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  • Writer's pictureRon Jaworski

What is voice marketing and why you should use it

Updated: Nov 29, 2021

When it comes to core principles, voice marketing is no different than any other form of content marketing. Brands should be utilizing it to solve their customers’ problems and answer their pressing questions while keeping it in line with the brand’s mission.

I like to think of it as a part of a broader buyer journey within the audio/voice ecosystem that starts with making your content available in the audio form, improving the experience through content discovery and recommendation, expanding on more channels and voice-enabled devices, and finally, adding your own voice capabilities. As customers continue to engage with brands and businesses via voice technology, new voice marketing opportunities will come into view, enabling an experience that is personalized and more attuned to the motions and patterns of modern users.

With the use of voice technology continually rising, now is as good a time as any to start thinking about how to develop marketing strategies that fit the voice environment and ultimately, drive better customer experiences.

The promise of voice – (what is voice marketing anyway?)

Let’s start with the voice marketing definition. Voice assistants such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, Bixby, and others aren’t convenient novelties anymore. As the voice technology slowly begins to mature, they represent an emerging and increasingly important opportunity to leverage voice as a marketing channel.

In a nutshell, voice marketing is a set of strategies and tactics used to reach target audiences through the use of various voice-enabled devices powered by voice assistants. The idea is to take advantage of people steadily using these voice-controlled devices as new use cases increasingly get adopted, and meet their evolving needs and expectations by adjusting marketing content and messaging based on the context. By context, I refer to the way people interact with brands, as well as when and where. In other words – places and times that were previously outside of marketers’ grasp as people are giving voice interface a go, where the predominant input is natural language.

The mention of voice-enabled devices immediately projects a vision of smart speakers, and rightly so. These devices are at the forefront of the audio revolution, responsible for putting the voice technology on the map, so to speak. As a result, the adoption wave spilled over to a wide array of smart devices such as TVs, displays, watches, headphones, various home devices, and even cars. As you can see, the potential for voice marketing is vast due to its ability to be at virtually every touchpoint of your customer’s journey.

Emily Binder, Founder and Chief Strategist at Beetle Moment Marketing, an all-round voice AI authority, and my color commentator for this post, says there are three elements of voice marketing:

  1. sonic branding

  2. recorded audio content such as podcasts and briefcasts like flash briefings (and I’ll add content transferred from text via narration or AI solutions such as Trinity Audio)

  3. voice search optimization (VSO)

Sonic branding is a relatively new and unexplored aspect of the marketing world that refers to strategic use of sounds and music to reinforce brand recognition. It’s the audio equivalent of visual branding – what the customer hears and associates with the brand, like the Nokia tune, Windows startup sounds, and so on.

Due to its massive success, podcast marketing is a prime example of the potential for voice marketing. IAB’s forecast that podcast advertising revenues in the United States will exceed $1 billion in 2021 will surely take a hit due to the coronavirus, but it’s an indicator nonetheless the podcast advertising landscape is growing considerably, making it a compelling option for augmenting your marketing mix.

As great as podcasts are, I don’t think they represent voice marketing more than text-to-speech generated audio content in any way. Converting website content to audio opens up an entire new dimension of marketing to audiences who are multitasking and can not otherwise consume content on the go. In addition, as search engines start favoring audio content, providing an audio experience of your written content sets the stage for getting indexed.

As optimizing for search continues to evolve, voice is the next logical frontier to conquer. You can safely say the future of search optimization is moving towards voice and incorporating its own set of tactics and nuances that issue a need for a different approach. Thanks to constant advancements in AI, machine learning, and natural language processing, being able to get a share of the valuable voice search traffic will be a huge advantage in the years to come.

Why you need a voice marketing strategy

That personal nature is one of the major reasons why marketing should be amplified with voice to respond to the opportunity of audial customer engagement. To picture the scope of opportunity, here are a few fresh numbers you should know about:

  1. More than one-third of the total US population aged 12 and over (104 million) are consuming podcasts on a monthly basis, representing 16% year-over-year growth.

  2. 27% of the population (76 millions) owns at least one smart speaker such as Amazon Echo and Google Home.

  3. 62% of the total US population uses a voice assistant.

  4. More and more publishers and media companies are offering audio versions of their content across their digital real estate (from websites to mobile apps), and enjoying success.

What’s more, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t slowed this down. On the contrary – voice assistant usage has expanded during the stay-at-home orders, with:

  1. 36% of US adult smart speaker owners and 52% of 18-34-year-olds say they are using their device more to listen to music and for entertainment since the outbreak.

  2. 35% of US adult smart speaker owners and 50% of 18-34-year-olds are listening to more news and information since the COVID-19 outbreak.

  3. Usage of voice commands, in general, has increased slightly since the COVID-19 outbreak, with 52% users saying they use voice technology several times a day or nearly every day, compared to 46% before the outbreak.

I could go on and on about similar data that shows the same. It suggests that a positive sentiment toward voice assistants could lead to more frequent use in the future and the role of voice marketing in the customer journey beyond 2020.

“COVID-19 will be a turning point for many industries, voice included, because people increasingly want hands-free interaction. Device screens are 10x germier than toilets. More companies will try to enable voice interactions with a greater sense of urgency, especially those with a physical presence,” says Binder.

