Why the Popularity of Amazon Alexa at CES 2020 Matters to Advertisers

Why the Popularity of Amazon Alexa at CES 2020 Matters to Advertisers

Amazon

The Amazon Alexa voice assistant cast a big shadow over CES 2020, the premier annual event for showcasing new consumer technology. Amazon demonstrated a number of product integrations with Alexa. They matter because they point to a possible way that Amazon could lead online advertising.

The Battle for a Voice-First Future

Amazon is fighting a fierce battle with Apple and Google to lead the uptake of voice-based products among consumers and businesses (with Microsoft and Samsung also stepping up their own efforts). More than one quarter of Americans own voice-activated smart speakers, according to Voicebot.ai and Voicify. Amazon’s Echo leads the pack, but Google is catching up, as reported in The Motley Fool.

To win the war for voice, Amazon, Apple, and Google need to collaborate with product manufacturers to incorporate their voice assistants into product design (or through aftermarket upgrades).  And CES is where those integrations are demonstrated. For example, Bosch, the maker of smart home appliances such as dishwashers, announced an integration with the Apple Siri voice assistant. And a number of manufacturers ranging from Belk to GE announced integrations with Google Assistant, Google’s voice assistant.

But Amazon outflanked everyone. A wide variety of manufacturers ranging from bed maker Dux to helmet maker Jarvis demonstrated how they’re relying on Alexa to make it possible to use their products with our voices.  But it wasn’t just the sheer number of integrations with manufacturers that mattered – what really caught my eye was how Amazon is making it easier for people to actually purchase things.

Making Purchases Is the Holy Grail of Voice

As I wrote in a recent blog post, people still use voice to do more mundane tasks such as checking the weather. Making purchases, though, is the Holy Grail of voice. Voice commerce is a far more complicated undertaking. And at CES 2020, Amazon showed that it is up for the challenge. Amazon announced that in 2020, automobile drivers will be able to use Alexa to purchase gasoline. As Amazon said, “Later this year, customers will be able to say, “Alexa, pay for gas” to easily purchase fuel at all 11,500 Exxon and Mobil stations. The transactions for this new Alexa feature are made through Amazon Pay and powered by Fiserv, a global financial services technology provider.

The ability to pull off voice-activated purchases requires Amazon to work closely with ExxonMobil – an example of the collaboration required to make voice a reality. If Amazon and ExxonMobil can make the purchase of gasoline as easy as making a voice command, then manufacturers and retailers will be encouraged to adopt voice for purchases, too. (Think of appliance makers turning the Amazon Dash device for order replenishment into a consistently reliable voice-first experience.)

Why CES 2020 Matters to Advertisers

Why do these announcements matter to businesses that advertise online? Well, here is a telling statistic: even though Amazon leads voice, Google pretty much owns online advertising. Google commands 37 percent of digital ad spend. The next largest competitor, Facebook, has 22 percent of the market. Amazon lags behind with 8.8 percent. But – Amazon is still very new to online advertising. It did not start dipping its toes into online advertising until 2008. Within 10 years, Amazon had become one of the big three of online advertising.

Amazon is rapidly threatening Google’s and Facebook’s leadership by offering new tools that help businesses advertise on Amazon – and off Amazon. We’ve written about some of those tools, such as my colleague Samantha Coconato’s posts on Amazon Video Ads, Amazon Display Ads, and Amazon Sponsored Ads. Those ad services capitalize on the reality that Amazon has become an increasingly popular way for people to search for products – even more popular than Google.

But Amazon knows the world is changing from text-based to voice-based search. Voice search is not “taking over.” But voice is becoming more common. Per a Microsoft study in 2019, 72 percent of people surveyed had used voice search the previous month. Amazon is preparing for the time when voice will reach a tipping point, and businesses will have no choice but to employ voice-based advertising and search engine optimization tactics into their game plans.

And that’s why the product integrations matter. By making Alexa the de facto voice assistant in everyday products, Amazon wants people to be more comfortable using their voices to use and buy things. Encouraging the uptake of voice among consumers helps Amazon position itself as the premier advertising partner for businesses.

