Talk to me – pointers for brands wanting to find their voice

Guest contributor from JOY, Aaron Michie shares part II following on from - Voice – the quiet revolution that is going to make a big bang.

In the last article, we looked at how voice, assuming the accuracy and social norm barriers are overcome, is set to land in a genuine big bang of mass adoption. Rather than the gradual ascendancies we’ve seen with digital and mobile. Now, we want to follow that up with some ideas on what brands should be thinking about and the steps they can take, when it comes to getting their marketing voice on. 

Voice is going to impact so many aspects of marketing and communications that it’s impossible to do it all justice here. So, putting aside all the possibilities around creating skills/actions, for brand voice development, the immediate rubber the hitting road moment for marketers is shaping up to be search.

There is a lot of hype surrounding search becoming predominantly voice interaction in the very near future (including the oft quoted ComScore prediction of voice search hitting 50% by 2020). But whether it happens that quickly or not, it makes a lot of sense for marketers to start thinking about voice in this context. For example, search is already big, and a rapidly growing driver of voice interaction for brands; it’s one of the most restrictive use cases, it will force a focus on good fundamentals and it’s a fairly simple and inexpensive channel to experiment and learn in.

So, how to tackle voice search? Let start with the key differences between voice and the text/ screen-based interface we’re used to.  

Firstly, there is so far no way to buy your way to the top of listings, so voice search is currently an SEO world, not an SEM one (paid listings are sure to come, and what model gets adapted there we are yet to see). This means optimisation of owned assets is vital (we’ll look at some pointers on this below).

Secondly, voice, so far, has not proven effective in allowing browsing, exploring or communicating list results in any useful way. This means we are headed for a one-winner search world, and that winner will be whoever the platform decides to promote. Check out this video from L2 on how Alexa pushes people to Amazon, and only Amazon, in a search for batteries. As you can see, while in the past having the #3 or #4 organic spot on the first page of a Google search result might have be fine, in the future, that might mean you just don’t rank at all.

Based on this, here are five of the most important things I think brands should be thinking about, and doing, to get ready for the new search reality:

1. Decide where to focus your effort
As people don’t generally mention specific brand names when searching for products or services, marketers have two primary strategies they can adopt in deciding how to focus brand activities in relation to voice search. Focus on marketing it to the platform owners to become the recommend product for a specific set of criteria, and/or try and convince consumers to mention them by name. It’s a classic problem any FMCG marketer trying to get shelf space and drive sales through a supermarket chain will recognise, except now there’s only one shelf that only holds one or two products.

2. Double down on your customer
Whether you decide to spend a lot of time cosying up to GoogAzon or not, having customers know and specifically prefer your brand is going to be vital in a voice-controlled world. Without the virtual shelves and aisles of visual sites and results pages, marketers need to rethink the balance between pushing low level, mass awareness and deeper, loyalty driving activities.

3. Remove the seams
While many voice searches will just end with the audio result, there is huge scope for follow up actions such as ordering/purchasing, accessing further content, booking appointments etc. And this is where, for now, most experiences currently fall apart. For example, if a voice search returns a great product or service that someone wants to buy, they generally need to use an external ecommerce/booking application that will involve them having to leave the voice experience, open a browser, login or register, verify details, and … it’s all too hard = drop off. Removing this hurdle is a big advantage for Amazon’s interconnected system and is why Google has introduced Sign-In for Assistant, allowing people to connect their brand accounts for use during actions (and bring across all the really useful data like history, payment details, etc). Marketers now need to think about making post-result actions as seamless as possible and weigh up options like Google Sign-In, or allowing/encouraging single sign-on with network credentials e.g. Facebook. 

4. Embrace complexity 
Text search queries are increasing in length, a trend that is going to rapidly accelerate with voice search as it makes interactions more conversational. Longer queries means more complex queries and an expectation of more specific results. What this means for marketers is that it’s time to re-examine your keyword strategy, what you try to stand for/own and what content you create to rank and respond. How focused are you on wider, head key words vs long tail? Are you trying to be too many things, rather than putting your effort into owning a handful of primary terms? Have you identified sets of long tail queries you can create specific, compelling content against? In a voice first world, unless you have the cash and scale to really own a category, complexity should become an ally.

5. Get local
Search is already primarily done on mobile devices, an on-the-go context that implies a heavy local intent that is only going to grow as hands-free, voice searching grows among people driving, shopping, cooking etc. For marketers this means it’s time to put more thinking into location specific keywords, approaches and content. Have you optimised for names, addresses and phone numbers? Have you created location specific content / landing pages and structured it correctly on your site? Location specific meta data? Integration of local reviews and comments? Being seen as truly local might give you the edge in ranking, especially for long tail queries that involve travel or ‘near me’.

The inevitable ascendance of voice as a primary interface, especially for search, is going to create countless new opportunities and challenges for how brands are discovered by, and interact with people. It’s too soon to tell how this will all play exactly, but the key thing for brands to realise is that a significant change is coming. They should be starting work on formulating strategies and conducting short term/campaign related experiments to see what works for them.