.3 million smart speakers will be sold this year, making it the fastest-growing consumer technology on the market, and as voice-first devices become more embedded into society, they’ll become an increasingly important means of accessing information, enjoying media and making purchases.

Indeed, 42% of current users already say that voice-first devices are essential to their everyday lives, whilst 65% say they wouldn’t want to go back to life without them (The Smart Audio Report, 2017). This new technology is already diverting consumers’ attention away from smartphones, TV and radio (NPR and Edison Research, 2018) – a shift that poses new challenges and opportunities for brands.

Why marketers need to listen up

Last year, Google conducted research into what smart speaker owners want from brands. Information about deals, sales and promotions ranked top, followed by personalised tips and information to make the user’s life easier. After listening to music, the most common use of smart speakers is requesting information (Cowen & Co, 2017). Current usage patterns therefore suggest there is an opportunity for brands, with those able to create the most compelling and relevant content being the first to start building a habitual relationship with consumers.

Thought leadership in this space will become increasingly important, as will brands’ ability to package content in an intuitive question/answer format. Consumers will expect responses to their questions in the same natural language that they asked them in. It will be interesting to see how brands tailor their tone-of-voice to work with in-built voice assistants. Successful attempts at maintaining an active dialogue will help deepen the consumer-brand relationship in a way that’s difficult to match through other channels.

Reaching new demographics

Smart speakers also have the potential to open up new demographics to brands. It isn’t just tech-savvy early adopters who are using these devices; people who may otherwise struggle with digital interfaces have begun to depend on smart speakers, such as over-55s, who have an average spend of €7 billion a year and hold around 80% of the wealth in the UK and 70% in the US (GlobalWebIndex, 2017). As speech is the most natural interface of all, the frictionless nature of smart speakers will benefit older generations considerably, as well as the brands looking to target them.

More broadly, purchasing via voice alone is occurring across other demographics too – households with children, for example, are even more likely to purchase through the speaker. 58% of those who ordered using a smart speaker bought something they previously had not purchased, while 49% reordered an item they had bought before (Smart Audio Report, 2017) – all of which is good news for marketers.

Marketers can use blockchain to rebuild consumer trust. As all transactions on the network must be verified and logged, consumers could trace the journey of a raw material through the supply chain to the finished product. Brand’s claiming their products are ethically sourced and organically farmed would be able to provide consumers with proof.

Future potential

Smart speakers have the potential to become part of a communal ritual, embedded into our everyday entertainment cycle in the same way that television has been for decades. However, despite their initial popularity, brands still need to fully understand how they are used and find ways to further assimilate themselves into our everyday lives through this new channel. Only then can we start to fully realise the potential of smart speaker technology, and brands can begin capturing our imagination by providing new and exciting interactive content.