Whether Amazon succeeds remains to be seen. But as Google and Apple compete with Amazon to integrate voice, it’s clear that advertisers need to be ready to adapt.

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The Big Trend in Voice for 2020: Voice Assistants Get Personality

The Big Trend in Voice for 2020: Voice Assistants Get Personality

Branding

Where is voice technology headed in 2020? That’s the question on the minds of businesses and technologists as the annual CES show gets under way in Las Vegas. I believe the answer is that voice-enabled devices will get more personality, making voice technology more approachable — and encouraging businesses to embrace sonic branding.

The Rise of Voice Search

I’ve written often about the rise of voice search. I continue to see more people using their voices to find things with their smart speakers, phones, and in-car devices. The fact that more consumers are adopting voice-enabled devices is beyond debate – but just to remind you how popular voice-based products have become, allow me to direct you to an insight from Statistica about the growth of smart speakers (which are just one type of voice-enabled product):

As consumers have become increasingly open to the idea of integrating smart technology into their households, smart speaker sales revenue has skyrocketed, growing from around 900 million in 2016 to nearly 12 billion in 2019. Growth in the smart speaker market is increasing at a faster rate than that of other smart home devices, which shows that people trust the technology and find it easy to adopt. As of 2019 an estimated 35 percent of U.S. households are equipped with at least one smart speaker and by 2025 forecast suggest that this penetration rate will increase to around 75 percent.

What fascinates me is not just the growth but how people are using their voices. This time last year, the news stories about voice tended to focus on increasing sales of products such as smart speakers that use the Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice assistants (and, to a lesser degree, Apple’s Siri voice assistant).

Voice Gets Personality

But a sample of headlines for the week of January 6, 2020, shows a shift in the narrative. Voice sales still matter, but what matters even more is how people are using voice products as this headline sample shows:

Notice anything about the top three results? They all focus on how we communicate with devices, specifically the need for voice assistants and people to do a better job communicating with each other. The CNN headline about programming your voice assistant to sound like actor Samuel L. Jackson is telling. In 2019, Amazon announced that soon, an Alexa skill would make it possible for people to have their smart devices talk to them using Jackson’s distinctive, earthy speaking style. Now the capability has arrived.

Why does this particular Alexa skill matter? Because it shows that voice is moving on from an impersonal utility to an assistant with personality. Being able to inject one’s voice assistant with the warm, familiar voice of Samuel L. Jackson should help people overcome a natural aversion to communicating with voice-based products: using a device that listens to us and talks to us in the most private areas of our living spaces. As journalist Judith Shulevitz wrote in a recent Atlantic article, “Is Alexa Dangerous?”:

Within our lifetimes, these devices will likely become much more adroit conversationalists. By the time they do, they will have fully insinuated themselves into our lives. With their perfect cloud-based memories, they will be omniscient; with their occupation of our most intimate spaces, they’ll be omnipresent. And with their eerie ability to elicit confessions, they could acquire a remarkable power over our emotional lives. What will that be like?

Amazon is not the only company making voice more approachable and comfortable by incorporating familiar, iconic names in their products and services. In 2015, KFC teamed up with the navigation app Waze to give motorists a fresh voice option for their audio directions: Colonel Harland Sanders. Google actually beat Amazon to the punch with celebrity tie-ins by making it possible to incorporate the voice of singer John Legend in Google Assistant. In October, Google announced that Google Assistant would incorporate the voice of actress Issa Rae.

Why Voice with Personality Matters to Advertisers

These developments matter very much to advertisers. Although people are getting more comfortable performing complex tasks such as making purchases with their voice assistants, for the most part consumers rely on voice assistants to do simple, mundane things such as checking the weather. Many businesses confine their commitment to voice to making their content more findable through voice search. And voice-enabled SEO is crucial.