Another thing to note is that the costs associated with producing (and placing) branded audio content on different audio platforms tends to be much cheaper than its video counterpart. Especially in times of crisis, advertising on smart speakers and audio versions of websites is an attractive option for brands looking to stay connected with consumers sitting at home, with minimal effort to adjust the existing creative and take the biggest advantage of voice – to speak directly to their customers.

“Brands with voice experiences that add value or convenience will pull ahead and get early market share as people’s habits continue to evolve toward greater daily use of voice,” adds Binder.

Where voice search fits in

Voice is the most natural and intuitive way for us to communicate and as such, has a profound impact on how people interact with technology. As an interface, it simplifies the use of smart devices, as well as access to the web for massive categories of users: visually impaired and illiterate people.

If you give your brand or business a voice, people can discover it and leverage its products or services. That’s the easiest way to describe the role of voice search today. One practical example is commerce. While shopping via smart speakers has yet to reach projected numbers, the overall number of voice shoppers is growing.

“Voice commerce will increase this year as a function of overall increased usage of smart speakers and voice-enabled devices,” says Binder. “Brands who optimize for voice search will rise to the top, especially on mobile voice searches. But discovery will still be mainly reliant upon awareness through other marketing channels and word-of-mouth versus pure discovery by voice search (that will come later).”

The practical application of voice assistants is present across the entire content landscape: a hands-free way to quickly search for answers, get updates, order items, and even schedule a doctor’s visit among the variety of appointments.

With 48% of consumers using voice for “general web searches”, voice searches represent an important aspect you can optimize your content for. Performing a search via voice is the same as typing a query in a search engine, only a bit smarter and more convenient. Voice changes how people search as the searches are longer and more conversational. As a result, the answers returned are bits of content, typically from a database such as Wikipedia. This is arguably a big opportunity to increase brand awareness and make your content accessible via audio by optimizing content to answer commonly asked questions. Structuring your content accordingly is a good practice for voice search optimization.

The key is to evaluate the voice marketing potential for your business and think about how your target market might use voice assistants and audio content in general. That also includes taking care of voice SEO – the understanding of what’s being talked about and returning a search result based on it. For that to happen, you first need to audiofy your content to have it available for “audio inspection”.

Although at its super-early stages, Google already does this with podcasts and it’s only a matter of time before the practice spreads across the audio landscape. Basic SEO tactics such as keyword-optimized titles will always be necessary as new SEO-boosting factors like quality of recording, length, and quantity come into play.

The emergence of voice SEO and audio-oriented search tweaks means less room for those familiar blue links. All in all, the use of voice search is one of the integral tactics of voice marketing and the sooner you prepare and execute, the sooner you’ll reap the benefits.

Challenges of voice marketing

As with any relatively new technology, there are still some kinks to sort out. Despite a few big brands such as Nike (allowing Siri to tie and untie your shoelaces) and Burger King (with it’s wickedly smart ad that epitomizes controlled brand experience) effectively using voice marketing and boosting brand awareness and sales because of it, the voice industry and technology have a few obstacles to overcome.

An inevitable part of any digital media experience is privacy concerns, and the voice industry isn’t spared of those. From slight to major concerns, users worry about data theft, hacking, and particularly government eavesdropping and “always listening” devices – all of which are impacting demand and potential future growth of voice marketing.

Then, there’s the issue of tracking metrics. In this regard, voice is a newcomer and still an early platform whose value to the audience might be hard to prove in terms of ROI. There is no universal template for an effective voice campaign, and relevant metrics demand for first- and third-party integrations, which showcases a critical need to thoroughly understand the capabilities and limitations of the technology.

The effort made by technology platforms that offer audio and voice solutions has largely mitigated this issue by enabling a full suite of analytics that allow marketers to drive data-based decisions. There are also more tangible options like including a coupon or a unique URL, to name a couple, that marketers can use to measure performance. And, if I may add – this is a rare scenario where there is an effective and measurable approach with no room for “funkiness”, as opposed to the lack of transparency the hi-tech marketing and advertising landscape is known for.

As for podcasts as the big story, marketing works – just not how everybody thinks.

“Most people don’t understand the nuances of marketing a podcast and many jump in, then podfade because of unrealistic expectations,” Binder adds. “You have to be patient and consistent and be clear about your goals. Too many people assume a large audience is the top KPI; the right audience should be your focus. Even though the adoption of voice is increasing, we have to expect a period of habit formation and education around uses beyond music and weather. Think of the early days of mobile phones and how limited the applications were. A few years later, we couldn’t imagine life without them.”

Final thoughts

The rise of voice assistants, as well as websites offering their content via audio,have put a new customer-facing channel on the map for marketers. The promise is clear: voice-enabled devices operate as a fine blend of digital and physical realities, which makes room for truly contextual interactions with users.

Hopefully, this post gave you a clear(er) idea of what voice marketing really is and the potential it has to leverage it in your marketing toolkit. The way I see it, the reluctance among brands out there makes for a more compelling argument for brands cognizant of voice’s value to start experimenting with the technology now and get a head start. Not tapping voice both in its branding and revenue-driving capacities means falling behind.

Hear Emily’s daily insights on Alexa: Voice Marketing Flash Briefing

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