But for businesses to do more sophisticated branding and advertising through voice, they need to feel confident that consumers will start responding by having rich dialogues with the brand, leading to commerce. As more businesses realize the ways voice technology can assume a personality, they will adopt more forms of sonic branding as KFC did with its Col. Sanders voice-based experience cited in this post.

Thanks to improvements in artificial intelligence, voice-enabled devices are in fact, getting smarter and more capable of managing purchases and product orders. Frankly, the market got flooded with smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home before AI was adequately advanced to make a voice-activated speaker as smart as we’d like them to be. Those days are rapidly drawing to a close, which is good for businesses and consumers.

The next big step in the evolution of a voice-first world is for voice to be more user friendly. And developments such as the Samuel L. Jackson skill are an important part of that evolution.

Contact True Interactive

To succeed with online advertising in 2020, contact True Interactive. Read about some of our client work here.

8 Digital Advertising Predictions for 2020

8 Digital Advertising Predictions for 2020

Advertising

Google takes control of advertising. More businesses feel the heat over consumer privacy. Voice search gets smarter. These are among the trends influencing digital advertising in 2020, according to True Interactive. Here’s a sample of what’s on our minds:

1 Google Takes Control of Advertising

Google is taking away manual control of Google Advertising with the removal of the average position metric and by continuing to implement automated bidding tools and metrics such as top impression share that make measuring search ranking less transparent. As a result, CPCs are going up.

Going forward, Google will continue to push automated bidding strategies. Google’s rationale is that its algorithms are smarter, making it possible for Google to adjust bids per auction. But smarter bids are not necessarily less costly ones in the short term, and there is still much trepidation by marketers in handing total control over to Google, who stand stands to profit from an increase in CPCs and overall spend. Bottom line: as Google continues to make manual bidding more challenging, advertisers will be forced to buy into automated bidding with less transparency.  Expect CPCs to increase at least in the short term as businesses hand more control over to Google.

— Beth Bauch, senior manager

2 The CCPA Throws Down the Hammer on Big Tech

By July 2020, we will see the first major lawsuit against one of the big technology firms – likely Facebook or Google – over a violation of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). The CCPA, which goes into effect January 1, is evolving. Businesses are still figuring out its vagaries and requirements. Google and Facebook are in interesting and vulnerable position because they touch so much audience data for businesses, increasing their risk level. And we know Facebook’s track record for privacy violations, don’t we? Watch for it: a major lawsuit will happen that forces businesses to come to terms with the CCPA.

— Tim Colucci, vice president

3 Netflix Adopts Advertising

Netflix will need to adopt some form of advertising. Netflix has achieved phenomenal growth, to be sure. But the entertainment company also faces unprecedented threats with Disney+ and, eventually, Apple+ once Apple figures out a long-term strategy that works. (Apple has a lot of cash and time to get Apple+ right. Just wait.)

In addition, the cost of creating content is putting Netflix in an interesting bind: when Netflix has a hit show, it has to spend more money to accommodate audience demand, creating even more costs. On top of all that, for the first time in a long time, Netflix has reported drops in membership levels.

Netflix will likely introduce a less-expensive ad-based model, but the company will also do something it has avoided pursuing: product placements in shows like Stranger Things, which popularized brands such as Kellogg’s Eggos without earning Netflix a dime in return. Those days will come to an end as Netflix responds to pressure from investors to cover its costs and respond to the threat of Disney.

— Héctor Ariza, manager

4 Voice Search Gets Smarter and More Useful

I’ve written often about the rise of voice search, and I continue to see more people using their voices to find things with their smart speakers, phones, and in-car devices. But what’s changing is that people are getting more comfortable buying things, not just searching for things, with their voices. That’s happening because as we get accustomed to the ease of using our voices to manage our lives, we are gradually becoming more comfortable accomplishing more complex tasks. In addition, thanks to improvements in artificial intelligence, voice-enabled devices are getting smarter and more capable of managing purchases and product orders. Frankly, the market got flooded with smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home before AI was adequately advanced to make a voice-activated speaker as smart as we’d like them to be. Those days are rapidly drawing to a close.

— Taylor Murphy, manager

5 Google Monetizes Maps and Google My Business

We recently blogged about the fact that half of searches on Google stay on Google properties such as Google Maps, YouTube, and a business’s Google My Business (GMB) listing. In other words, half of searches are not resulting in clicks on a business’s website. In addition, Google My Business is the most important local search signal according to the Moz Local Search Ranking Factors. These data points mean that businesses need to invest more time and energy maximizing the value of their presence on Google. Google knows this reality and is getting more aggressive about offering advertising products for businesses on these sites. Earlier in 2019, Bloomberg discussed how Google is evolving Google Maps with more advertising tools. Especially as more cars integrate mapping technology, Google is going to place even more advertising emphasis here. I also expect Google to provide more advertising options for businesses to promote themselves on their GMB listings. I also would not be surprised If Google introduces a premium version of GMB in which businesses will enjoy more features for a cost.

— Mark Smith, co-founder

6 Cause Marketing Faces a Reckoning

Cause marketing has been around for years. Businesses have learned they can create stronger emotional ties with customers and job seekers by associating themselves with a topical issue such as sustainability. In 2019, businesses were falling all over themselves to promote a position on sustainability as the topic reached all-time levels of public awareness. But there’s just one hitch: we’re seeing a glut of cause marketing campaigns, and they’re not necessarily connecting with consumers. I was reading a recent report from DoSomething Strategic that discusses how businesses have struggled to make their cause marketing connect with young people. Gen Z definitely wants to associate with purpose-driven companies. But businesses still have a lot of work to do in order to convince them that they’re aligned with Gen Z values. Businesses are going to become more careful about how they do cause marketing. I believe we’ll see fewer online ads and a more thoughtful use of content marketing, PR, social media, and native advertising in which a business can spend more time having a longer-term discussion about issues it cares about. Businesses will humanize these conversations by sharing their position through the voices of their people.

— Kurt Anagnostopoulos, co-founder

7 Agile Advertising Takes Hold

We all know about real-time marketing, in which a brand uses social media to turn a news event into a marketing opportunity. Agile advertising occurs when a business acts on a recent event and creates a connected marketing experience that endures well beyond a single tweet, Facebook post, or other digital impression. We saw Bud Light exercise agile advertising during the World Series when it capitalized on the fact that a fan in the stands stopped a home run ball with his chest while holding two Bud Lights in his hands. Bud Light created a series of marketing moments including creating a branded T shirt depicting the fan stopping the home run ball. Bud Light paid the fan to attend another World Series game sporting the Bud Light attire. We also saw agile advertising in action when Aviation Gin created a slick ad online that gently made light of the controversial Pelton cycling ad. I see more businesses adopting this practice because the digital production tools have evolved to the point where talented storytellers can quickly conceive of an idea and get it into market with an ad that taps into current events and endures for days and weeks.

— Max Petungaro, associate

8 Hispanic Marketing Hits Its Stride

In the United States, 69 counties are majority Hispanic, doubling from 34 in 2010. Hispanics have increased their economic power, reflecting a growingly diverse U.S. population. In 2020, Hispanics will possess $1.7 trillion in buying power. The United States continues to reflect Hispanic tastes in all aspects of our culture (including and beyond the Hispanic community, ranging from movies to popular music). We’re going to see businesses apply research and targeting to do more effective, sophisticated Hispanic marketing that recognizes the diversity and tastes that reside among Hispanics. Brands are already capitalizing on this growing market. (For more insight about marketing to Hispanics, check out our blog post.) And tech companies such as Google are responding to a more multicultural world in general by making their platforms more open to people who speak languages other than English, an example being how the Google Assistant voice software can interpret 44 languages on smart phones. These types of developments will help bridge the world between businesses and Hispanics in 2020.

— Amanda Cortese, associate

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What Advertisers Should Do about the Rise of Voice Search

What Advertisers Should Do about the Rise of Voice Search

Search

We’re living in an era in which people are using their voices to do everything from shop to check the weather. Signs continue to indicate that the rise in voice is more than a passing trend. In fact, recent data shows that businesses need to pay closer attention to voice search and the impact it can have on advertising and organic content.

What Are the Latest Statistics about Voice?

  • According to a 2019 report from Microsoft, 72 percent of people use voice search through a personal digital assistant, and 75 percent of households will be outfitted with at least one smart speaker by 2020.
  • A 2018 BrightLocal study reveals that over a 12-month period, 58 percent of surveyed consumers used voice search to find local business information. In addition, Forbes notes that consumers want voice search to help them with myriad tasks, including:
    • Making reservations.
    • Gathering price data on services and products.
    • Confirming whether an item is available.
  • According to estimates from eMarketer, more than 74 million Americans — almost 27 percent of the U.S. population — will be using smart speakers in 2019, a 15 percent uptick from 2018.

What Should Businesses Do about Voice?

In short, it’s becoming a world in which businesses must be prepared to use voice for advertising. As Jelli CEO Mike Dougherty shared with Forbes, voice will “open up opportunities for marketers and brands to get creative and interact with customers in new ways . . . The goal of any marketer is to establish a genuine connection with customers. Voice is their chance to get one step closer.”

Jennifer Hungerbuhler, the EVP and managing director, local video and audio investment, at Dentsu Aegis Network, concurs. She also notes that voice search will not only be important in the marketing, advertising, and media worlds, it will continue to evolve.

How Should Businesses Prepare for Voice?

Part of staying relevant in a world of voice search means understanding voice, and creating content that optimizes how voice works. For instance, as we have discussed on our own blog, advertisers should evaluate voice search queries and pay attention to the conversational text that occurs.

Conversational text, which tends to be more complicated than simple Google searches, is a clear indicator of how people express themselves during voice search. It can be an excellent resource when companies want to write copy consistent with how people are using their voices to search. “Who,” “What,” “Where,” “When,” “Why,” and “How” are great words to focus on. Long-tail queries that include natural phrases such as “near me” or “can I get the number for” can also be useful/telling. These queries can help identify what consumers most want to know about a company’s products or services—and how they parse their request via voice.

As Hungerbuhler notes, “Advertisers will need to get better at understanding how consumers want to find them in voice, the language they will use to do so, and how they can get onto a shopping list.”

The bottom line? Search behaviors are different when consumers use voice. Because brands, increasingly, want voice assistants to find their site, savvy businesses will tweak their advertising and organic content accordingly.

What You Should Do Next

What are next steps in this brave new world?

  • Prepare now by rethinking your approach to content.
  • Don’t panic. Realize that even though people are using voice assistants, it doesn’t mean they are doing so in droves. According to research firm Stone Temple, voice assistants still rank behind other choices such as mobile browsers or search engine apps.
  • But do act. Voice search isn’t going away. Andy Franco, the founder of Facebook advertising agency Live Surge, explains, “Just like search has become second nature to people who used to use card catalogs, voice is likely to be well used by those who are multitasking and need hands-free tools.”

Contact True Interactive

Contact True Interactive. We can help you better understand voice search as you craft your strategy.

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CES 2019 Reminds Advertisers about the Power of Voice

CES 2019 Reminds Advertisers about the Power of Voice

Marketing

In 2019, more than 74 million Americans will own smart speakers, up 15 percent from 2018. So it’s no surprise that the annual CES, occurring this week, has been showcasing products powered by voice interfaces. Within the first few days of CES, Google alone made a slew of announcements intended to show why Google Assistant is catching up with Amazon’s Alexa as a leading voice assistant. For instance, Google Maps now incorporates Google Assistant, and Google is working with Lenovo on a voice-activated alarm clock/visual display. Not to be outdone, Amazon announced a relationship with technology firm Telenav to make Alexa a more useful voice-based navigation tool in automobiles.

So where do these developments leave advertisers? After all, it’s not as if people are using their voices to buy products and services online. For the most part, consumers use voice as a way to find music and get weather forecasts. And most people do not use voice to search for anything online. But here’s the thing: people are using voice, and more than ever. They might not be using their voices to interact with your brand just yet, but the day is coming when they will. For a number of businesses, that day is here.

For quite some time, we’ve been advocating that advertisers prepare for a voice-first world. As I noted in a 2017 blog post, advertisers can do a number of things now to be savvy about the rise of voice. For instance, advertisers should evaluate your search queries and look for conversional text. (“Who,” “What,” “Where,” “When,” “Why,” and “How” are great phrases to focus on.) Also, pay attention to any long-tail queries that include a natural phrase such as “near me” or “can I get the number for . . . ” Use these queries to understand what consumers want to know about your products or services. That’s because consumers exercise a more natural and conversational language when they use their voices, thus altering their search behavior. You can then gather those learnings to strategize a personal user experience for voice searchers.

CES should serve as a reminder that a voice-first world is coming. You don’t want to be a laggard in that world. Contact True Interactive to make your online advertising flourish.

 

Apple Plays Catch-up with Voice at WWDC

Apple Plays Catch-up with Voice at WWDC

Marketing

At Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple showcased a new and improved Siri voice assistant, which was a must-do for a company that pioneered voice only to fall behind competitors such as Amazon and Google.

As we have discussed on our blog, voice is without question an important wave of innovation fueling how businesses interact with their customers. In her widely read Internet Trends report, Kleiner Perkins Venture Capitalist Mary Meeker said, “With voice, we’ve hit technology liftoff with word accuracy, and we’ve certainly hit product liftoff with Amazon Echo’s install base estimated to be around 30 million plus.”

Indeed, adoption of smart speakers alone has skyrocketed in the United States. According to NPR/Edison Research findings, 39 million Americans owned smart speakers in January 2018, an increase of 128 percent from January 2017. Businesses such as Jim Beam are literally figuring out their brand voices through voice assistants. Jim Beam, for instance, offers a playful bourbon container that relies on a voice assistant.

Apple knows voice is the future, but the company has struggled to shape that future. Its Siri voice assistant is widely viewed as a weak alternative to Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant, and the HomePod smart speaker didn’t launch until 2018 (to tepid reviews). At WWDC, Apple did not unveil any dramatic breakthroughs in voice, but it did showcase some tangible improvements to Siri.

First off, Apple has made Siri more efficient by incorporating short-cut commands through an app known literally as Shortcuts. With Shortcuts, users can rely on commonly used commands that Siri learns to act on. The idea is to make Siri more convenient. As Mark Vena of Moor Insights & Strategy noted, “Shortcuts could also be used to help proactively plan for your day. For example, if you were about to go to the beach, Siri might suggest that you check the weather and remember to bring a beach towel with you.”

But as Vena also wrote, Amazon and Google have already developed a short-cut capability in their own voice assistants. The more interesting development from WWDC is how Apple is making Siri smarter. The voice assistant can actually learn from the way you use Siri to suggest to you activities based on your habits. For instance, Siri might suggest to a cup of coffee at a time of day when the user often seeks coffee. But here again, Apple is achieving status quo instead of leading. As Kevin C. Tofel wrote on Stacey on IoT, “If you open the same exercise tracking app at roughly the same time and location — say at the gym at 5pm — Siri will eventually pop up a suggestion to open the app at the same time and place for you. This is similar to Google Assistant, which I love, but it’s just Siri starting to catch up since Google’s product  has done this for nearly five years now. In fact, I get my contextual alerts on the Apple Watch from the Google Assistant app today, although I’ll test Siri in this capacity once watchOS 5 arrives.”

Amazon is leading the marketplace for voice-based products and experiences and possesses a formidable platform with which to integrate voice to search, discover, and buy. Google and Microsoft are strong challengers. Apple is still catching up. But don’t count out Apple. The company has the money, talent, and patience to get where it needs to be.